England’s reaction and strong support for France in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have been praised by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who was in the city at the time of the shootings.
Speaking at the club’s London Colney based training grounds today (Thursday) at his weekly press conference, Arsene said: “I would like to thank the English community for showing great solidarity.
“It was a shock, a huge shock for our country, and our football as well. I think the football world has responded the way you want it to respond, in a big union and big togetherness.”
Arsene said that he just avoided one of the attacks in Paris last Friday (13) night, as he had hoped to attend the match at the Stade de France, where the first of three explosions took place.
France was playing Germany in an international football friendly at the time.
Arsene said: “I was late to my appointment, and was late to go to the stadium so I decided to watch the game inside my hotel where I was.
“And that in the end, the hotel was quite secure, but the streets were of course completely empty.”
He admitted to being in shock after learning of the atrocity, saying, “I was not far from the event, and I think everyone who was in Paris on Friday night was in shock.
“I think that France, like England, is a tolerant and generous country, and to discover how much your own citizen hates you, and hates the country, it is a huge shock for everybody. You wonder what is going on there. Why does this country get this kind of treatment?
“I believe at the moment that nobody in France has found an answer or a real explanation, for what is going on and why, because what was targeted is the way of life basically, football, going out, listening to music and so it is more the way of life that is targeted.”
Asked whether he feared for his own safety when going out, Arsene said: “I was more in shock than fearful because you could be scared of what was going on, because it was in four different places, which were attacked in the centre of Paris, so you don’t feel secure anywhere.”
He said it was the “right decision” to continue with the friendly between France and England at Wembley on Tuesday night, despite it taking place just four days after the terrorist attacks.
Ahead of kick-off, there was a rendition of the French national anthem from all 70,000-plus spectators inside the stadium, to help pay tribute to those killed in Paris.
Arsene said: “I think it was fantastic for France and it showed the class of England, to see the arch of Wembley in French colours was significant for French people, and England handled the situation with a lot of class.”
Arsenal stars Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny played in the match.
Arsene said: “You always think after this kind of event, you wonder do you continue, or do you stop… for me it was the right decision. I believe the event on Tuesday night has shown it was the right decision.”
However, he questioned the calling off of Germany’s friendly with the Netherlands on Tuesday, after a bomb threat.
Arsene said: “I feel the danger in this kind of situation is to overreact a little bit. And I think that is what happened with Germany. And for Spain and Belgium [friendly also called off], I’m not sure, because in Belgium you know there is in Molenbeek there was a big centre of terrorists who lived there.
“So, I think that was cautious, but Germany maybe overreacted a little bit, but you can understand that.”
Arsene said he realised that security would be more of a consideration at future football fixtures, because, “it looks like this isn’t the end of it”.
However he was determined to carry on as normal and be as positive as possible.
Arsene said: “The way [forward] for us is to just get on with life. And respond in a positive way to the situation, because you cannot stop just everything, we have to continue with our lives and get people to focus on something else.
“One way to deal with it is to focus on something else and I believe that sometimes an opportunity to get out of this kind of problem to focus on what you can do well, and give pleasure to people who want to watch football.”
Asked whether he was concerned about France, Arsene replied: “Yes of course. I’m more worried that it could divide the society and create some tensions inside the country.
“That could be damaging for the tolerant and multicultural society. You wonder what can change [but] you have to trust politicians to make the right decisions.
“France is a tolerant society, maybe a little too tolerant.”
He added: “Life has to be stronger than fear. The way to focus on life is to get on with our job.”