Multilingual Senderos to let his feats do the talking in Milan

Defender winning over the fans as Arsenal's critical moment arrives

With five languages to his name, Philippe Senderos is a useful figure to have in the Tower of Babel that is the Arsenal dressing room. Recently he has been convincing some of the club's more sceptical supporters that he has his uses as a central defender too. Outstanding in the goalless draw at home to Milan two weeks ago, after being summoned as an early substitute for the injured Kolo Touré, he is desperate to keep his place for the return in the San Siro on Tuesday as Arsène Wenger's side face a critical moment in their season.

Judgement was harsh in the early days on the tall central defender, when a wrinkled brow belied his youth and a shining reputation proved hard to live up to. But Wenger has always had faith in one of those youngsters snaffled away from their local club at an early age in the face of some stiff competition.

Five years ago, every major European scout knew – or should have done – about the strapping captain of Switzerland's winning team at the European Under-17 Championship. Servette, Senderos's hometown club in Geneva, had been coaching him since the age of six, but could not resist even Arsenal's modest £500,000 offer in December 2002 and were just happy to keep him until the following summer. Within two years, Servette were declared bankrupt, and are only now fighting their way back through the Swiss leagues.

Real Madrid, one of the clubs tracking Senderos, would have been an understandable attraction for a player whose Spanish father has always supported them but, showing typical maturity, Senderos Jnr felt that Arsenal was a better option for a young player than the Bernabeu hothouse. The multi-cultural element to the club rather suited him as the product of a cosmopolitan family and city: his mother is Serbian and at school he was one of only a couple of Swiss in his class.

"My dad and mum met in Geneva; he was working in a restaurant as a maître d'hôtel and my mum was a PA," says the 23-year-old. "I never went short of anything, but my parents came from backgrounds where they had to work to get something. The first thing in my education was that nothing grows on trees, I had to work for it, and if I had an opportunity, to grab it.

"I come from a working family but I had the opportunity to play for a club and have a good education, that's part of the Swiss system. I'm lucky on that side when I compare myself to other players who didn't have those opportunities."

Hence his willingness to take part in Arsenal's impressively varied community schemes: "The club is made of so many cultures and nationalities that it reflects society, that's why I think Arsenal is so good for us."

Nor did he look out of place last Thursday at an almost bewilderingly cross-cultural event, when Your Game 2008, the BBC's festival of street football, dance and music, was launched in a basement car park decorated with original Banksy works beneath the Swiss Ambassador's central London residence. Some of the participants will be invited to the Euro 2008 finals in Switzerland this summer , where Senderos – who won his 25th cap at Wembley during the 2-1 defeat by England in Fabio Capello's first game in charge last month – will be a central figure for his country.

In a more conventional ante-room later, he turned his thoughts and his fluent English to Milan. "It was a fantastic first leg for the team. We showed great character and desire and put them on the back foot. They've got great quality players and you always have to keep an eye on them, and defensively we had a very good game. We were on top of them the whole game and they didn't really have clear-cut chances."

Surely Arsenal did not either, until Emmanuel Adebayor headed the best one against the crossbar with a minute to play? "I thought they defended pretty deep because they were probably scared of our pace and our movement up front, so it's really difficult to break down a team who defend like that, with two lines of four and two free players up front."

One of those free players was the world player of the year, Kaka, whose fondness for playing in between midfield and attack has managed to confound many a defence. "It was difficult but we studied that. We know Kaka is a player who likes the space between the lines of midfield and attack, so as a defender you have to push in and try to limit that space so we can be right behind him when he gets the ball.

"We did that quite well and it's going to be very similar in the away leg. You could see the Milan players were very tired towards the end, a few had cramp and it took a lot of energy out of them. Mentally I think we've got an edge on them and hopefully we'll make the most of it in the second leg. Kaka is an important player and they will want him to get on the ball in that space. I do not know whether they will put one or two up front but he will definitely be the one to look for."

It has been a difficult week at Arsenal after the ghastly injury suffered by Eduardo da Silva, although Senderos maintains that the squad have become more united in their determination to win something for their stricken team-mate. The last-gasp equaliser at home to Aston Villa yesterday kept the Gunners at the top of the Premier League despite Senderos's own goal.

"During the week we've been looking after Eduardo, all been to see him at the hospital and now at his house to wish him all the best. It's definitely strengthened our belief and motivation because we want to do something for him as well. In the League, we're in the best position there is, we're top, and we've got a great team with a lot of players coming back from injury and a lot of belief."

And a fellow defender's view of the challenge by Martin Taylor? "It was a bad tackle because it became such a bad injury. The way you play football you have to play with intelligence and sometimes you can get a bit carried away. That's what happened this time. It was a bad challenge and a bad outcome. I'm sure he didn't wish to break anyone's leg, but you have to be careful in what you do."

Match-by-match guide

TUESDAY

Barcleona (3) v Celtic (2)

Even without the dreadful travel sickness that afflicts them on leaving Glasgow Airport, Celtic could not realistically expect to reach the last eight after being undone by the brilliance of Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry at Parkhead. Respectable defianceis all that can be asked for.

Manchester Utd (1) v Lyon (1)

The sudden improvement by Nani and Anderson in recent weeks has given United a new dimension, not least in allowing Ryan Giggs more rest. His 100th Champions' League appearance ended happily when Carlos Tevez (right) stole a late goal that should provide a springboard for victory here.

Milan (0) v Arsenal (0)

Kaka, Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf all hope to be fit by Tuesday, in which case Arsenal's task will look even tougher following Emmanuel Adebayor's miss in the last minute of the first game. But Milan will also need to be sharper up front than the young Brazilian prodigy Pato was.

Sevilla (2) v Fenerbahce (3)

Juande Ramos's former club equalised twice in Istanbul but their good work was undone when Senturk scored Fenerbahce's third in the last few minutes. Sevilla cannot afford to concede the next goal in the return leg but ought to go through if they don't.

WEDNESDAY

Chelsea (0) v Olympiakos (0)

A limp performance in Athens proved to be the precursor of another one at Wembley five days later, and now alarm bells are sounding about the course of Chelsea's season. Disenchantment with Avram Grant will continue if the less than formidable Greek champions are not seen off comprehensively.

Porto (0) v Schalke (1)

The German side, progressing this far for the first time, feel they should be travelling to Portugal with a greater advantage than the one supplied by Kevin Kuranyi's goal. But having looked suspect defensively for some time, they were happy enough with a clean sheet and remain confident.

Real Madrid (1) v Roma (2)

Having lost the early lead given to them by Raul in the Olympic Stadium, then having seen the gap at the top of the Spanish League unexpectedly curtailed by Barcelona, Real are suddenly under pressure. That away goal remains invaluable, however, and they must be narrow favourites to progress.

Latest betting: 7-2 Barcelona; 9-2 Manchester Utd; 5-1 Chelsea; 8-1 Liverpool; 9-1 Real Madrid; 10-1 Arsenal, Milan; 18-1 Internazionale, Sevilla; 20-1 Roma; 33-1 Schalke; 40-1 Lyon, Porto; 80-1 Fenerbahce, Olympiakos; 250-1 Celtic. (Odds by William Hill).

Internazionale (0) v Liverpool (2) will be played on 11 March as ground-sharers Milan host Arsenal.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition