Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: Arsenal need to sign more strikers and avoid Victor Osimhen

Emmanuel Petit spoke exclusively to Compare.bet yesterday as we approach the end of the 23/24 Premier League season. The ex-Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder spoke about who he thinks will win the Premier League from here, why Arsenal need to sign more strikers in the summer, why they should avoid Victor Osimhen and why they should go for Ivan Toney. He also spoke about Nicolas Jackson’s improvements recently and why Chelsea need to sign a new right-back.

We’ve got just under a week to go in the Premier League season. Can we push you for a title prediction? Who takes it, Man City or Arsenal?

I said at the beginning of the season that it will be City, but for the past few weeks Arsenal have impressed me a lot. They don’t have their destiny in their hands, but you never know. Maybe a dream can come true and we can get a gift with the Spurs game against City. It was like yesterday at Old Trafford, City were watching their biggest rivals and thinking ‘maybe they’re going to win and they’re going to help us win the Premier League’. And I have the same feeling for the game between City and Spurs.

I know that City have had a lot of troubles against Spurs recently, especially away from home, so Spurs could spring a surprise. And with the goal difference too, I think it’s five goals or something like that because City and Arsenal, so they have one more game to play. 

But I believe in Spurs, I believe they can do something unbelievable, you never know. We all know that Arsenal have to win their last game against Everton, at home, and they’re going to win it. So they have to hope City drop points against Spurs because they play at home against West Ham in their last game, and I think they’re going to win that game. For me, the biggest concern is the Spurs game. I still believe Spurs can draw against City, so that means Arsenal are going to win the Premier League.

One of the talking points ahead of the Tottenham vs Man City game is that Tottenham know they could hand Arsenal the title if they take points off Man City. Do you think this will have any impact on the way Tottenham might approach the game, subconsciously at all? 

Spurs can still qualify for the Champions League if Aston Villa don’t beat Liverpool, so they still have a slight chance. Don’t forget, it’s the last home game of the season and we all know how important it is for fans. And as I said, sometimes City struggle against Spurs away from home. So I still believe that Spurs players won’t be on their holidays before the end of the season.

Whether they win the league or not, Arsenal have had a fantastic season. Who would you pick to be Arsenal’s player of the season?

I think the team has been magnificent – unbelievable – during the whole season. Individually, I’ve got a few names in my mind, but I think it’s hard to separate two or three players. William Saliba, Declan Rice and (Bukayo) Saka. I could also name (Martin) Odegaard and those kinds of players too.

But if I could only name one player, I would probably say Declan Rice. He has had such a big impact on this team. [Defensive midfield] was the weak link for the past few years and Arsenal have improved a lot in the past two years. But with Declan Rice, it’s something different. This guy can do anything he wants on the pitch, it doesn’t matter which position he plays, what he has to do with the ball in terms of movement, spirit, leadership. 

Saliba has been amazing, I think he’s probably the best defender in the Premier League this season. But Declan Rice, I think he’s the best. He was not named the (FWA) Footballer of the Year, I think he finished second behind Phil Foden. 

If you were in charge of Arsenal’s transfers, what position would be your main priority to strengthen in the next transfer window?

Striker. I think they need a minimum of two offensive players, one striker and one who can play as a winger. I would also love to see an offensive midfielder. With (Thomas) Partey, Declan Rice and Jorginho, they have enough holding midfielders. Even if Declan Rice is not playing as a holding midfielder anymore, if there is no choice for (Mikel) Arteta, it’s an option. In defence as well.

I think they need two attacking players, one attacking midfielder and probably one central defender. They definitely need four or five players. They need competition and options in central defence as well, because Arsenal have been very lucky this season. They haven’t lost the central defenders, like last season. I think Saliba has played every game of the season without injury, but it won’t work like that every season. So they need one central defender, two midfielders, two attacking players, and either a left-back or right-back, or someone who can play both positions. 

