Former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Emmanuel Petit spoke exclusively with Compare.bet ahead of the return of Premier League soccer this weekend. The Gunners legend spoke about Arsenal’s impressive pre-season, Gabriel Jesus’ chances of winning the Golden Boot and how Arteta’s squad compares to that of their North London rivals.
The former France international also spoke about Anthony Martial’s ‘last chance’ season and tipped both Wesley Fofana and William Saliba for success, while also advising Manchester United target Benoit Badiashile to stay put this summer.
- On Gabriel Jesus’ Golden Boot claims: ‘He wants some revenge’
- “Embarrassing” Ronaldo needs to be ‘The Godfather, not a diva’
- Petit on Saliba: “He’ll be Arsenal’s main man at the back.”
- “Team first” Odegard can break Arsenal’s “captaincy curse”
- On Tielemans transfer rumours: “I’m not sure he’s the kind of player they [Arsenal] need”
- On North London rivalry: “Spurs are a better team”
- Chelsea target Wesley Fofana is “priceless”
- Petit urges Blues to find an out-and-out striker “Chelsea are not Manchester City”
- On Martial’s return to Old Trafford: “It’s his last chance”
DB: Arsenal completed their impressive pre-season with a 6-0 win against Sevilla. How much do you look into pre-season results?
EP: It’s always important to have good preparation during the preseason. It’s important for the players, the manager, and the new signings as well. It takes a long time to get the links between players. In the meantime, you work so hard and games come so quickly, especially for Liverpool who are playing two games in four days early in the season. As far as I remember, when I was a player and we were doing that preparation, you would work so hard you sometimes couldn’t feel your legs anymore. There’s nothing that compares with competition in the Premier League. You can win every game in the pre-season and then have a poor start in the Premier League, and you don’t know why. For me, it’s because everything you’re doing in the preparation mentally, physically… it’s hard, you have to prepare yourself for ten months of competition. The issue you have on top of that is the competition between players. It’s hard at the start of the season, mentally. So it’s good to have good preparation but it’s also good to prepare yourself. There’s no guarantee you’re going to start well in the Premier League.
DB: Gabriel Jesus has scored seven goals in pre-season, including a hat-trick against Sevilla. Do you expect him to be in the race for the Golden Boot this season?
EP: What a surprise that would be. To be honest with you, he wasn’t in the first eleven with Pep Guardiola, but every time he played he always gave me a good impression. He’s young, he has anger on the pitch, and on top of that, I have the feeling he wants some revenge for his treatment at Manchester City. He didn’t fit perfectly with Pep, especially over the last two years since Aguero left the club. You would think Pep would give him more confidence and time to play, but he didn’t. He did play a lot of the time but did not start regularly. For me, he always shows big qualities, especially in the penalty area, but he didn’t get a lot of chances to score, and I think with the feeling of revenge, his qualities… He speaks the same soccer language as the Arsenal players, so I’m not surprised he’s joined the club. He’s young, he fits the strategy at the club. I’ve seen very good signs since he signed for Arsenal. He knows the Premier League well, the impacts physically and mentally, and he’s rarely injured which is very important. But for sure the way Arsenal play, going step by step, the DNA of the club, building on what they showed last season… They have quality, they are doing well in the transfer market, and in Gabriel Jesus, they have a striker who can do something this season. For the golden boot… there is a long way to go, there’s big competition, but I think he could be at least around the 8, 9, 10th best scorer in the Premier League next season.
DB: Mikel Arteta has praised the performances of William Saliba, saying he looks ready for the Premier League. What qualities do you think he will bring to this Arsenal side?
