Arsenal defender Cedric Soares says he is ready to fight for his place as the Gunners’ right back. Despite being a fan favourite, many have been surprised by how quickly Arsenal manager Unai Emery has stripped away the Portuguese’s playing time this season.
Arsenal will be without key players for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Bayern Munich, but manager Unai Emery says he has no concerns about his side’s performance.
Arsenal’s Cedric ready to fight for his place at the club he always wanted to join. Arsenal have been struggling in recent years, and this transfer window has been no different. The Gunners are currently looking for a new manager, as well as a new striker.
Cedric Soares just joined Arsenal in January of last year, but he’s been striving to make them successful for over two decades.
“With Arsenal, I used to play a lot of Football Manager,” he admits. “When they were champions with [Robert] Pires, [Thierry] Henry, and this amazing squad, I knew all of the guys. As a result, I’ve always had a soft spot for Arsenal.”
That sentiment remained strong in him in 2015, when he decided to join Southampton after a 17-year affiliation with Sporting Lisbon. “When I arrived in England, I spoke with my agent [Kia Joorabchian],” Cedric said. “‘You know where I want to finish?’ I recall telling him in the first season at Southampton. ‘I’d want to go [to Arsenal].’”
“‘This is what you want,’ he constantly says. You’ve arrived. Enjoy.’ And that is correct. I was able to join the team I wanted to be a part of.”
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This intensity of feeling for the Gunners explains his attitude to the current struggle for a first-team spot at Emirates Stadium, which is a continuation of his stop-start stint in north London.
Cedric was one of Mikel Arteta’s first signings, joining on loan in January 2020, only to have to wait 152 days for his first appearance due to a knee injury and the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, he signed a four-year deal with the club before even kicking a ball for them. From the outside, it seemed like Arsenal was taking a risk, but Cedric acknowledged in an exclusive interview with ESPN that it was the result of a pre-existing deal.
“I wasn’t simply moving for the sake of moving,” the right-back added. “So I had a couple offers when I arrived [in January], and I was practically coming for free.”
“My contract was up in four months. I knew I was injured the week before I arrived to Arsenal, which was upsetting since I wanted to contribute, but they also knew I had a couple summer offers. They quickly signed me in January, and we had a gentleman’s understanding that I would sign [in] the summer since I was coming [as a free agent]. Nothing was written or anything, but in football, it’s equally crucial for you to keep your word.”
Cedric made four further appearances during “Project Restart” after scoring four minutes into his debut against Norwich on July 1, 2020, before going on to make 24 appearances last season, including a stint at left-back deputizing for Kieran Tierney. So far this season, he’s only had five appearances: three in the Premier League and two in the EFL Cup. The Gunners have won eight of their last ten games after losing their first three league games, albeit the lack of European play for the first time in 25 years restricts Arteta’s ability to rotate a winning squad.
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“I’m battling over there.” Every week, every day, I’ll be hammering on the door, causing him a dilemma (in a good manner) by forcing him to consider who to put on the pitch. Of course, he has the last say. That is something I value, and he is aware of it. But I’m not going to make it any simpler. Never. This is how I learned to battle and win in my profession. Also, playing for [Portugal’s] national squad wasn’t easy, but I was able to get a spot. It’s similar to this.
“Some players have it a little easier than others. I know that with me, I always had to struggle a little harder to acquire it, but in the end, I made it.”
According to ESPN, Cedric’s desire to work has pleased Arsenal’s backroom staff, and his tenacity has served him well. During his lengthy international career, he was capped 34 times for Portugal, with the apotheosis coming in the Euro 2016 victory. He started every knockout match, and the winner’s medal hangs on his wall at his home beside his final jersey.
“I believe this is something that will stick with you for the rest of your life,” he remarked. “It’s just a short time, but you live it differently, with a lot of feeling.” Because it is your nation, you are aware of everything that is going on. Your family messages you, and your buddy texts you, even if you don’t watch TV. I used to get between 500 to 600 SMS messages after the games. Crazy.
“‘Winning anything for your nation is something different: You feel it in a different way,’ Cristiano [Ronaldo] used to remark. These players, no matter what they said or did, were outstanding. It’s something that lasts a lifetime. They won’t be able to remove the names.”
During his 138 appearances for Southampton, Cedric went on to represent his nation in the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2018 World Cup, while also becoming a popular character in an overachieving Southampton team.
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Arteta has aimed to integrate this depth of expertise and winning mindset into a famously fragile group, a major aspect of the culture shift the Spaniard has spoken about adopting since taking control in December 2019.
“I understand what he’s saying since our squad is so young,” Cedric said. “And older players may become more crucial at times, particularly in difficult situations.” Not only on the field, but in general, since in tough situations, when things don’t go as planned and the audience begins to alter and criticism emerges, it is natural for some players to withdraw. It didn’t happen to our squad because everyone wanted the ball and everyone wanted to play, even when things were tough.
“We try to encourage everyone, particularly the younger players, to go out and play with a sense of humor. You must be willing to take the risk again even if you make a mistake. He once told me the same thing. I adore this because I believe it is the correct mindset. In Portugal, we have a proverb that goes, “You only miss when you are there.” It indicates that in order to make errors, you must be present and willing to accept the risk.”
Cedric’s professionalism in waiting for and grabbing openings has been publicly acknowledged by Arteta. “What I like most about Cedric is the way he approaches his career, the way he exercises, and the way he prepares himself,” Arteta remarked earlier this year. He was called up to the Portugal team for the first time in three years earlier this year after making eight starts in ten Premier League games, playing the full 2-2 draw against Serbia in March.
The defender still wants to play for Portugal — “I can’t say it’s not a goal, it’s always a goal to be there” — but he has to play consistently for Arsenal in order to do so.
Cedric, on the right, was a key figure in Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph, appearing in every game in the knockout rounds. Cedric’s attitude at Arsenal reflects that bold win and that team’s dedication. Getty Images/MARTIN BUREAU/AFP
Some players in this circumstance would consider a transfer, particularly as January approaches and the World Cup approaches in less than a year. He said, “I’m entirely focused on Arsenal.” “In football, you can’t promise anything because you never know what will happen tomorrow.” But for the time being, I’m here, fighting for my job. It’s the club I want to be a part of, and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing to earn my spot.
“When I got the chance, I took advantage of it. If you look at my games from the start of my first game at Arsenal till today, you’ll see that I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity. I’m proud of the fact that there isn’t much to say about it. I also played out of position last year. I’m not here to pretend to be modest. When I’m playing well, I’m aware of it. When I’m playing badly, I’m aware of it. I’m aware of when I took advantage of my chance.”
The addition of Japan international Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna to replace Hector Bellerin, who was loaned to Real Betis, adds to the competition for first-team minutes. “First and foremost, every club needs two or three individuals battling for a job,” Cedric said. “This is perfectly typical behavior. It is best not to play football if you are terrified of the competition.”
“As a result, I’m entirely OK with it.” Hector, Tomiyasu, they’re all people I like and respect. I’m extremely excellent with them all. Of course, I’m sad that I don’t get to play as often as I’d want; this is natural. I won’t lie to you: if a player isn’t unhappy when he doesn’t play, he doesn’t care about what he does.
“However, this does not have to translate into a negative attitude in training, since other athletes may respond differently. ‘I don’t want it anymore,’ as in, ‘that’s it.’ No, I’ve never had this mentality and don’t believe I ever will. Because that isn’t in me, and it isn’t in the way I was raised.”
That background served as the catalyst for his quest to win everything at Arsenal. Is it true that he did it on Football Manager?
“I’m not sure, but you usually figure something out or you start again!”
Cedric will keep looking for a solution.