This is not an official translation, and I am not a professional translator - it is intended only to help out non-Francophone readers.
The asterisks show where L'Equipe added clarifying notes, and [square brackets] identify idioms or grammatical constructions I can't usefully translate, or am not sure of (where English is included) - update 10 December 2012, thanks to Belgoona for some help with that, (edits noted in text).
Have you become a true ‘Gunner’?
I became one when I heard the fans singing my name. It was at Anfield, Liverpool, at the beginning of the season. Away from home, those are the true fans who support us. In fact, they sing more away from home than at the Emirates. Imagine it, you are at Anfield and you hear Hey Jude by the Beatles, a song with your name. It gave me shivers. It gives you the will to win.
Despite that support, you had to wait until 26 September and your 7th match to score your first goal…in the League Cup, against a team from the third tier (Coventry). Were you preoccupied by that?
It was a relief. But it was necessary to score in the Premier League to grow in confidence. The real goal came against West Ham*, and better still my brothers were in the Arsenal end. It was even more important for me to score that day. Again away from home! It is also exciting to score in front of 60.000 fans at home, but, away from home, the fans will support you to the end.
English football, it’s a big shock, no?
Listening to music in the dressing room before a match, that was banned at Montpellier. In the cup, and in the Champions League, when you meet at the stadium before the match. I like that laidback approach. But Arsenal is ‘french style’. [On a souvent des mises au vert, aussi].
When you arrive at Arsenal, are you met by the culture of the club (head on) ?
They watch. They see if you want to take on the customs of the club, of the country. They let you integrate at your speed. I was well advised by former players, such as Mikael Silvestre, Robert Pires. They are full of the modern history of Arsenal. They told me above all about life at the club. I am integrating easily. I haven’t gone to the museum yet, but I will do.
You should visit it with Charlie George, he’s a legend there.
Really, in the stadium corridors or here at the training centre, you feel the weight of history. There are so many photos of legends of the club. I often stop to look at them. The photo of Pat Vieira and the manager with the trophy in 2004…there is also the statue of Thierry Henry in front of the Emirates. And also, I feel the presence of Dennis Bergkamp, of whom I have always been a fan.
Have you passed the Art-Deco façade of the East Stand, the sole vestige of Highbury, the mythical stadium of Arsenal?
I see it when we pass in the bus when we come to matches. I see the crowd pass in front of it, that comes up out of the underground and processes to the Emirates. I see the groups of fans in front of the pubs. Really, it gets you. It makes you want to be irreproachable. The fans make you understand the honour it is to wear the shirt.
How is Arsenal different from others in England?
It’s the ‘french touch’. I’m the 23rd French player to wear the colours since Arsene Wenger’s arrival. The club is marked by the goals of Henry, the 400** matches of Pat Vieira. Back then, the manager brought the club up-to-date. He built practically everything and gave a very pronounced style to the team. I built his team with that philosophy and not by spending millions, like others did. He didn’t buy a team ready to go. He fashioned it. Even if there hasn’t been a trophy for seven years, it has that strong identity. Every year, he has lost two or three of his best players, but the club has not abandoned that philosophy; it rebuilds. Even if that isn’t always obvious.
Is there internal disquiet, not to be winning trophies any more?
Bizarrely, no. We speak more of it in France than here. The English have a focus on looking forward, not back. It’s a real strength.
Don’t you have the feeling of arriving at a period of tension? At a moment when the club seems to be weakening?
Yeees…(hesitation). But at the same time, that puts less pressure on me. It’s not a recent thing, that big players leave Arsenal. Now, we have to forget them / let them go, even if the (new) names are less well known. We want to bring honours to this club.
Less pressure? Really? You are following van Persie, Bergkamp, Henry, Wright…
I feel the pressure to get results, but not so much that it inhibits me, to be in the place of my predecessors. When you arrive at a big club, you will always be replacing a big attacker. It’s pointless to get hung up on it. Van Persie wasn't built in a day (corrected 10 December 2012).
With already 7 goals and 6 assists, you’ve started well.
Thierry Henry had to wait 8 matches to score in the Premier League, Bergkamp the same. So I’ve done OK, but we have to do better collectively.
What does that mean, ‘we have to do better collectively’?
We have to be more effective in all areas of the game. More realistic. More varied, also. We build the game from the back and it takes a while for the ball to reach the attacker. I have to adapt to that. When you are a striker, you hope for more crosses, as well. We aren’t very spontaneous when we’re in a position to cross. I’ve talked about that with my colleagues.