EP: I don’t know if you followed his performances in Marseille last season, but Marseille is a hard place to be accepted by the fans. Pressure is very high every single day. It’s very simple: he was a rock in the defence, he was the boss in central defence, he showed so much maturity and composure. I think he was the leader in the defence during the season. He earned his first cap with the national team, and I’m not surprised. He’s grown so much. I was not convinced he would want to come back to Arsenal because he had a very good spell with Marseille and they’re playing in the Champions League as well. It could be a big difference at the end of the day, but I know that he wasn’t very satisfied when was at Arsenal the first time. He had a talk with the main directors. He played in the preseason and played well to be honest with you, doing the same thing he did with Marseille. There’s confidence he can bring; he has shown so much composure and maturity for his age. He’s only 21. There was all the pressure from when he left Arsenal and had something to prove, and did it. On top of it, he got his first cap with the national team. Everything went very fast for him last season, so he has something to prove now he’s come back to Arsenal. This is why, when I see how he played for Arsenal, I’m not surprised he did well at Marseille, and if Arteta trusts him, he’ll be the main man in defence. That will mean big competition for the likes of Ben White, for example.
DB: Arteta has some pretty fierce competition in the opposing big six dugouts. Erik ten Hag comes with a strong reputation, joining some of the world’s best in Conte, Klopp, Pep, and Tuchel. How do you think he compares to the other manager in the top six?
EP: He’s got a long way to go to be compared to those great managers. In terms of style, character, personality, all the medals they’ve won with their teams, Championships, FA cups, Champions Leagues, and Community Shields. They’ve been on the cutting edge for at least 15 years, so they’re some of the best managers in the world. Tuchel as well, who won the Champions League with Chelsea after six months in charge. But to be honest with you I’m not one of those who criticises Arteta. He changed last season, during the season. He has irrigated the team and some players who were making trouble. He had to make some strong decisions and he did, especially with Aubameyang. and you can feel what he wants to bring on the pitch, what he’s asking of his players tactically and how he wants to play. Step by step, I think Arsenal are in a good way to come back with their DNA, the blood of the club. I’m confident he can be a very good manager, but being in charge for the first time with a big club, with all those years of frustrations of different managers… The heritage of Arsene Wenger is so big, it’s so heavy. It’s not easy. It takes time. That’s why I was very happy when he signed a new contract with Arsenal because he needs time to adapt his philosophy with the team, with the players, and now Arsenal are spending a lot of money in the transfer market. Over the last two transfer windows, they made very good signings, filling voids for what the team was missing. You can see the impact Arteta has on the players, and what he wants them to do on the pitch. On top of that he has a clear idea of what kinds of players can come in or leave the club. On top of that, he’s learning very quickly as a young manager. He’s shown good character, different to a point, especially last season after what happened during the pandemic You have to remember everything. When you start on the manager’s bench, that kind of situation is not easy. He has had to adapt himself, and control many things. He has a good vision for the club and what he wants to do, so give him time. He’s on a good path and I’m sure the team will improve this season.
DB: Arsenal just missed out on the Champions League last season, would you say there’s a lot of pressure on Arteta to get the club back into the top four?
EP: Ten years ago I would say yes, now I would say no. You need to give time to Arteta. I’m so tired of seeing so many different managers each season, and we need stability with Arsenal, a clear vision of what he wants to do in the next five or ten years. You need a strategy. I’m so tired of seeing clubs spend so much money every season without a clear vision of what they want to do, what they want to bring. Look at Liverpool, it took them two or three years to build a team, and how they’ve played for the last six years is amazing. You need stability to build a team, and that’s what Arteta’s trying to do. The competition is very, very fierce, very tight, and very strong, Tottenham were a bit better than Arsenal last season and they’ve added quality to their team in the transfer window. I think Liverpool and Manchester City are still ahead of the rest, but those big guns are fighting for top positions. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and even clubs like West Ham. We don’t know what they’re going to do this season. I’m still wondering what Manchester United is doing in the transfer window, Chelsea as well. I think they did not anticipate all the trouble they have in defence with all those players that are leaving the club, and on top of that there’s the trouble surrounding Abramovic at the club. You can see that Arsenal and Tottenham seem to be in a better position than them. It will be a very difficult task, but I’m pretty confident that Arsenal can get to the top four, between the third and fourth positions. But the pressure on Arteta if the team doesn’t qualify for the Champions League this season… Well, there’s still the Europa League, there are options. But I think Arsenal are better than last season and they were so close to reaching the Champions League positions. They’re not far away, they can keep doing what they’re doing. If they don’t have any injured players and have a good start, and last season they had a really poor start. I’ve seen the first five games for Arsenal and I think they can have a very good start, and that can determine the confidence for the rest of the season. I’m confident they’ll be in the Champions League positions at the end of the season.
