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Young footballers in the UAE learning to play the Arsenal way had the best possible source to learn from when injured French star Mathieu Debuchy visited the Arsenal Soccer School in Dubai on Friday.
– GALLERY: Arsenal youngsters meet Debuchy in Dubai
The full-back, who signed from Newcastle United in the summer, was on hand to present prizes, sign shirts and host a question and answer session with the hoards of school pupils desperate to get a real taste of what it means to play for the Gunners.
Debuchy, 29, has endured a frustrating start to life at the Emirates. His first game was the 3-0 Community Shield win over Manchester City in August, but he was then injured against the same opposition barely a month later.
The France international took time out of his rehabilitation to visit the club’s UAE soccer school and Debuchy praised the work they are doing in with the youngsters.
He said: “I’m so happy today to be here, it’s important for the young players. I was like them when I was a young player and it’s important I’m here today.
“Arsenal’s a global club and to have an academy here in the Middle East is important to bring about local talent and get them training to play the Arsenal way.”
Debuchy says that Arsenal’s philosophy is very different to any other type of football he has played at previous clubs.
“I’ve known about Arsenal for a long time before and I’ve been aware of the Arsenal way and that Arsene Wenger was one of the greatest managers to put that style in play.”
As well as asking Debuchy questions, pupils throughout the school ranks had the chance of a picture with the Frenchman during his visit, while some even took the chance to take a selfie with their superstar visitor.
Rising stars at the school were delighted to meet Debuchy and to hear that the defender is nearing a return from injury.
Ryan Fix, 11, said: “It was really fun to meet Mathieu, he’s a really good defender and we’re missing defenders, that’s why we’re conceding so many goals, like the 3-3 draw with Anderlecht.
“He’s been playing well in the Premier League and has adjusted to the club well and I’m looking forward to having him back.”
Amman Das, also 11, similarly believes Debuchy is key to solving the North London club’s defensive leaks.
“Mathieu has stopped us conceding goals since he’s been at the club and it’s a real shame that he’s been injured. His absence was the reason we lost 2-1 to Swansea, I was crying that day.”
Amman added: “I’m a total Arsenal fan and used to love (Robin) Van Persie, but now I don’t. My favourite player now is Alexis Sanchez, I love him.”
Arsenal Soccer School head coach is Ian Selley, who played in the Premier League for the Gunners, before going on to enjoy a career in non-league football.
He said: “It’s great to get players of Mathieu’s quality out here, it’s great exposure for the school. The kids have been working on a Debuchy module for the last three weeks so they’re very excited.
“We’re one of the only schools here that can hold these types of event and Mathieu is someone for them to look up to. It gives them the drive to maybe one day live the dream and do what Mathieu’s done.”
The UAE are “used to pressure” that comes with being champions ahead of their Gulf Cup opener against Oman on Friday night, according to coach Mahdi Ali.
The Whites have headed to Riyadh as holders following the Omar Abdulrahman-inspired 2-1 extra-time victory against Iraq in 2013. This status has guaranteed an extra focus has been placed on them, with huge numbers of journalists packing the main media centre for their first press conference.
Ali has not been without criticism recently, with his side drawing four and losing one of their last five friendlies. Lingering injury doubts about star playmaker Abdulrahman have not helped, though the boss declared he had a full roster to choose from for the game at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium.
The 49 year old – who wrote down every question before answering in a measured performance – insisted his players would not be weighed down by expectation in Saudi Arabia.
“In relation to the pressure on this team, we experienced it several times,” Ali said. “We are used to the pressure.
“There is no pressure on the UAE team to adapt and get used to.
“Two years ago, we got a title but it has become one of the past. Football only recognises certain needs and one is the amount of effort in every game.
“We are champions as a team. All players are ready to go.
“I think this competition is five steps, and tomorrow [Friday] is our first step in this competition. We hope to concentrate on our first game.”
The UAE and Oman have crossed paths a number of times at the Gulf Cup, with the Whites winning 2-0 when they previously met during the 2013 group stage in Bahrain.
Their most famous clash was decided by Ismail Matar, who scored the only goal in the final when the hosts lifted the crown for the first time seven years ago in Abu Dhabi.
The 31 year old now has more than 100 caps for the UAE, continuing to be an inspiration on and off the pitch.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) November 13, 2014
Speaking on Thursday, he reiterated the desire to remain winners.
“I am happy to be present and to participate in the Gulf Cup because it is the perfect place for the masses,” the Al Wahda forward said.
“We hope to provide a positive image and seek to defend their title. We are fully prepared to meet Oman, who offer a high level of opposition.
“The Omanis have veteran Ali Al Habsi, who has won the best goalkeeper award three times. Respecting the Omani team is our foundation.”
Opponents Oman have endured a testing build-up ahead of the clash at 18:45. A trio of defeats to Republic of Ireland, Costa Rica and Uruguay saw boss Paul Le Guen booed prior to the 2-0 victory against Yemen last week.
The Frenchman – who counts Lyon and Glasgow Rangers among his former posts – stated he had the experience to deal with the criticism.
— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) November 13, 2014
“I am not afraid. It is my job to cope with that [the criticism],” Le Guen said.
“Let my players out of that. The pressure is for me, it is better like that.
“I am not a newcomer in football. I try my best, and I am ready to cope with that.
“I am pleased to be here and looking forward for the competition to start. We are ready and happy to compete.”
Le Guen’s task of progressing Oman to the knockout stages for the first time since they claimed the title in 2009 has been made more difficult by a number of late withdrawals because of injury, star striker Imad Al Hosni heading the list.