It should not be too much of a surprise that Arsenal FC's Arsène Wenger has become the first coach of a non-French team to align an all-French defence in the UEFA Champions League. Nor, to close observers of the competition, that it was Sébastien Squillaci who completed the jigsaw.
The French international has been a staple of Europe's top club tournament in recent years, representing AS Monaco FC, Olympique Lyonnais and Sevilla FC with distinction. Squillaci looked like he had been at Arsenal for years, rather than a matter of weeks, during an assured UEFA Champions League debut for the Gunners in the 6-0 win against SC Braga on Matchday 1.
"We were great," he told UEFA.com. "Football is never simple but we made it easier for ourselves by scoring quickly." Even during such a comprehensive victory, the experienced Squillaci knows it is important for the defence to be on its guard. "In this competition you always have to keep your concentration," the 30-year-old said, "and there are still five matches to go in order to qualify."
The centre-back's smooth transition into north London life – he hopes Saturday's 3-2 Premier League defeat by West Bromwich Albion FC is a temporary hiccup – has been aided by the presence of so many Francophone colleagues but also, he says, by the sheer quality of his peers. "It's easy to adapt when you come into a team like this with such good players, playing with great confidence," he continued. "I just have to keep working to get better in my role on the pitch as part of Arsenal."
Squillaci reached the 2004 UEFA Champions League final with Monaco and knows the stamina required if Arsenal are to make the final in their home city next May. Tuesday's trip to Belgrade to face FK Partizan is symptomatic of the diverse challenges the competition presents.
"It'll be difficult," he said. "
Partizan are a good team, very strong technically, and it's away from home of course, so we have to be ready to battle for the right to play our own game. We know we have to be a good Arsenal [team] to go there and win."
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