DB: Arteta has named Martin Ødegaard as club captain after the departure of both Lacazette and Aubameyang. Do you think he’s the right man for the job?
EP: I hope Ødegaard will take away all the curse surrounding the captaincy at Arsenal over the last decade. Every player wearing the armband has had trouble at the end of their spells with Arsenal, so I hope that will change with him. I’m not surprised he was selected, because it was already the case with his national team. And, if you put away the qualities he has as a player and talk about him as a human being, I’m not surprised they chose this guy. He has all the support from the players in the Arsenal dressing room because of his personality and character. The guy is always thinking about the team, never himself. He always put the team first, always takes care of the players in the dressing room, tries to be positive, gives good advice, and shows what is most important: having a good attitude on the pitch. He never gives up, always tries to score goals, to create something dangerous, and he always has a good attitude. So I’m not surprised about that. With everything that’s happened recently with the former captains, I think Arteta wanted someone who can provide the values that are necessary to the dressing room.
DB: Emile Smith-Rowe has spoken about his preferred role as a No. 10, a role that Martin Ødegaard also plays. He’s also featured out wide on the left, a position that a now healthy Gabriel Martinelli will hope to occupy. What kind of role do you see Smith-Rowe playing this season?
EP: He won’t be in the starting eleven going into the season, especially with his injury – he hasn’t been able to take part in pre-season. He wasn’t in the first eleven last season, but at the start of his career, he was featured in the first eleven regularly. Since then, Arteta came and things have changed. I think, for me, it’s too early for him to be in the first eleven every single game. Occasionally, of course, he has the quality to do so. But if he wants to feature regularly, he needs to improve mentally in terms of character and needs to improve his own stats. That wasn’t bad, last season, to be honest with you, but he needs to play at his best position on the pitch [the number 10 role], because he is versatile, but I’m not sure he’s really confident when you put him out wide as a left-winger. I think I prefer him to play centrally with three midfielders, or maybe right behind the striker. He has the quality to run fast towards the goal and find combinations with the strikers. He’s quite efficient every time he comes into the penalty box, but he’s still young and it’s part of the learning curve. You can have a very quick start as a young player but for whatever reason, you don’t start anymore in the first eleven. You need to adapt, it’s a learning opportunity for him, especially mentally, he knows that the competition to earn his place is very high at Arsenal now. The desire and competition [at the club] have changed in the last three seasons. It brings me confidence because the Arsenal team is very young and all those guys who have shone in the last few years are the same age. So he has to fight, he knows that when you play for a club like Arsenal, you need to earn your place on the team sheet. I hope Arteta will use him in his best position, which is for me, the middle of the park.
DB: Another player who will look to feature out wide is Nicolas Pepe. He made an Instagram post saying he’s ‘focused and determined with Arsenal’. He’s also linked with a move to Newcastle. What advice would you give to him regarding his future?
EP: It’s kind of like what I just said about Smith-Rowe. When he first came to Arsenal, there was the weight of the transfer fee. I won’t say he was a failure, but he didn’t give what we were expecting of him, especially after what he did with Lille in Ligue 1. He was impressive with Lille, and I was very frustrated because when he was playing for Lille, every time he took the ball, he would turn and push forward to the defenders – attacking and trying to dribble past them all the time, but with Arsenal, he never did that. He was losing confidence on the pitch. The pressure and demands were maybe too high. In this sense, it was a failure. If he wants to say, just like Smith-Rowe competition is very high. It will be very difficult to put Saka on the bench. So he won’t get any occasion to play and shine. When his time comes on the pitch, he has to be efficient. This is the only advice I can give him – when you get a chance to play, shine! That’s it.
