David Luiz Exclusive: Passionate Unai Emery Is Giving 100% Every Day, We Are Trying To Give The Same Back
David Luiz can't help but smile. "We're gonna win the league mmmaaaannnn!" screams an Arsenal fan through a small megaphone. "We're gonna win the league, I'm telling you dat right now," the supporter continues in a poorly imitated Brazilian accent that bears a striking resemblance to that of fictional drug lord Tony Montana (who's Cuban).
"You've got me - David Luiz mmmaaaannnn! I'm a leader - I will help you guys win the league!" The defender is watching a video of reality TV star - Heavy D - impersonating him outside The Emirates. It's hard not to laugh, whether it's at or with The Boominator (real name, Colin Newell). He's a man in his mid-40s, sitting on a cannon, wearing a curly-haired wig, megaphone in one hand, cheap wrestling belt in the other. Given the current state of player-fan relations, Luiz lets himself enjoy this light-hearted moment. "I haven't seen this guy before," he tells SPORTbible. "But I have a lot of love and respect for the fans. It's great to see them enjoying us, trying to be like us.
"Everything is for them. We try to make them happy by winning games and titles."
Heavy D's incarnation - The Fat David Luiz - predicted Arsenal would win the league... while that's not mathematically impossible, it would require two history-making events to coincide: a dramatic collapse from both Manchester City and Liverpool, coupled with a sensational title-run from the Gunners.
Arsenal have won just four of their last 11 Premier League matches, leaving them 14 points behind leaders Liverpool.
But we're only in November. The FA Cup, Europa League and qualification for the Champions League via a top-four finish are still all realistic goals.
Achieving these targets will hinge on a remedy to fix a number of issues currently afflicting the club. Relationships need repairing. The captaincy needs addressing. And the fans need to believe again.
This is exactly the kind of crisis Luiz was brought in to help manage. A defensive leader with the experience and force of personality to handle pressure both on and off the pitch.
During an evening spent with the self-proclaimed geezer it's clear he has the character and desire to unite the club during testing times.
Let's address the elephant in the room before we go any further. Luiz is a wonderful footballer with a passing range that could find a hole in one on a golf course, but why would you recruit him to mend a rearguard that conceded 51 goals last season? His reputation as a reliable sentry has been sullied by a number of headline-making defensive errors.
His performances thus far have been largely assured, without fortifying a defence that's conceded 17 goals in 11 games - the joint-sixth worst record in the division.
But when he's tuned in and playing in the right system, he's a colossus. During Chelsea's title-winning 2016-17 campaign Luiz played in Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 system and excelled. In view of Arsenal's current struggles playing a 4-2-3-1 - a passive attack, lacking in creativity - a switch in formation could unleash the adventurous Luiz and provide more ammunition for Arsenal's talented frontline.
Under-fire head coach Unai Emery played with a three-man defence during an insipid 1-1 draw away to Vitoria in the Europa League on Thursday - with Shkodran Mustafi playing alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Rob Holding.
The Spaniard certainly wants to play out from the back - that's part of the reason Luiz was signed - but the risk has yielded more punishment than reward.
They manage to escape impending doom and after avoiding their foretold demise they persist with the tactic and concede.
Arsenal fans want them to stop. Luiz wants the team to get better. "I love to play like this," he says without hesitation. "I believe in this kind of football where you gain superiority in different parts of the pitch and try to create lines of passing to get nearer the opponent's goal.
"Football is about space and timing so we have to use this and to create some different movements, to build from the back."
For some outside the club there's a perception the coach has struggled to communicate his ideas to the players and the disjointed performances on the pitch support this claim, but Luiz insists the head coach and players are united.
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"The coach is a passionate guy," says the Brazilian. "He's giving 100% every day, trying to give his best for us. We are trying to give the same back."
Arsenal supporters can't deny Emery has done an excellent job of promoting youth. The former Paris Saint-Germain manager has introduced the likes of Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matteo Guendouzi to first team action with great effect.
Guendouzi, in particular, has become a must-pick for Emery this season. Whether it's breaking lines with driving runs or making lung-busting recovery tackles, everything he does is full of fist-pumping passion and energy.
This strikes a chord with Luiz. He sees a kindred spirit. Just don't compare their flamboyant mops, there's only one curly-haired creator.
"I'm more beautiful and handsome than him, so when I saw him I just said, 'Congratulations you have beautiful curly hair, but I'm the original'," he laughs.
"I'm joking, he's a great player. He has a brilliant future ahead of him, I just keep telling him to work hard."
Passing on his experience and advice to the young players coming through will be invaluable as the club tries to change a culture of mental fragility to hardened winners.
Critics have cast him as a defensive liability, but that doesn't add up when you look at his achievements: 18 major trophies, 57 caps for Brazil and more than £100 million commanded in transfer fees. And he's not finished yet.
"The ambition was to continue to try to do big things in football," he says. "It was not an easy decision because everybody knows how successful Chelsea have been, but I wanted to stay in the Premier League and fight for the title.
"Arsenal is a big club and I want it to shine again."
Surrendering leads in their last four games is not "shine again" form, but we're barely a quarter of the way through the season.
They're six points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with 27 games left to play. Barring an apocalyptic implosion they're on course to qualify for the Europa League knock-out stages. And the FA Cup starts in January - a trophy they've won more than any other club (13). A stuttering start hasn't completely ruled them out of the running.
And they have firepower. £137 million was invested in the squad this summer. They have two of the best strikers in the Premier League. This is not a question of ability, it's a question of mentality.
"This team has a lot of talent," says Luiz. "We have to think bigger, with ambition. It's not about the beginning, it's about the end. The club deserves to fight for big things. The fans deserve that. Let's keep fighting together."
These are not carefully rehearsed lines read from a marketing script. They're sincere. Watching Luiz interact with fans at an adidas event in the shirt manufacturer's central London store is genuinely heartening.
Hugs, smiles and warmth bring out the grins of starry-eyed fans as he helps customise their shirts.
Showing gratitude and respect for the supporters is how you lead, how you unite. "We try to give everything in our lives to make the fans happy," he says. "We try to encourage them, not just through our football, but also with our character. I try to be a good example on the pitch and in life."
This personable approach is something he brings to the training ground every day - spreading positivity, making everyone feel important, like they're part of the team.
"It's great to see how the academy works, how the women's team works and how the people work within every part of the club with love for us," he says.
"They try to take care of us so we can give our best. I enjoy these kind of moments and people. It's what makes me happy in life."
Circumstances call for this kind of leadership as Arsenal recover from Granit Xhaka's fall-out with the club's support.
The Swiss international has been stripped of the captaincy, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang taking over. Luiz wasn't included in Emery's five-man leadership group, but he doesn't need an official assignment - this is something he does naturally, rather than by appointment.
"If you have the right mentality, you're already a leader," he says. "It doesn't matter your age or where you came from.
"Leaders are ready to give to others and this is what I'm trying to do." Luiz the leader, the winner, the unconventional defender are needed to fortify a damaged team and restore hope in the stands.
David Luiz was speaking at the adidas x Arsenal MakersLab event. For more details on the adidas flagship store events visit https://www.adidas.co.uk/ldn'
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