Exclusive: 101 speaks to former Arsenal and Benfica midfielder Stefan Schwarz ahead of Europa clash


Stefan Schwarz: double allegiance

Arsenal face Benfica in the last 32 of the Europa League. Two teams whose seasons have not gone to plan. Both currently sitting outside the Champions League qualification spots for their respective nations.

101 spoke to former Arsenal, Benfica and Sweden international Stefan Schwarz ahead of the clash between the pair. Asking Schwarz about who he was personally leaning towards with his allegiances to each club, the Swede responded amicably about his former sides.

“It is a difficult one because both the clubs treated me very very well. Two great clubs that were winning and playing for trophies. I played more years for Benfica but the time I spent at Arsenal, I had never seen a club as professional anywhere else. Classy. Well organized,” he said.

“I am divided in that aspect so hope the best team will win.”


AVEIRO, PORTUGAL – AUGUST 05: Benfica players with Portuguese Super Cup trophy after the match between SL Benfica and VSC Guimaraes at Estadio Municipal de Aveiro on August 05, 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)

Asking for his analysis on both sides, Schwarz identified the struggles both teams have had but said either could be potentially dangerous for their opponent with their pedigree.

“It is a tough one because both teams are not performing that well in the league. Very inconsistent, even though they have very good players individually but they haven’t performed as a team really, consistently. It will be a tough game, even though Arsenal are the favourites with the quality they have in the squad,” said Schwarz.

“Very pacey, I like the young players as well. But you should never forget, these two are like sleeping giants in European football. You can never forget about Benfica, because when it is European football they have the capacity to improve their performance. They have a very good manager in Jorge Jesus, tactically he is very strong. It will be an interesting game tonight.”

Benfica are sitting in 4th in Liga NOS, well off the pace of leaders Sporting Lisbon. More painful that it is their city rivals which top the table, Schwarz believes the reason for their poor returns this season has been, in part, down to the pandemic.

“I believe that Covid is the same for all teams and clubs but it affected Benfica quite hard. At a certain moment it was 19 people affected by Covid at the same time. I believe it was 10 players, even the president. Maybe the good thing is that now they have had it, they can play more months consistently and get some stability,” he said.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to former Arsenal and Benfica midfielder Stefan Schwarz ahead of Europa clash

LISBON, PORTUGAL – 2019/08/04: Pizzi (Luís Miguel Afonso Fernandes) of SL Benfica celebrates the goal during the Final Cândido de Oliveira SuperCup 2019 football match between SL Benfica vs Sporting CP.
(Final score: SL Benfica 5 – 0 Sporting CP). (Photo by David Martins/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Schwarz did however provide hope to the Benfica faithful who have suffered this past year.

“When this is over, I believe the players will be even better. I believe the board members will be even better, stronger. Because it is a learning lesson, this has never happened before. I think everyone had to take it on the chin in the beginning, it is a very strange one and it affected the performances and the mentality a little bit but hopefully it will come back strong with the supporters.”

A neutral venue

Due to Covid, the lingering effects have caused a movement of the venue for both ties with the first leg (Benfica’s home tie) being played in Rome whilst the return will be played in Athens next week. Benfica’s home record in European competition is mighty and Schwarz believes this will have an impact, not playing the games in familiar surroundings.

“Yeah, because when you play at home game, you can look at the grass, you do not have to look up because you know where the goal is,” said Schwarz. “You have all the references around and on the pitch. Coming to the new stadium, some players have played there before but it is not like you have played there week-in week-out.”

Asking Schwarz what he made of the job Mikel Arteta has done since his arrival at Arsenal he was very complimentary of the Spaniard despite Arteta’s recent difficulties with the Gunners. Schwarz even referenced the tricky situation regarding Mesut Ozil.

“I mean to win two titles, FA Cup and the Charity Shield is two titles. It is a lot of respect. Of course Arsenal had problems before, it seems like from outside they need someone like [Patrick] Vieira, Gilberto [Silva] or Tony Adams, some leaders on the pitch when it is a tough time,” he said.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to former Arsenal and Benfica midfielder Stefan Schwarz ahead of Europa clash

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta celebrates with the trophy after winning the Heads Up FA Cup final match at Wembley Stadium, London. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

“They have quality players but I think sometimes you need someone who will push the buttons at the right time. Give them encouragement or harder words.”

“What I have followed from the media, it was not easy the situation with Ozil. Great player, all the respect in the world for him. But when you start talking too much in the media… the focus should be on the football pitch and what you are doing.”

Swedish talent

101 have recently been covering a number of young players across the world in exclusive interviews (a couple can be found at the bottom of the page).

Having spoken to Swedish starlet Williot Swedberg of Hammarby, it would have been remiss not to ask Schwarz about the burgeoning Swedish talent coming through after the retirement of the iconic Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Arsenal themselves have a young forward Nikolaj Moller coming though also.

“I think the competence between the coaches in the youth system has improved a lot. Their knowledge of the game, they are capable. The leadership and psychology [skills] is working from early ages. Sweden never had a lot of money but you can see the passion in the young players,” he said.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to former Arsenal and Benfica midfielder Stefan Schwarz ahead of Europa clash

SIENA, ITALY – APRIL 29: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A match between AC Siena and AC Milan at Artemio Franchi – Mps Arena Stadium on April 29, 2012 in Siena, Italy. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)

“And of course Zlatan has meant a lot for the young players, they want to be like Zlatan. They have good attitude and personality. Of course they have some skilful players but I think they are more adult, more prepared at an early age.”

101 would like to thank Stefan Schwarz for taking the time to speak with us. Asking him for a score prediction for the first leg, rather predictably he replied “1-1.” Remaining consistent in his unwavering support for both clubs.

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