DB: Looking at potential incoming players – Youri Tielemans was strongly linked with a move to Arsenal. Leicester’s chairman has said that no bids have come in for the player. Do you think he would be a good fit for Arsenal?
EP: I watched him since he came to Monaco, so I’ve followed his career over the last six or seven years. He has evolved as a player, and as a person as well in terms of maturity on the pitch. I think he’s enjoying his time with Leicester and he’s very important in the middle of the park for Brendan Rodgers. I would like to see him at Arsenal, but I’m not sure he’s the kind of player they need in midfield. I know they are linked to [Lucas] Paqueta from Lyon as well. They are two different types of players – Paqueta is more creative, more dangerous within the last third playing closer to the strikers. Tielemans controls the game in the first phase, he can play as a holding midfielder and can play as an eight as well. He can score, he can delivery very good passes, of course he would be a good addition for Arsenal but I’m not sure I would decide to choose that kind of player.
DB: Spurs, much like Arsenal, have had a busy transfer window – which squad do you think is stronger as things stand?
EP: To be honest with you I was so disappointed at the end of last season, those games at the end of April and the beginning of May when they had two games in hand. Especially the 3-0 against Crystal Palace, they got hammered. Last season we saw both teams were not so different. It was 50/50. But for me, the main difference was mentality. I feel Spurs were more mature and they showed more character last season and that’s very important towards the end of the season. I think when you look at the transfer window, Spurs have made some really good signings. They already had a good team with a lot of character, can you imagine with the approach that they had, changing the manager in the last two seasons and they came back so strongly. So that shows me the character that Spurs had. The Gunners need to improve mentally if they went to get better, especially away from home. Spurs are a better team because of this. If you add the new signings, I will say Spurs probably edge it 60/40.
DB: Elsewhere in London, it looks like Chelsea have had a deal hijacked by Barcelona yet again, with Jules Kounde following Raphinha in joining the club. Do you think being under new ownership might have impacted how they operate when it comes to recruiting new signings?
EP: As far as I remember, the war in Ukraine and [subsequent] pressure on Abramovich started in March, so it’s been four or five months. Of course, being off the field, it was very political. It was not an easy time for the club, players, fans and anyone who is linked to or who loves Chelsea. This mess left some scars in the club.
They didn’t anticipate all the departures that happened in defence. If you add the failure of the Lukaku signing, they had so much trouble on and off the pitch last season, but they finished within the top four and played in both the FA and League Cup finals. Even if you look at their quarter-final tie against Real Madrid, they were the better side on the pitch. It was not that bad when you look at the result. When you look inside the club and what happened at the club last season, how many clubs would have survived that? For me, the Abramovich situation doesn’t have an impact on their transfer dealings, as they have Champions League soccer. It’s just a fight that they didn’t anticipate. They knew last season that some big players were in the last year of their contract. They could have anticipated this, as all the stuff with Abramovich happened within the last six months. Christiansen, Rudiger, even Lukaku, that started in November with his interview with the Italian press. They waited and didn’t take action, then were hit by a ban following the Abramovich situation. They should have done more a year ago.
DB: With the Kounde deal falling through, Chelsea are now linked with Leicester’s Wesley Fofana. Do you think he’s ready to play at the top level with a Champions League club?
