BALTIMORE — Cedric Soares might have been at the club for more than two years but only now is he starting to feel like an Arsenal player.
The 30-year-old started 14 of the Gunners’ final 17 Premier League matches last season, by some distance his best run in the side since arriving on an initial six-month loan from Southampton at the beginning of 2020.
When completing a free transfer that summer, Cedric would have reasonably expected to play a more prominent role, but the combination of injuries, new signings — particularly Japan right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu — and Arsenal’s absence from European competition complicated his path to regular first team action.
Although last season ended with Arsenal narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification, Cedric’s increased involvement has helped strengthen his bond with both manager Mikel Arteta and the club itself. There was speculation at one stage that Cedric might leave, with Newcastle United and Atletico Madrid mooted as possible destinations, but such thoughts were not on his mind when sitting down for an exclusive interview during the Gunners’ preseason tour of the United States.
“Arsenal was always my dream club since I started to play in Southampton,” Cedric told ESPN. “I always had the goal to move to Arsenal, and this didn’t change. Of course you are more happy when you are involved. Being involved here in a massive club like this, with the project we have and the goals the team is fighting for, I want to be here. I feel much more established. I feel I earned my space inside the group and I want to keep growing.”
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Last time Cedric spoke to ESPN at length in November, he had played just five times across all competitions but cited a firm determination to fight for his place. That perseverance paid off.
“In football, you need to be patient but the key is how you prepare yourself,” he said. “I kept training well even when I was not an option. This is how I grew up and this is how I was taught. This is what helped me to have a great run of games and give a good answer to the manager and the team “
So with Tomiyasu continuing to struggle with injury, is the right-back position now his to lose?
“There is never a guarantee in football,” Cedric said. “I never had a coach that guaranteed me my position so I don’t expect that. I expect always a fight for the position but the success of the collective is most important. Of course, we kind of challenge each other on the pitch during the week but at the weekend we are together helping each other, talking about the opponent we face.”
This attitude encapsulates the cultural overhaul Arteta is implementing at Arsenal. Disgruntled players have been jettisoned, the focus on youth has increased, and Arteta is attempting to establish a level of discipline that waned in the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign and only briefly spiked again during Unai Emery’s 18-month period in charge.
Cedric thus plays a key role behind the scenes as one of the senior players setting the tone for the next generation. Last season’s inconsistencies during the run-in were symptomatic of a young team learning its craft: three successive defeats, followed by four consecutive wins, followed by two more damaging defeats combining to form a rollercoaster that ultimately failed to reach the heights of the top four .
“Going through those situations is where it helps them to grow,” Cedric said. “It helps them maybe if it happens this season, we shouldn’t have the same reaction in some moments. Some of the reactions we had, positive ones, we should keep them.
“This is where experience comes: OK, it is automatic: ‘I was in this situation before, how can I react now, how can I help the team?’ We have responsibilities as well. They are much more prepared this season and our idea is much more solid because everyone has been training under Mikel for a longer period with a very clear idea. I think everyone knows what to do more or less on the pitch , what is important.
“[Helping the younger players] needs to be natural. It is not something you need to force. Obviously you are not the same with everyone. Everyone needs different things. You are closer to one, you can maybe tell him a more honest opinion. With another, you can push him so you need to challenge them sometimes.
“It depends on the moment. It is not when everything is good, it is more when something happens or suddenly you have a loss and you need to play another game, an important one, and they are nervous or don’t want to take responsibility.”
Julien Laurens profiles Arsenal’s first summer signing, midfielder Fabio Vieira from Porto.
Cedric has been a key figure in helping his compatriot Fabio Vieira adjust to new surroundings, softening the language barrier.
The 22-year-old arrived from Porto in a €40 million deal, a sudden and decisive move for a player with just one top-flight season under his belt in Portugal, yet still displaying enough potential to attract formative interest from a number of leading European clubs — he registered six goals and 11 assists from 27 league appearances.
Vieira is slight in build and relatively short at 5-foot-7. He has also been hampered during preseason by a foot problem, but Cedric believes he will acclimatise fast.
“He has a similar mentality to me, which is great to see,” Cedric said. “I’m helping him to settle. Fabio is a very intelligent player from what I saw in Portugal. I never played with him but from what I saw, analyzing games and watching his performances, he had a really good season. He has fantastic quality. He is a technical player with quality and ability. He has a lot of vision for the last pass as well. This quality that you look a lot for in the players, I think Fabio has got it. I am sure he will adapt quick, he is intelligent you know?
“When you are not physically the strongest, you need to be smart in the Premier League. I am sure he will adapt very well to the Premier League, I have no doubts. [The physicality of English football] is a big change, but me personally, I adapted quite well and I am not the tallest. With Fabio, first of all he has big courage to play. That one for me is a quality. Second one, I see him as a very intelligent player.
“Of course he is very young still, so I am sure he will grow in years in the Premier League. What is intense for him is maybe the rhythm of the Premier League will be much quicker than the rhythm of the league in Portugal. This is something he will have time to adapt, but you can’t change it.”
A positive start for Vieira would help Arsenal kick on from last term, with a domestic campaign augmented by the return of Europa League football. But Cedric believes the goal is clear.
“I think a club like Arsenal wants to fight for [the top four] and right now, the group is more experienced, the project is very clear, the idea of the coach is very clear,” he said.