Going great guns – Arteta has Arsenal firing on all cylinders

Meet Elli Famira Azisman, a lawyer-turned-television personality and a great leftback.

Elli, who will play in the Selangor women’s league later this month, talks football in front of the camera, and is a passionate Arsenal supporter.

She tells Twentytwo13 why she believes Arsenal is in good hands, and her hopes for the season.

Why did you start supporting Arsenal?

Elli: My dad and younger brother are Arsenal fans, but my other siblings follow Manchester United. We always watch these two teams play. In 2005 or 2006, I saw an Arsenal match and immediately fell in love with one particular player.

Surprisingly, it was not Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp, but Alexander Hleb.

I liked the way he dribbled and carried the ball. How confident he seemed whenever he was in the team. I was so sad when he joined Barcelona (2008). He will always be the first player who won a place in my heart.

Your best memories of the club?

Elli: It was the 2011 Champions League Round of 16. My younger brother (Aidzat Famirul) and I woke up for the 3am match. We had the volume on low as we were not allowed to watch early morning games on school nights.

Arsenal came back to win 2-1 with late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin.

We were so excited that we jumped for joy but had to be very quiet as we did not want to wake anyone up! Sharing that moment with my brother was priceless.

Sadly, Barcelona won the return leg 3-1, to progress.

Have you ever been to Emirates Stadium?

Elli: I have been there with my brother but have not watched a match. My next mission is to watch Arsenal play at the Emirates.

But, I was lucky to watch Arsenal when they visited Malaysia in 2012. I saved up to buy the most premium ticket. I was only 18. That was the most expensive thing I ever bought, up to that point.

It was a couple of hundred ringgit, but so worth it. I went to a meet-and-greet and attended a training session.

Your thoughts on Mikel Arteta?

Elli: I like how he rebuilt the culture of the club, where everyone works for each other. We lost it after (Arsene) Wenger left (2018). When (Unai) Emery came in, he was so strict. There is nothing wrong with that, but perhaps it alienated some people. There was also a language problem as Emery struggled with his English.

I liked Emery. His tactics were good, but something just was not right. There was not much joy in training.

If you see Arsenal now, Arteta has made everyone feel important. Even Jack Wilshere, an out of contract player training with his old club, has his meals with the team.

To run a successful football club, everyone must be on the same page, and that is what Arteta has done.

Did you lose faith at the start of the season when Arsenal lost three consecutive matches?

Elli: I always trusted Arteta. Arsenal had plenty of injuries, and a couple of players had Covid-19.

As our players recovered, we played better. After beating our rivals Tottenham, I knew we were back on track. Today, we are fifth in the standings.

Elli (facing camera) in action during a recent football match.

What are your thoughts about Aaron Ramsdale?

Elli: I was not too worried when Arsenal signed him, even though he suffered relegation from the Premier League in the past two seasons (Bournemouth and Sheffield United).

I liked how he bounced back from those relegations to become England’s third-choice goalkeeper at Euro 2020. That shows he is mentally strong.

I like the way he distributes the ball. He sets up attacks with accurate passes.

The transfer window is opening soon. Whom should Arsenal get?

Elli: We need someone in the attack. We cannot rely only on the creative outlet provided by Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Their partnership is solid, but their intensity level has dropped off.

Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic is heavily linked to Arsenal. We lacked a physical striker ever since Olivier Giroud left in 2018. Vlahovic fits the bill.

Arsenal score many pretty goals inside the box. But they need strikes from long range – something that Vlahovic offers.

I know the fan base is split over Granit Xhaka, but I like him. He had some rough moments with his attitude and needs to be more disciplined with his tackles. He had one of his worst seasons when he was captain, but since relinquishing the armband, he has been solid.

Maybe the pressure of leading the team got to him. I believe he has learned from his mistakes. He is critical to the way Arteta sets up the team.

Where do you see Arsenal finishing this season?

Elli: Some fans only embrace Arsenal if they are in the Champions League. But I am realistic. We are in a rebuilding phase. It will take us time to return to where we were when Wenger was in charge.

So, my expectation is a top-six finish. A top four would be a bonus but, for now, I would be happy to be in the top six.

Your prediction for this weekend’s match against Liverpool?

Ellie: I love (Jurgen) Klopp and what he has done at Liverpool.

Seeing how Takehiro Tomiyasu kept Tottenham’s Son Heung-min in his pocket earlier this season, I think he can do the same with (Mohamed) Salah.

If we can keep Salah quiet, then we have a chance. A draw would be glorious, and three points would make people believe in Arteta more.

FIXTURES (Malaysian time)

Leicester vs Chelsea (8.30pm)
Newcastle vs Brentford (11pm)
Burney vs Crystal Palace (11pm)
Aston Villa vs Brighton (11pm)
Watford vs Manchester United (11pm)
Wolves vs West Ham (11pm)
Norwich vs Southampton (11pm)

Liverpool vs Arsenal (1.30am)
Manchester City vs Everton (10pm)

Tottenham vs Leeds (12.30am)