zinchenko holding his fist

Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: Arsenal need more leaders if they are to win the title

Emmanuel Petit spoke exclusively with Compare.bet yesterday. The former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder blamed Arsenal’s lack of leadership and experience for their late draw at Anfield on Sunday, urged Edu to sign Lewis Dunk and Mason Mount in the summer, and called for Chelsea to hire Carlo Ancelotti as their next manager. He also tipped Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale as a potential Player of the Year candidate and said Frank Lampard could have a Di Matteo-type impact and lead the Blues to Champions League glory this season.

DB: Liverpool vs Arsenal was a thrilling watch, one of the best of the season. Not the result that Arsenal wanted, especially after going 2-0 up. Where do you think it went wrong for Arsenal in that second half?

They cracked under the pressure. Conceding the goal just before half-time was a big blow for them, if they could’ve got to the dressing room at 2-0 it would’ve been different. I was sure Liverpool would bounce back in the second half. Klopp would relay to his players he wanted more from them, more creativity and energy. With the fans at Anfield backing the team, they cracked under the pressure. The mentality of the Liverpool players changed and they did very well in the second half. In the last minutes of the game, Ramsdale was the hero. He made some great saves. At least they got a point, but you can look at it as did they earn one point, or lose two points. I think they earned one point because if you look at the game, Liverpool should have won that game. For me, the pressure Arsenal were under in the second half, they must be very careful because until the end of the season, they will be under pressure in different games. One’s coming at City, at Newcastle as well. They’ve got Brighton as well who are challenging for Europe, they’ve got teams who are fighting relegation, so there will be moments in those games they are under pressure. I remember the game last season against Spurs, it was six or seven games to go until the end, they lost at Tottenham and were under pressure emotionally, their mental strength crashed during that game. They’ve made big improvements since then, but they must learn from what happened in the second half because that will help them in the coming games. They will be under pressure for sure, and they need to get more personality and have more leaders in those moments.

DB: You mentioned pressure, one player who received criticism for making a mistake under pressure was Rob Holding. He conceded a penalty which luckily for Arsenal, Salah missed. We don’t know when Saliba will return. Are you worried about Holding with a clash against City coming up in a couple of weeks?

He’s doing a decent job. The penalty was not intentional, Jota did well with his actions and put his body ahead first, he was more reactive on the ball than Holding. But I won’t blame him for the penalty, I don’t want to blame the whole team, but if you are an Arsenal player at half time and you concede the goal right before the break, you see in the first half it was not Liverpool in front of their fans. It wasn’t Anfield. You knew as a player the reaction would come in the second half. So they should have been prepared for the fight. For me it’s the whole team, not just one individual. If you start pointing your finger at others, like Zinchenko as well with poor defending on Trent Alexander-Arnold, but for me it’s the whole team. They should react better than that in terms of personality and character.

DB: Ben White has enjoyed a great year in the right back spot. Would you like to see White competing with Saliba and Gabriel for a centre-back role in the future?

I think Arteta has been very pleased so far with his performances on the right-hand side. I’ve been very surprised because it’s not his natural position. Game after game, the standard of his performances have been great. I think Arteta is very pleased with him, and correct to play him there. We all know he can play well as a central defender and that could be an option as well. Tomiyasu has been injured for most of the season and there isn’t any other backup, so it’s very lucky that Ben White has not been injured. If you look at the England team as well, there are so many good right backs in England, I think he has no future as right back for the national team, there are two or three players better than him. So, if I am Ben White, and I want to play for the national team, I don’t know if right back is the best option. But the fact he’s not playing more as a central defender is not great and he should get that chance. For some games I still think this could be an option for Arteta. The question should be asked to Ben White, but so far I think he has been enjoying his position as a right back and developed himself very well. I don’t know if he can play as a central defender next season considering how few minutes he has played there. Of course there will be games where Arsenal have injured players, like with Saliba currently, you could argue Ben White should have played as a central defender against Liverpool. But then who would have been the right back? Tomiyasu was not there, it’s a hard decision for Arteta. So he has to deal with this team, I think they will be more active in the transfer market at the end of this season.

