CHUBA AKPOM was a kid at Arsenal in the age of the Invincibles — and now he is one himself.
After 16 years at the club, Akpom left the Gunners last summer to join PAOK Salonika where he has just won the Greek Double in an unbeaten season.
Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun5 Chuba Akpom has finally become an Invincible
Getty – Contributor5 The former Arsenal star left the Gunners last summer after 16 years
And as the Gunners prepare for Wednesday’s Europa League final where they can book a place in the Champions League, the Hackney-born forward would love to have the chance to return to the Emirates in Europe’s biggest competition.
Akpom, 23, said: “Not many people can say they are invincibles.
“Now I would love to play in the Champions League against Arsenal. That would be my dream.”
Akpom has earned the right to dream big after PAOK’s amazing campaign earned them a place in history and a spot in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
I would love to play in the Champions League against Arsenal. That would be my dream
As well as recording the first unbeaten league season in Greece since 1963-4, the club became the first side from outside Athens to win the title for 31 years in a triumph that went way beyond football.
Akpom added: “In Thessaloniki, there’s one team. Everyone is PAOK.
“It’s not just a football club. They say it’s a religion, it’s life. There’s a big history between the Athens clubs and PAOK and it’s about more than football.
“In Thessaloniki, they say it’s PAOK against everyone.
“We should have won the league last year. They said nobody wants PAOK to do it.
“Last season there were a few incidents that happened and we had to start this season with minus two points.”
AP:Associated Press5 Akpom netted the winner for PAOK in the Greek Cup final
Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun5 He hopes to face former side Arsenal in the Champions League
Among those “incidents” was PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis invading the pitch to confront match officials while wearing a gun in a hip-holster.
The Greco-Russian businessman was banned from attending any match for three years, but that did not stop him having a big say in his club’s amazing season.
Akpom said: “He has a meeting with us before every game.
“It’s like a movie. He sweeps in with his security and two translators, who translate his Russian into Greek and English.
“He just has that boss presence. He’s a legend. What he’s done for the people of Thessaloniki is amazing.”
When Akpom and his team-mates ended their 34-year wait for a title, the city literally exploded with joy in celebrations lit by fireworks and flares.
He added: “It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it in Europe, anywhere.
“They did a massive show in the stadium, with all the players coming out.
“They had ex-players, video screens, fireworks, flares, all the fans came on the pitch.
“Then we got on a party bus to the famous white tower in Thessaloniki. The streets were filled with fans. Everyone had a flare — they love them out there.
“It will be hard to top that crazy celebration.”
Just as bizarre is a cup final being played behind closed doors.
I always said I’d love to go back to the Emirates, whether it was playing for or against them — and score
But that is what happened when PAOK met AEK at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, because of the history of violence between the two sets of supporters.
Akpom, who sealed the Double by scoring the only goal with an overhead kick, said: “Both sets of fans are just nuts. There would have been trouble for sure.
“No amount of police could have stopped it, so the game was behind closed doors. There were only families and journalists allowed — and there was still trouble.”
Akpom has been in the UK catching up with family and friends, including ex-Arsenal team-mates Alex Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
He joined the Gunners youth system in 2002 and in the 2003-4 season saw Arsene Wenger and his side go unbeaten in the 38-game league campaign.
Most Read in FootballVideoDE-PAY IN DE-SKY Depay 'confirms' Lyon exit and 'heads to Liverpool' in red private jet GossipSarrivederci Sarri 'will be Juventus manager' as reports claim Chelsea boss has signed deal ExclusiveGet fit or get out Solskjaer threatens to axe unfit stars as he plans brutal boot camp Exclusiveno silva lining David Silva could have played last Man City game after £12m Qatar offer TV TIMES Barcelona vs Valencia: TV channel, live stream, kick-off time and team news Live BlogSOL SEARCHING Get the latest updates from Old Trafford as Ole plots summer overhaul
Akpom also had their usual summer kickabout in Shepherd’s Bush with other pals who are playing at all levels of the English game.
And he hopes to be taking on his old friends in a proper match, perhaps as early as next season in the Champions League group stage.
Akpom, who never found the net in 12 senior appearances for Arsenal, said: “I always said I’d love to go back to the Emirates, whether it was playing for or against them — and score.”
Jamie McPhilimey – The Sun5 PAOK became the first unbeaten league season in Greece since 1963-4