Samir Nasri takes his seat at the table.
The location is one of Wembley's dressing rooms yet it feels a little like an expensive hotel suite, all dark wood upholstery and hi-spec finishing. Someone cracks a joke about a Mafiosi sit-down. "We're here to make you an offer you can't refuse …" Arsenal's man of the season laughs.
Nasri's message, though, is not out of keeping with the imagined theme. When the kid from the mean streets of Marseille talks, he reveals ambition, calculation and steely desire. His business is indeed pressing. "We know that it is today or never," he says. The 23-year-old is referring to the Premier League title and Arsenal's designs upon it. The fight looks to have boiled down to a straight shootout with Manchester United and Nasri admits that he can almost "feel" the trophy. He seeks to clarify his statement.
"When I say it is now or never, in French we say this as well, it doesn't mean that if we don't do it this year, we will never win a trophy," he says. "But what I mean is that it is our best chance since I came to a club to do it. It feels like that to me. Chelsea are not as good as last year, Manchester United as well, so it is our time."
Nasri speaks critically about his club's rivals, which is unusual for a high-profile footballer but it reinforces the strength of his character. "When we played against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December [Arsenal lost 1-0], they didn't play in the normal way," he says. "They were scared. They played with three defensive midfielders and they closed the game. They know that we can beat them.
"United are not like they were two years ago with Cristiano Ronaldo and [Carlos] Tevez. For me, they were untouchable. Every time at Old Trafford, they scored in the 90th minute and they made the difference always against the small teams. This year, away from home, they have been unconvincing. Chelsea as well, I don't know what happened to them but they just fell down after eight games or so. This year we have had fewer injuries and everyone has grown up, and that's why I say what I say."
Nasri has scrutinised the remaining fixtures and he pinpoints Arsenal's game in hand on United as being potentially decisive. It comes away to Tottenham Hotspur on 20 April. Arsenal famously won their last league title at White Hart Lane in 2004. "If we beat Sunderland, we move to within a point of United and then they play at Liverpool on Sunday without [Nemanja] Vidic and [Rio] Ferdinand and, this year, United are really strong at the back so something can happen there. They hate each other. And if we win our game at Tottenham, we can be on top. So that is why I say we feel we can win the title.
"We have the best schedule. United still have to play Liverpool, Chelsea at home and they have to come to the Emirates to play us. I think we have more chance than United because I am convinced of our quality and I know that the Carling Cup will help us now to face the other targets that we have."
The Carling Cup final against Birmingham City last Sunday was supposed to provide Arsenal with their first silverware since 2005 and the springboard to greater glories in May. Instead it served up last-minute calamity, a familiar sinking feeling and yet more questions about the team's mental toughness. "If you win the Carling Cup, it can give you confidence and sometimes when you haven't won a trophy you become scared of winning," Nasri says. "Winning the Carling Cup could have helped us but now we have to show we are men, that we have the guts to give our answer in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup."
Nasri admitted that fear had undermined his team in the past, specifically when they fell to Barcelona in last season's Champions League quarter-final. This season's last 16 re-match is delicately poised, with Arsenal 2-1 up ahead of Tuesday's second leg at the Camp Nou, but Nasri anticipates a different outcome. This time out, he feels, Arsenal have found liberation in the role of underdogs.
"Last year we didn't touch the ball," he says. "They were everywhere, it was like playing 16 against 11. It really was a nightmare. Maybe we were scared of them as they were fantastic. But this year we said we had nothing to lose. We just played our game and we beat them. At the Camp Nou they will have to attack and they will leave space for us to score on the counter-attack and so we will do it."
Nasri does not disguise his admiration for Barcelona, the club that he could have joined from Marseille at the age of 16. His agent held talks with Txiki Begiristain, who was then the Barcelona sporting director, but no official offer was forthcoming. May Nasri play one day for the Catalans?
"When I was younger my hero was [Diego] Maradona," he says. "After that it was Ronaldo and [Zinedine] Zidane but Maradona played for Barcelona. The game that they have is the way that I love football. I don't make plans for my future. I have learned that you cannot predict what will happen."
Nasri said that he could not rule out playing for another English club, although he did make one exception. "I will not play for Tottenham," he says. "It's like in France, I cannot play for Paris St-Germain [Marseille's rivals] because I'm faithful."
But William Gallas swapped Arsenal for Tottenham. "That's another good reason not to go there," he says. Nasri's feud with Gallas is well documented.
Nasri will discuss a new contract at Arsenal in the summer – talks are currently on hold – and he says that he wants to stay. The weather apart, he likes London, he is happy at Arsenal and he acknowledges that they have made him into the player that he is today.
His progress this season has been eye-catching. Being overlooked for the France World Cup squad last summer has helped him physically and perhaps motivated him further while his numbers speak for themselves. The headline statistic is his 14 goals in all competitions; he had 12 across his first two seasons at the club and he is being talked about loudly as a potential Footballer of the Year.
Individual accolades, though, will not suffice. When rival clubs splashed the cash in January, it heightened the sense that opportunity knocked for Arsenal. "We keep hearing we have quality, quality, quality," says Nasri, "but we have to show it and that means winning a trophy."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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