BALTIMORE — Cedric Soares may have been at the club for over two years, but it’s only now that he’s starting to feel like an Arsenal player.
The 30-year-old started 14 of the Gunners’ last 17 Premier League appearances last season, easily his best run for the team since joining on an initial six-month loan from Southampton at the start of 2020.
On a free transfer that summer, Cedric might reasonably have expected to play a bigger role, but the combination of injuries, new signings – particularly Japan right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu – and the lack of ‘Arsenal from European competition have complicated its way to the regular Championship. first team action.
Although last season ended with Arsenal narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification, Cedric’s increased involvement has helped to strengthen his bond with manager Mikel Arteta and the club itself. There was speculation at one point about Cedric leaving, with Newcastle United and Atletico Madrid mooted as possible destinations, but such thoughts weren’t on his mind as he sat down for an exclusive interview. during the Gunners’ pre-season tour of the United States.
“Arsenal have always been my dream club since I started playing at Southampton,” Cedric told ESPN. “I always had the goal of moving to Arsenal, and that hasn’t changed. Of course, you’re happiest when you’re involved. To be involved here at such a massive club, with the project we have and the goals of the team I’m fighting for, I want to be here I feel a lot more established I feel like I’ve earned my place in the group and I want to keep growing.
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When Cedric last spoke extensively to ESPN in November, he had played just five times in all competitions but reported a strong determination to fight for his place. This perseverance paid off.
“In football you have to be patient, but the key is how you prepare,” he said. “I continued to train well even when I wasn’t an option. That’s how I grew up and that’s how I was taught. helped to have a good series of games and to give a good response to the manager and the team.”
So, with Tomiyasu still battling injuries, is the right-back position now up for grabs?
“There are never guarantees in football,” said Cedric. “I’ve never had a coach who guaranteed me my position, so I don’t expect that. I always expect a fight for position, but collective success is the most important thing. Of course we challenge each other on the pitch during the week, but at the weekend we help each other together, talk about the opponent we are facing.”
This attitude sums up the cultural overhaul that Arteta is implementing at Arsenal. Disgruntled players have been jettisoned, the focus on youth has increased and Arteta is trying to establish a level of discipline that waned in the final years of Arsene Wenger’s reign and only briefly increased during the Unai Emery’s 18-month period in charge.
Cédric therefore plays a key role behind the scenes as one of the senior players setting the tone for the next generation. Last season’s inconsistencies in the run-in were symptomatic of a young team learning their trade: three straight losses, followed by four straight wins, followed by two more damaging losses combining to form a rollercoaster ride that ultimately did not succeed to reach the heights of the top four. .
“It’s by going through these situations that it helps them grow,” said Cédric. “It helps them maybe that if it happens this season, we shouldn’t have the same reaction at times. Some of the reactions we’ve had, positive, we should keep them.
“That’s where the experience comes in: OK, it’s automatic: ‘I was in this situation before, how can I react now, how can I help the team?’ We also have responsibilities. They are much better prepared this season and our idea is much stronger because everyone has been training with Mikel for longer with a very clear idea. I think everyone knows more or less what do on the ground. , which is important.
“[Helping the younger players] must be natural. It’s not something you have to force. Obviously, you are not the same with everyone. Everyone needs different things. You’re closer to one, maybe you can give them a more honest review. With another you can push him, so sometimes you have to challenge him.
“It depends on the moment. It’s not when everything is going well, it’s more when something happens or suddenly you have a defeat and you have to play another game, an important game, and they are nervous or don’t want to take responsibility.”
Julien Laurens profiles Arsenal’s first summer signing, midfielder Fabio Vieira from Porto.
Cédric played a key role in helping his compatriot Fabio Vieira adapt to a new environment, easing the language barrier.
The 22-year-old arrived from Porto on a €40m deal, a sudden and decisive move for a player with just one top-flight season under his belt in Portugal, but still displaying enough potential to spark the formative interest from a number of major European clubs – he registered six goals and 11 assists in 27 league appearances.
Vieira is lightweight and relatively short at 5ft 7in. He was also hampered during pre-season by a foot problem, but Cedric believes he will acclimatize quickly.
“He has a similar mentality to mine, which is great to see,” Cedric said. “I’m helping him settle in. Fabio is a very smart player from what I’ve seen in Portugal. I’ve never played with him but from what I’ve seen, analyzing the games and looking at his performances, he’s had a very good season. He has fantastic quality. He’s a technical player with quality and ability. He also has a lot of vision for the last pass. That quality that you look for a lot in players i think Fabio has it i am sure he will adapt fast he is smart you know?
“When you’re not physically the strongest, you have to be smart in the Premier League. I’m sure he will adapt very well to the Premier League, I have no doubt about that. [The physicality of English football] It’s a big change, but me personally, I’ve adapted pretty well and I’m not the biggest. With Fabio, he first has a lot of courage to play. This one for me is a quality. Secondly, I see him as a very intelligent player.
“Of course he’s still very young, so I’m sure he will grow over the years in the Premier League. What’s intense for him is maybe the pace of the Premier League will be much faster. than the pace of the league in Portugal. It’s something he will have time to adapt to, but you can’t change it.”
A positive start for Vieira would help Arsenal resume last season, with a domestic campaign complemented by the return of Europa League football. But Cédric thinks the goal is clear.
“I think a club like Arsenal want to fight for [the top four] and at the moment the group is more experienced, the project is very clear, the coach’s idea is very clear,” he said. “I think we should have that goal.