There is no such thing as an easy ride at the Volkswagen Arena, according to VfL Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold.
The Wolves' 29-match unbeaten home run in the Bundesliga came to an end against Borussia Dortmund last weekend, but the businesslike 21-year-old - buoyed by a momentous midweek win over Manchester United FC in the UEFA Champions League - is determined to help his side bite back with a vengeance when Hamburger SV come to town on Matchday 16.
bundesliga.com: Maximilian Arnold, by beating Manchester United, Wolfsburg reached the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time. Along with last season’s DFB Cup triumph, is that the highlight of your young career?
Maximilian Arnold: A title is pretty special, so the DFB Cup win ranks a little higher than the win over Manchester United. Reaching the last 16, and as group winners at that, is still fantastic, though, and a real career highlight.
bundesliga.com: Wolfsburg’s performances this season have fluctuated between polished and a touch average. Do you sometimes rely a bit much on individual quality?
Arnold: I wouldn’t say that. We’re just trying to play our game. It doesn’t always work out and depends a bit on the performance of the opposition. Against Dortmund, for example, it was tough at the start. We didn’t find our feet until around the 25th minute and then we were right in the game.
bundesliga.com: Has it basically got more difficult for last season’s runners-up?
Arnold: Definitely. On the one hand, the departures we’ve had to contend with have played a part. On the other, a lot of teams have set up very defensively against us compared to before. You could see that, for example, in the second half against Dortmund. We had a lot of possession because BVB decided to sit deep. Last season we were always scoring goals on the counter. Now that’s harder to do because the opposition know exactly what’s coming. I know we have to go up a level if we want to achieve what we did last season.
bundesliga.com: Another parallel with last season is the difficulties you yourself experienced at the start, before eventually finding your rhythm. Are you more composed these days?
Arnold: Composure gets talked about too often. I’ve definitely learned how not to allow myself to get worked up. It was completely different for me last season. Now I know how to handle things. You just have to keep working hard and that’s what I’ve done. Those who are successful and want to be rewarded have to give everything. Nothing else will do.
bundesliga.com: You’ve shown the skill to literally step back from the No.10 position to No.6.
Arnold: When you want to play for such a strong side, you have to be prepared to be a bit versatile. That was reason enough for me to get to know other positions. Besides, I played as a No.6 in my youth, so it’s not like it’s completely new territory for me. I certainly wasn’t going into the position blind (laughs).
bundesliga.com: First you had to deal with Diego, then Kevin De Bruyne and now Julian Draxler. Does that bother you?
Arnold: Why should it? Competition is part of the business (laughs)! It’s what drives me on. I’ve always benefited from the competition you get at such a high level. All these great players have made me better.
bundesliga.com: You’re only 21, but you seem very experienced. Do you grow up quicker as a professional footballer?
Arnold: I think so. As a professional footballer, you’re seen as a role model and you develop a sense of awareness that goes with the responsibility. It happens quickly for some, and not so quickly for others. It happens to everyone, though. I often think that I might be seen as a role model for some kids. I don’t want to disappoint them and I take my responsibility very seriously.
bundesliga.com: Pressure, competition, responsibility - is that not a bit much for a 21-year-old?
Arnold: Obviously I can only speak for myself: I don’t see it as excessive - I don’t really feel external pressure either. If anything, I put pressure on myself because I’m very ambitious and want to achieve a lot in football. Football’s what I love more than anything. I’m so happy that I’ve been given the chance to play football for a job and to actually do it.
bundesliga.com: Not every young player is so philosophical. Are you, as the saying goes, different to other kids?
Arnold: No. I hope not anyway (laughs). Everyone is special in their own way, not better or worse. It’s how I was brought up at home. If there were times when I was showing off, my Mum nipped it in the bud in good time. I’m not the kind of guy that wants to play in the spotlight and attract attention. That was never my style and, I hope, never will be.
bundesliga.com: Not even on the pitch…?
Arnold: Ok, maybe now and again (laughs), but only in a way that benefits the team.
bundesliga.com: Maybe against Hamburger SV on Saturday. They’re unrecognisable compared to last season.
Arnold: Our objective is definitely to win. And that’s the attitude we’ll take into the game, but it will be far from easy. We’re all keeping in mind HSV’s 3-1 win against Dortmund. They were aggressive and put in an incredible amount of legwork. I’m expecting another battling and strong HSV performance. Still, we’re playing at home and I think we’ve proved beyond any doubt that we’re a real force in our own stadium.
bundesliga.com: "We’re all keeping in mind HSV’s 3-1 win against Dortmund." Are you looking at both teams as upcoming opponents, when you watch a game like that?
Arnold: It was a Friday night game that we watched together in the team hotel. I was able to watch it as a complete neutral, though, relaxed and without having to analyse every detail. And why not? We get detailed video analysis of every opponent as part of our pre-match preparations. Then the coach explains a few specifics and makes adjustments accordingly. Sometimes it’s just nice to enjoy football as a neutral fan.
Interview by Andreas Kötter