DB: You mentioned the transfer window there, is there anyone that you think could strengthen Arsenal’s backline?

With Tierney, he’s not playing any more and he’s been linked heavily with Newcastle, so they may need to get a replacement for him. For me, they’ll need at least one more central defender and at least one wing-back, ideally someone who can play on both sides. With Arsenal having Champions League football next year, they will need depth across the defence. I’m a big fan of Brighton and I think there are a few players on that team that would improve Arsenal. I really like Lewis Dunk, he’s been playing so well and he would be a good addition for Arsenal.

DB: Virgil van Dijk was involved in Liverpool’s sloppy defending that lead to the opening goal from Gabriel Martinelli. He’s made quite a few uncharacteristic mistakes this season. Do you think it’s just a bad run of form or do you think there’s a more significant change in his level of play?

The whole Liverpool team hasn’t played well this year. They are so inconsistent and you never know what you’re getting with them. They’ve been like this all season. With Van Dijk, it’s very difficult to come back from such a big injury and return to the highest level, and he’s suffering. He doesn’t look like the same player from when he was the best defender in the world. He was unplayable, and now he needs to regain confidence. I am sure he’ll return to that level though, he’s a brilliant player and a leader. This season is a transition year for them and we will see lots of changes in the summer. Next year Van Dijk will bounce back and come back stronger, I am sure of that.

DB: Looking at Arsenal’s title rivals, Haaland scored a brace this weekend to take his league tally to 30 for the season. In most years, Haaland would be the huge favourite for POTY due to his goalscoring feats, but it might not be so straightforward considering how impressive Arsenal have been this year. Who gets your POTY vote?

If City win the league, for sure Haaland should win the Player of the Year. You cannot score that many goals and not be seen as the best player in the league. I saw some people saying he was making them worse despite all of his goals, how can you say that? It’s ridiculous. The guy is a goal machine, scoring every game. If Arsenal win the league, player of the year will be between two players, Saka and Ramsdale. It’s hard to pick between them and they’ve both been magnificent all season. Ramsdale is having a brilliant season and showed that against Liverpool.

DB: He won’t get any player of the year votes, but a player who seems to have slotted in seamlessly with Arsenal’s style of play is Leandro Trossard. Has his impact surprised you?

I’m not surprised he’s had such a big impact. He’s such an intelligent player and he suits the way Arsenal want to play perfectly. His movement is so clever, he’s so good in tight spaces and he can he play on the wing or as a striker. I am very happy with him, a bargain for Arsenal. It’s not easy changing teams in January and he had an instant impact.

DB: With the impact Trossard has had since joining and how well Martinelli has played this season, Emile Smith-Rowe has found playing time hard to come by since returning from injury. Do you think he’ll have to move clubs if he wants to get serious game time as a starter?

Maybe he’ll have to move. I’m not sure who they are linked with but maybe they will look to add some more competition in his position, and he will get even less time. After his injury, it’s so hard to get yourself back into a winning team that is performing so well. The same question of whether your future is best served staying at Arsenal or going somewhere else could be asked of Balogun in France too. I think Balogun should leave Arsenal this summer, it’s a win/win for all parties. With Smith-Rowe, he has to ask himself whether he’s playing enough and ask Arteta if he has the chance of getting his place back. Maybe he needs a loan for a year to get game time.

DB: You’ve previously mentioned Alexis Mac Allister as a transfer target for Arsenal. Looking at the table, with Leicester in the relegation zone, clubs will likely be able to get Maddison for less if Leicester go down. He has said that he’s not a number 10 and prefers a midfield role. Do you think he’s a player that would suit Arsenal in that left side of the midfield three?

The way Arsenal plays, Maddison isn’t right for them as a midfielder. I would prefer Arsenal sign Mason Mount. He can play as a midfielder, wide forward or in the 10. Odegaard and Partey can’t be dropped and Xhaka has been incredible, and would Maddison be able to do what Xhaka does? I don’t think so. He provides balance, very aggressive and wins second balls. If you bring Maddison in to play alongside Odegaard in midfield you’d be asking too much of Partey defensively, so I don’t think it’s the right kind of signing.

