Half and half scarves get a justifiably bad rap but Arsenal Invincible Lauren should be allowed one next week in the Champions League when the club where he made history faces Sevilla, the club he joined aged 11.
He grew up a Sevilla fan watching a team that included Diego Maradona from behind the Stadium’s North Goal.
He was a talented attacker for them scoring goals in every age category up to the club’s B-team but they allowed him to slip away first to Levante and then to Mallorca from where Arsene Wenger signed him and made him the dependable and dynamic right back in the team that went unbeaten in the 2003-04 season.
That League win remains Arsenal’s last, but in the 20th anniversary season Lauren believes another title is closer than ever.
‘There have been a lot of good Arsenal teams (since the Invincibles) but (Mikel) Arteta’s team is the one with most chance of winning the Premier League,’ he says. ‘We were close last year and this year I think we can do it.’
Arsenal legend Lauren believes the club’s Invincibles would win the Champions League now
Arsene Wenger’s 2003-04 side raced to the Premier League title and remained unbeaten
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He is impressed by the coach, the spirit and togetherness of the squad, the strength of the bench, and he sees talent in every department. But he also detects a winning mentality that comes in large part from a young captain
‘It’s so important to be able to control situations on an emotional level,’ he says. ‘There are teams that know how to do it. You score a goal against Real Madrid or Barcelona and they come back at you because they know how to control those situations.
‘You need a captain who knows how to handle that type of situation and what is striking about Martin Odegaard is not just that he can do it, but that he’s only 24. Arteta wouldn’t give the armband to just any one.
‘He gives it to him because he transmits what Arteta would be transmitting were he on the pitch.’
Lauren credits the Arsenal coach with much of the progress of Odegaard and those other young players around him. ‘I was impacted this summer seeing the way he is able to transmit what he wants,’ he says.
He has a genuine desire for another Arsenal team to come along and repeat the title success from two decades ago.
Current boss Mikel Arteta has been praised with Lauren crediting him for players’ development
Lauren also singled out captain Martin Odegaard for his impressive maturity aged just 24
He raves about some of the players from the teams that have tried and failed since. Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky, before his injury, all get a mention.
Robin van Persie too, for his character as well as his talent. ‘It’s not easy to compete with [Thierry] Henry and [Denis] Bergkamp,’ he says. ‘He had the “here I am” attitude that you need. There were others who came in and were going to be top scorers, I won’t name them, and they recoiled a bit in training but not him.’
Asked if he was the worst in those brutally tough training sessions he smiles: ‘No I was a Sister of Mercy in comparison.’
So how would the Invincibles have taken on Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City? ‘The same way we faced teams then, without any fear,’ he says.
‘Our problem was not knowing how to compete in the Champions League. Wenger called me aside after a training session once and I thought he was going to rollick me for something. But he said: “Lauren, why do you think in the Champions League we don’t do things as well as in the league?”
‘We just didn’t have the experience. And not just in terms of the players but also at club level. If you put the Invincibles in the club as it is now, the institution that it is now, we would win the Champions League.
The Invincibles would have locked horns with Manchester City with no fear, Lauren insisted
‘The club is used to playing the competition every year. That mentality is now installed, and it translates to the pitch.
‘Last season’s experience will serve us well (in terms of the league title). I know we lost an eight-point advantage but how many players from last season had been in that situation before? Maybe two or three.
‘Now it’s the whole squad. When the moment of pressure comes and you absolutely have to win a game, the team is ready now.
‘We have a chance to win the league, especially if another forward to help Gabriel Jesus can be signed, and we can compete for the Champions League too. Why not?’
All this suggests a daunting task for Arsenal’s next Champions League rivals Sevilla. They have won only two games in 11 since the start of the season and already changed their manager.
‘Arsenal are coming into the game in better form but Sevilla know how to compete,’ Lauren says. ‘They are capable of being in a bad way – we saw it last season – and yet still winning the Europa League.’
Arsenal narrowly lost out on the league title last season but will be determined to push again
Lauren joined Sevilla’s academy aged just 11 and used to watch Diego Maradona in training
It will be an emotional night for him whatever happens. He’ll be at the game as part of the Arsenal delegation but Sevilla has been such a big part of his life.
‘When I was playing in their youth academy I just enjoyed myself,’ he says. ‘It was fun. I see a lot of youth football now and I think that is being lost a bit.
‘Kids don’t go there just to enjoy themselves. They go there to become professionals. I feel fortunate to have come through in the era I did.’
And the fact that football was fun for him growing up can only have been heightened by Sevilla persuading Maradona to finish his career there while Lauren was following as a young fan.
‘I used to watch him train,’ he says. ‘He would be taking free-kicks and he would score the first, and then the second, and I would think: the third one is not going to go in as well, and he’d score that too.
‘The fourth would go in too and I’d think: okay maybe he’ll miss the fifth, and in it went. I have never seen anything like it before or since.’
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