EP: For me, Fofana before his injury was one of the best defenders in the Premier League and it was after just one year since arriving in England. I’m a big fan of Fofana. For me, he’s a typical, old-school defender. Very physical, very difficult to get past, very dynamic, plays with a lot of aggression on the pitch. He’s got personality and character and he wants to improve – he’s hungry. He has big ambitions, he wants to be in the national team, in the Champions League. He grew up very quickly and I was very impressed before he got injured. When he came back, I was very impressed with Brendan Rodgers, because he played him straight away, the last six or seven games of the league, after eight months without playing a single minute. It showed me the manager knows how important he is to the team. He has improved a lot, but still has room for further improvement, but for me, he has great qualities as a defender, something that’s missing in modern soccer – we don’t see ‘proper’ defenders anymore. This guy is one of them, he reminds me of the defenders I played against 20-25 years ago, they were very tough and would beat you in a physical duel. It’s very rare in modern soccer and this is why he’s priceless.
DB: Chelsea made their big move early, signing Raheem Sterling from rivals City. What kind of impact do you expect him to have at Stamford Bridge?
EP: I’m a big fan of Sterling. He’s had critics, but when you look at his stats and quality on the pitch it’s very good to have that kind of player in your team. He’s dynamic on the pitch and unpredictable with the ball. He needs to improve in front of goal and be more clinical but he has improved here since leaving Liverpool. But when looking at the competition at Manchester City he was not in the first eleven anymore, which is what he wanted and Chelsea can give that to him. I think he’ll bring the same things he brought to Liverpool and Manchester City and has done many things tactically with Guardiola that will be helpful for Tuchel. If he wants to play a three, with two or four, he can play on the left, right and sometimes play as a forward. He brings many options and his qualities are still there. He’s fast, unpredictable, and is a danger to defenders. All defenders will tell you every time he touches the ball you know that you’re in danger, you need to be very careful. But he can still improve a little bit more and be more efficient in front of goal.
DB: Following the 4-0 loss to Arsenal, Thomas Tuchel was asked about Chelsea’s lack of goalscoring and he said “we have the same issues because we have the same players.” Chelsea’s top scorer last season was Mason Mount with 11 goals. Do they still need a striker who can get 20 goals a season?
EP: Yes, because Chelsea are not Manchester City. Until Haaland City haven’t played with a real striker and were winning the Premier League. City have six or seven players who can score 10-15 goals in the league, Chelsea don’t have that. They have Mason Mount, then after that Kovacic or Jorginho with penalties. If they had more goal-scoring midfielders I’d say it’s not a problem, but they don’t. So they need a striker.
DB: At one point there were rumours linking Ronaldo with a move to Chelsea – do you think Chelsea should have made a move and why do you think he hasn’t secured a move elsewhere?
EP: Everyone knows the reason why there are issues surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo. We all say the same thing. He’s one of the best-ever players in soccer. When I look at his stats I’m laughing because I’m thinking this guy isn’t human, he’s a robot. But he’s 37. Last season he was top scorer for United but look at last season and how United play and how they score goals. He’s not the same player he used to be and he knows it. He knows he’s 37. He’s a very high professional and everyone knows about the diet. Every time you have Cristiano Ronaldo in your team you have to play for him, you have to change for him. When Ronaldo is in the dressing room there are two kingdoms. His kingdom and another kingdom. With all the respect I have for the player, I have huge respect for the player, we have to be honest and he has to be honest as well.
He’s 37, he won’t last forever and he knows that. His personality can sometimes bring troubles for the manager and for the team. That’s why I’ll give this piece of advice to United: you have to solve this problem very very quickly or it will leave scars for the beginning of the season. I would tell Cristiano, stay at Manchester United, they made you and you became the player you were at Manchester United. You shined for Real Madrid but United was also your home for years. If you finish your career at United fans will recognise you forever and you’ll be a king for them. I don’t want the story to end like this. When you are Ronaldo your demands are very high, you want to play Champions League, you want to be the man all the time. But you can’t fight nature. He’s 37 and his personality is very huge in the dressing room. If he was the league’s top scorer and he could do what he wants in the dressing room but he’s not anymore and United need to understand that.