Arsenal, it’s a passing game. Maybe too much, in front of goal…
Maybe…maybe we have to impose ourselves more on the game. But wait, I’ve got no pretentions to be the manager; just I have the chance to be in a club where we can talk about things.
For Wenger, [le jeu ne depasse-t-il pas l’enjeu? - is there more at stake than the games?]
I don’t know…it’s a good question. Arsene wants to win every match. Each time we go out on the field, he says ‘believe in your qualities’, ‘play your game’. He wants us to impose our philosophy o the game. He wants us to dominate, when we have possession. Here, we don’t want to be reacting to the game of our opponents. He is very educational / informative in what he says. He pushes us to outdo ourselves, to go and get the win.
At any price?
Frankly, I don’t know…
How do you deal with the movements at the club, attacks on some shareholders for their supposed lack of ambition?
I don’t pay any attention. I’ve heard about it. Even about tensions in the management team, between the manager and Steve Bould, his assistant, but I’ve never seen any of that. Maybe it’s true, but in the dressing room I’ve never been aware of it. When you sell important players, it is reasonable to be able to ask how that money will be spent, but Arsenal is a healthy club, well-run, and if the fair-play rules came in tomorrow, they’d be one of the only ones who would be OK.
Manchester City became champions by getting the chequebook out.
And Montpellier were too, up against PSG, without getting the chequebook out. Here, we bought Santi Cazorla without spending 50 million! He’s a super player. My history proves you can win titles without being a star. I’ve spoken with players here, told them that with Montpellier, we did it without having millions.
Those who see you play every week say that your body language has changed, that you look bigger, more confident, more at home on the pitch in recent weeks. An explanation?
When you arrive in the Premier League, you have to adapt to the physicality of the game, the intensity. You have to get used to it. Once you have processed that you are an Arsenal player, that gives you confidence. Your attitude changes. You want to show how much you want to succeed.
And how does that work?
I’m more demanding of myself. More concentrated. More professional. More applied. In training, in matches. When I miss a ball, I say to myself “…You have to work on that!”. You are surrounded by players more technically adept than before, so you have to get up to their level. I know myself, I can tend to just go with it if I am comfortable. People have always said that. On coming here, I have got rid of that. I am guided by a constant desire (to be better).
When the Olivier Giroud of Arsenal is with the national team, how is he different from the Giroud of Montpellier?
I feel more legitimate / worthy. I think I warrant respect for what I do on the field. I don’t see myself as a leader. I feel more at ease. I take my place, I do what I do.
In the bus, at the table, you choose your place?
A little bit, yes. It’s more natural. You will be more at ease in a group when you are performing on the field. You feel you deserve that place. I ask myself fewer questions. I don’t look at the pictures of the legends on the walls at Clairefontaine any more. You have to stay grounded. There were many triggers. My goal, and my game, against Germany, selection for the Euros, and my equaliser against Spain.
Your profile / image has increased, and with your good looks, you are well placed to attract advertisers…
I don’t chase contracts. I have just Puma for the moment. I look for quality brands to associate with. And I want to stay true to who I am. On my website and interviews with the media.
There is, keeping some perspective, a bit of the David Beckhams about you. Handsome, polite, you like football, fashion…and aware of all those attributes.
That’s a nice comparison! I work with a PR agent to achieve more visibility. I’m lucky enough to have a pretty decent face and I want to work with that (corrected 10 December 2012) . Without people thinking I’m someone else.
From a middle class background, you have gone for the tattoos. That’s quite ‘footballer’ in spirit.
Unlike Beckham, I’m not totally covered. I think I will stop here. I got tattoos because it was fashionable, but also, to mark that I was a man, a self-affirmation. Apart from a tribal design on my calf, the all represent me. I’m devout, so I have a Biblical psalm on my right arm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. The one on my left arm is Polynesian. Every one has its significance. And remind me of my values: family, love, friends, courage, strength, honour. I am happy to have them on, and in, me.
In England, the players are often tattooed, do you talk about them a lot?
I’m not sure if they understand the significance of my tattoos. Anyway, it’s not the same style of tattooing that you find here. Here, they have more. Me, I wanted something sparser, more spaced out; which my mother prefers. I’m no ‘bad boy’…
After five months in England, what is there English about you other than the aerial game?
Tracking back to put in tackles. Making that effort. The English public is more knowledgeable for that than the French. Here they clap a defensive effort, a tackle, a pass out. I feel good here. I like the intensity of direct football, when it’s end-to-end, ‘box to box’. I like football with loads of chances. I like this country where you live, eat and sleep football. I feel at home. After all, they invented it.
*7th match in the League
**actually 406, against 377 for Henry