Marouane Chamakh is a lucky man. The Morocco international recently left French entertainers Bordeaux for English aristocrats Arsenal, another side that puts the emphasis on attractive, free-flowing football. Newly arrived in north London, the 26-year-old goalgetter has made a surprisingly smooth transition to the physically demanding English game, quickly opening his English Premier League account and making a valuable contribution to the Arsenal cause.
“Marouane loves physical contact and he’s good in the air,” said Gunners coach Arsene Wenger in praise of his new signing. “He’s made for this type of football and he’s also someone who plays and works for the team.”
Taking stock of his first few weeks at the Emirates, the former Bordeaux man gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com. On the agenda: his fast start to life in England, working out in the gym, his gifted team-mates and the pressure of playing for one of Europe’s top sides.
FIFA.com: Marouane, two goals in your first four games for Arsenal. Did you dream about making such a good start?
Marouane Chamakh: I’ve settled in quickly and things couldn’t have gone much better from that point of view. I gave myself six months or maybe even a year to settle down here and I’m ahead of schedule in that respect. I’m delighted with how it’s going although training has been very tough for me. I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as this physically, but here I am experiencing everything I’d envisaged about Arsenal and the English league. The atmosphere in the stadiums, the open and attacking football and the standard of the team are just amazing. I’m getting involved in the games and I’m scoring too. I’m so happy.
You've not had any easy matches yet but you've played a decisive role in each one so far.
That’s right and that’s what I’m so pleased about. There are never any easy game matches but I’m just trying to do my best, get involved and be as useful and decisive as I can. My hard work is paying off, for the moment at least, and I just want to do my bit in each game and to help the team win. I forced [Pepe] Reina into a mistake on my debut against Liverpool, I won a penalty against Blackpool and I got on the scoresheet on Saturday (a 4-1 win over Bolton Wanderers).
The games against Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton have given you an introduction to the physicality and commitment of the English game.
It’s very tough, I can tell you that, and the referees always try to keep the game going. I was a bit taken aback to start with. I’ve taken a couple of shoulder barges and thought the ref was going to blow but he didn’t. He just looked at me and said: ‘Play on, play on’. Everyone’s used to it here except me. I suppose you learn as you go along (laughs). That’s the way the game is and it’s up to me to get used to it.
Lots of players spend time doing weights when they first arrive in England. How about you?
Yes, I’m going to start a special fitness programme although I hate doing weights (laughs). I know it’s something I need to do because it helps when it comes to absorbing the physical stuff. I know I need to work on my muscles but I’m going to sort of tell them that it’s not really my thing and that I need to take it bit by bit.
Which player has surprised you the most since you arrived at Arsenal?
I’d have to say Abou Diaby. We all know about the quality of [Cesc] Fabregas and [Samir] Nasri but Abou has really surprised me. He’s pretty laid-back and reserved but on the pitch he doesn’t hold back at all. He’s got fantastic technique for a big guy and he can really get his foot around the ball. He’s an exceptional player.
You've left a good footballing side in Bordeaux for a very attacking team such as Arsenal. You must feel very privileged.
Yes. When you’re out there and you’ve got Nasri and Fabregas behind you, you know you’re going to get quality service. With Cesc you could see that against Bolton. He’s our key man and he set Arshavin up a few times as well. He played the cross in for my goal and he also put me in on the right. He’s got exceptional touch and I’ve never really seen anyone pass the ball like he does. He can play it short and long and when you call for the ball you know you’re going to get it just where you want it. It’s great. I bet a lot of strikers would love to be in my shoes.
Does that put extra pressure on you?
A huge amount. I know that I have to score and I’m trying to make the difference in each game. I still have plenty of room for improvement but I think I have something to offer to the team. Things are going just fine at the moment. I’m loving every minute of it and I hope that continues in the Champions League on Wednesday. It’s a competition we all want to do really well in.