I see he left the stadium Sunday ten minutes before kick-off. I’m thinking to myself, ‘You’re Cristiano Ronaldo, you are worth much more than that, give yourself advice and be a top man and top professional as we all know you, we don’t want you to finish like this, looking for a club that accepts you because you want to play in the Champions League.’ All the clubs don’t want to sign him because he’s 37 and the wages are so high. If he was 27, there would be no issue. But he’s not. I really want him to stay United, to calm down a little bit and find peace with Ten Haag and some players and concentrate and do his best for the team even when he’s not playing. I don’t want to see him like when he left the pitch against Brentford. It’s embarrassing to watch. There are a lot of players who are looking up to him. To be an example, to be the Godfather and not play as a diva.
DB: Speaking of Manchester United, they enjoyed an impressive start to pre-season, including a 4-0 win over Liverpool. Anthony Martial has featured in some of these games, scoring three goals. Do you think he can establish himself as Manchester United’s starting striker with Cristiano Ronaldo still at the club and what advice would you give to Martial in the build-up to the World Cup?
EP: It’s his last chance. He’s had many opportunities to shine for Manchester United. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and be honest. At the beginning, he was a promising young player just signed to Monaco and you could see his impact on the pitch. It’s been ages since you could feel him when playing in a Manchester United shirt. His stint in Spain with Sevilla was not good enough and ended up injured. He’s come back to United with a manager change and revolution at the club, a new vision and mentality. If you want to be part of the World Cup there’s massive competition. Nkunku at Leipzig is one who’s come in and stayed among others, there’s five or six players fighting for one position in the national squad. He knows that and he has to play every single game and has to score. His has to regain his form on the pitch. I want to see him happy on the pitch, he’s not smiling anymore. He had a good preseason with United which I hope helps with confidence. Rashford is in the same situation. They have to prove themselves that they’re worthy to wear the Manchester United shirt. They have qualities but they need to come back with the right focus, mentality and desire for the new season.
DB: L’Equipe has reported that Manchester United are keeping tabs on Benoit Badiashile from your former club, Monaco. What do you think of the player?
EP: Still young and has a lot to learn. He’s made improvements with Monaco last season. I wasn’t too convinced about his first season with Monaco. He’s physical as a defender, he has improved technically but most importantly he’s improved tactically. Sometimes before he was lost on the pitch positionally. He has improved a lot but still has a lot to learn. He’s not far from the national team. But I think it’s too early to go to the top clubs, to Chelsea or United. He needs to improve more at the highest level, which means when he plays against top strikers in European competition and against the best French teams he needs to improve and be one of the best defenders in the league. He was one of them last season, he needs to improve again this season if he wants a move away. I totally agree with the manager that he should stay another year.
DB: The Arsenal ‘All or Nothing’ documentary series is set to drop, giving us a behind-the-scenes look at what happened last season – what do you think of having camera crews present in the dressing room and at training?
EP: It’s good when the team wins. It follows you all along to success. We’ve done it during the World Cup in 1998, and it was a huge hit. People still talk about the documentary, the ‘Eyes into the Blues’ when we won the World Cup in 1998. It showed the beginning and preparation from months before until 12th July and people loved it. I watched it and to be honest I loved it. Sometimes I was not feeling I was a part of it, I saw myself so many times in the documentary and was looking on as a fan. And I love it because we won. In the beginning, we had to get used to the camera, but the people were concerned with the managers and players, asking if we were ok to be filmed during the competition and before. All of a sudden it was something new. The dressing room is a sanctuary and nobody can come in, especially with a camera. It was the first time something like that happened in the dressing room in soccer in France. And because we won it had the perfect impact. But at the beginning, it was strange getting used to the camera. Some people were afraid of talking in front of the camera. But after a while, the confidence came and we all understood the vision of the director and camera guy and they were part of the team after a couple of weeks. In the end, it was a very nice thing to watch. I know there are so many series, documentaries and platforms that not all are good. You have to tell a story. You have to tell the success story, the conclusion of human beings fighting for the same target. The link with the fans, repetition into their lives, link with the press, you have to see the whole picture. If you do a documentary on only the soccer emotions, well I just prefer to watch the game.