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Sep 25, 2007

Next in line to succeed Henry?

Despite all the debate around Thierry Henry's departure from Arsenal, Emmanuel Adebayor has not let the added pressure of replacing the Frenchman affect his game and, so far this season, has proven that he could be the Gunners' new attacking sensation.

With five goals in his last two Premier League games, the unpredictable Togolese striker, who according to Wenger brings a strong physical impact to the side, is currently in the form of his life.

He caught up with ESPNsoccernet's Bruno Salla for a quick interview.

Q. Arsenal have been the target of many critics during the off season but now lead the Premier League with 16 points. Is this revenge for the team?

A. No it's not. We are just very happy. At the start of the season, people wouldn't give us a chance to finish ahead of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. We accepted it, but we really wanted to show those people that they were wrong.

We have a very talented team, that plays attractive football and which can win a trophy this season. Predictions don't interest me much, in May we will see who will be Champions.

Q. One of the main differences with last season is that Arsenal are competitive at home, impressive I should even say. What has changed?

A. The confidence. It is getting better and better each day, as last season we were struggling on the pitch due a lack of confidence. We started the championship with two or three draws and it affected us. We didn't know what to do, we were not playing intelligently. So far this season, the team is playing without pressure, just focusing on its football and with confidence. It is a good thing for the players and the coach. We are happy all together; we always try to go forward on the pitch with the desire to win.

Q. Does this make Arsenal a serious contender for the title this season?

A. It is too early to say that. The road is still very long. We just want to keep on improving and going one step further each game. We are playing very well currently and we learn a lot. Everybody has seen how mature we have been so far and now each player knows how to play for 90 minutes. Even when we are behind, we don't panic. We have to keep this dynamic. We control the ball, that makes everything easier and makes it more difficult for our opponents.

Q. When Thierry Henry left, it's fair to say some of the players and fans were expecting the worst. Were you also worried?

A. When Thierry left, I guess many players, like me, had doubts. Thierry was very important for the team and the club. He was carrying all the pressure on his shoulders when the team wasn't playing well, although he wasn't responsible for it he was the one that was criticised. And he was OK with that. He didn't complain. This season, there is no star in the changing room, if there's something wrong the whole team is criticised and not only one man. We are all in the same boat.

Q. Did you fear that Arsène Wenger would not extend his contract?

A. Yes. If he also left, then we would have been knocked out, like a hammer to the head. He stayed and that is great news, a relief. He is doing an excellent job.

Q. When talking about Henry's successor, people pointed out Robin Van Persie and Eduardo but not yourself. Did that upset you?

A. It's just part of a footballer's life I guess. You have to give the people the freedom to judge. And for most of them, it is still Robin or Eduardo, there's nothing I can say about that. I can only play well and we will see the outcome at the end of the season. Then we will see who has replaced Thierry. It is useless to say 'It's me' or 'It's him'. The squad is young; we are willing to win trophies together and not to think about who is going to be the new Thierry.

I don't ask myself too many questions, I'm focussed on the pleasure I can get from playing on the field. Against Tottenham, for example, I scored a beautiful goal and I was very happy afterwards. But gaining the three points for the team was the most important thing and we also achieved that.

Q. Are you back in your best shape after the injury troubles you have been through over the summer?

A. I was feeling really well physically and mentally before my injury in Austria. That was really hard to accept and to live with at the start. It really affected me. I knew I would miss the first two or thee games of the season and there's nothing more important than the summer's preparation. But now I'm back and I'm playing. I can't play three games a week yet as I'm not at 100% - perhaps only 80% I'd say. It will take some time but I will get there.

Q. Since the World Cup in Germany, you have been refusing to play with the Togolese team. What's going on and will you change your mind?

A. There were many controversies surrounding the bonus issue. The problems are still there and though we are trying to solve it will take time. When you are African you have to learn to handle these things (laugh). We have a very important game at home against Mali in October and we have to concentrate on winning to qualify for the African Nations Cup.


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