As the ecstasy of Arsenal’s back-to-back wins at Wembley seeps into a new season, for Cedric Soares too, it is the beginning of a new dawn. For 152 days, he had been forced to wait. A lingering knee injury and days on the treatment table, an “easy fit” in the dressing room but one who could only watch on with impatience. For a while, it seemed as though he might even leave Arsenal before playing a single minute, stuck with one foot inside the door as whispers of doubt gathered outside. But, as he made his way onto the pitch during the Community Shield victory against Liverpool, one thought trailed in his mind.
“There is always one piece of advice I give to myself,” Cedric says. “Especially before a game, when you need confidence. I remind myself of what brought me there, how I came to be at this level. I’m here for a reason. I fought for this. [Whenever you’re playing,] it’s important to be proud, to feel free.
“Of course, it’s not been easy,” he says of the five-month wait for his debut, with a four-year contract signed in the twilight hours of June. “I missed playing. I missed how football lives here, the atmosphere all around it, the fans. I’m a very football orientated person. Maybe, only if we’ve had a bad game, I’ll go out for dinner with my family or friends just to escape, just for an hour.”
But as the turbulence that previously engulfed Arsenal fuels a transformation, a state of chaos pacified by Mikel Arteta and moulded from hope into silverware, Cedric has steadily begun to find his feet. Just 229 seconds into his belated first appearance, his deflected shot soared into the top corner against Norwich. A strong finish to the season was followed by back-to-back victories at Wembley against Chelsea and Liverpool, lifting the tone around the club tenfold. Arteta has described him as the best “attacking” full-back at the club – a compliment and, perhaps, an aspersion wrapped into one.
“The role of a right-back has changed,” Cedric acknowledges. “When I started playing football, it was not a fancy position. I was a midfielder all of my youth career, but as a professional, you see how important the new generation of full-backs are. Everyone always has the quality and wants to attack, but defence is my first job. If you play as a back four, a full back needs to be complete, to defend well, especially in the Premier League. It’s a demanding job physically.”
Cedric is, of course, aware that cementing a starting position will be no easy feat. But what the club sees as necessary depth is also his opportunity, the challenge he long-desired to leave Southampton for, and he’s quickly developed close bonds with those whom he’s competing for positions. “We are very close: Myself, Hector, [Kieran] Tierney, also [Sead] Kolasinac, Ainsley [Maitland-Niles]and Bukayo [Saka]. We are all working for each other, it’s a big group, we spend time together working on crossing and finishing after training, the small details defensively. We have a very good relationship. Arsenal is such a big club and we all have to be there to help.”
For a player who’s shared a dressing room with Cristiano Ronaldo for almost seven years with Portugal – “a player who brings a lot of responsibility on the group, just pure motivation” – Cedric also recognises shades of those talismanic qualities in Arsenal’s captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who’s expected to commit his long-term future to the club shortly. “Everyone knows when Auba arrives,” he adds. “He is an important player, and important for the group [mentality] as well.”
Coupled with the jubilation of last season’s success, the signings of Brazilians Willian and Gabriel, and the continued emergence of a host of academy graduates, the ground at Arsenal suddenly feels a little more stable. Now, without any more time for waste – for him, or the club – it is time to raise expectations once again.
“In football, you always have to have a final goal for what you want to achieve in your career,” he says. “This is what you have in your mind to fight for. Not everybody does, but I like that pressure. It gives you more motivation, more responsibility.”
Cedric Soares is a digital cover star for Gaffer Magazine.
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