DB: Mikel Arteta has been linked with the Real Madrid job by various betting sites in the UK. These rumours are inevitable when you’re enjoying that level of success. As an Arsenal fan, are you worried at all?

I’m not worried, I’m pretty sure he’s going to stay at Arsenal. I think it would be a mistake for him to leave Arsenal and go to Madrid right now. He has improved so much in the last three years. Remember when he was first appointed, his first few months were very difficult. Arsenal were in the relegation zone and the board gave him time to execute his vision and do exactly what he wanted with the team both individually and collectively, now we’re all applauding the way Arsenal are playing right now.

Arteta needs to play with Arsenal in the Champions League first, then we will see what could happen after that. Madrid is a huge, huge club and you need to get a manager that has already won big titles and can manage their dressing room. There are so many big egos, so many big players over there. With all due respect to Arsenal, it’s not the same club. The pressure is not the same. Look at Ancelotti, he won so many titles and Champions Leagues, but he said last week it’s not easy to be a Madrid manager when there are so many quality players.

DB: Chelsea have decided to bring Frank Lampard back on an interim basis despite being sacked by the club just two years ago, and then failing at Everton. What do you make of this?

I thought it was weird, it’s like divorcing your partner – you’re not going go back to them after a few months. After a while, I realised that there’s still nine games to play and with such short notice, they gave the job to someone who knows the club well, someone who is loved by the fans. The board has made so many mistakes this season, buying so many players. He’s a legend of the club, he’s worked with many of the players. I think it’s a good thing and who knows, maybe he can do what [Roberto] Di Matteo did, coming in at the end of the season to win the Champions League, you never know!

But for next season, I don’t know. I think the main problem with Chelsea isn’t really their manager. It’s the agenda that the owners are taking. If they finish this season well and even win the Champions League, it sets a precedent for next season. If they don’t, they need to make some big decisions and sell some players.

Even if Frank Lampard wins the Champions League, I’m not sure he will be the guy for next season. There’s one manager I really love for this role and it’s Carlo Ancelotti. I think he has done brilliantly with Madrid and brilliantly with different clubs with big stars and big egos.

During his time with Chelsea, we didn’t see the real Ancelotti. With all these players at Chelsea, they need someone with good character, experience and ability to form good relationships with the players. I’m not saying Frank Lampard can’t do that, but I would just prefer to go for an experienced manager.

DB: Inter have said Romelu Lukaku will be going back to Chelsea this summer. Can you see him turning his fortunes around and having a future at the club under a new manager?

No, maybe if Conte goes back to Inter Milan, he will stay at the club. He loves Lukaku so much. Lukaku is under pressure because he isn’t scoring much at the moment. Last week was the big racism scandal as well. I remember what Lukaku said, he was very happy in Italy with Inter. It’s not really his desire to come back to Chelsea. On top of this, with all these players in the dressing room, he knows that there’s so much trouble at Chelsea – there’s no serenity. If you ask him and he’s honest, I’m sure he’ll say he won’t want to return. Plus, Chelsea already bought a striker so what’s the point. I think Chelsea and Lukaku should part ways.

DB: I read an article recently saying you were about to join Spurs before Arsenal hijacked the deal. How differently do you think your career would have gone if that deal had gone through?

Well, I wouldn’t have been able to win the double with Arsenal and enjoy my time in the English Premier League with my old teammates. Can you tell me the last time Spurs won a trophy?

DB: League Cup, 2008?

EP: A real trophy! As a player you want to win the title. This is the major problem with Spurs. They never win anything. I’m very happy that I made this decision back in the day. No disrespect to Spurs. Sometimes it’s very difficult to bring in players that can bring something different to the club. I’m sure that there are plenty of players at Spurs who are very disappointed about the last few years, not winning anything. What Conte said about the club was harsh, especially doing it publicly, but I can understand why he said that. The mentality at this club has to change, if they want to compete for titles. They only compete for a podium finish, season after season. You can point fingers at the players, but the direction of the club has been questionable for years and years.

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