But I think they have to sell as well. I think some players have reached their peak, they cannot go higher. So if Arsenal want to improve even more next season, they need more good players and competition in different positions. And some players haven’t brought what the club was expecting from them.

Aaron Ramsdale has been linked with leaving Arsenal this summer. Is he too good to be a backup keeper at Arsenal?

Before (David) Raya came, I was happy with him in goal. He made some mistakes, and I can understand Arteta’s philosophy on the pitch. But because he’s linked with the national team as well, when was the last time he played? That was weeks, months ago. Before that, he was on the bench with very little playing time. He’s a competitor, he’s been suffering in this situation for months now. So if he wants to see happier days, he needs to change something in his life and that means he won’t recover his place as goalkeeper for Arsenal. So there is no reason why he won’t leave the club. I wouldn’t accept that as a player. ‘I’ve been sitting on the bench for the whole season, you want me to sit on the bench next season as well? No, I want to play. I need to play’.

Arsenal are being linked with Victor Osimhen from Napoli, do you think this would be a good signing for them?

You have to be very careful with him because he’s a very sensitive guy. He’s a big character, a big personality. He can be a lover, but he can also be a nightmare in terms of communication and behaviour. He’s a very good striker. Before he joined Napoli he was playing for Lille and he was already showing his qualities. But if you pick him, you need to understand if he can fit into the collective, into the dressing room and also on the pitch in terms of playing.

I have no doubt he can be a very good option for Arsenal up front as a striker, because we’ve all seen that they sometimes miss presence in the penalty area, someone strong who can hold the ball. He can be good in the air, good at finishing, he can take the space behind the defenders. But, again, the only thing I’m worried about is if something wrong happens, you never know what to expect from him. At the club it’s about serenity, ‘we all work together step-by-step with the same vision, in the same direction’. I have never seen any player put his own interest in front of the team. So that’s why I think – I may be wrong – but you have to be very careful about that.

Arsenal are reportedly interested in Alexander Isak and Ivan Toney, who would you go for out of those two?

I really like Toney, because I’ve been watching him for years since he joined the Premier League. And to be honest, he’s impressed me a lot because he has improved a lot. And he has been a nightmare for every single defender in the Premier League. Is that the same for Isak? He’s still growing, he’s still improving, but he’s got a big future ahead of him.

You know what to expect with Toney right now, in terms of fighting spirit, movement, technical abilities, finishing, everything. But with Isak, I still don’t know what we can expect from him. I’ve been very happy about the process for the last few months, but I still believe that Toney will be a more secure signing for me.

Kai Havertz has been in great form for Arsenal recently and even Jamie Carragher has likened him to Roberto Firmino when he was at Liverpool. Should Havertz be getting more credit for how Arsenal are playing?

Definitely. He is a typical player, that you either like or you don’t. It’s weird to say but that’s the case. I think the confidence is back for him, you can see he’s happy at Arsenal with his teammates. His time at Chelsea seems so far away now. But I still believe he’s got work to do. He can give more than that to the team. But I definitely think he should receive credit for what he has done in the last few months, because he was receiving a lot of criticism.

For at least 16 months people were mocking him all the time. They were booing him, they were saying he doesn’t have the level to play in the Championship. He’s shown everyone that we were strong and that he’s got quality. So I think he deserves to receive credit, because we were all ready to kill him a couple of months ago.

Michael Olise has also been linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium. Do you think he would be a good addition for Mikel Arteta?

Yeah, but he’s linked with different clubs too. I think Manchester United are following him as well, Olise and (Eberechi) Eze. But I watched Olise against Manchester United and I was quite surprised because he was doing tricks on the pitch, making fun of the Manchester United players, he was trying to provoke them sometimes. And he was so confident on the pitch and I think he’s improved a lot. He’s taken more responsibility in this team. But I think his future isn’t at Crystal Palace anymore. 

And if they can get him, it could be a very good option for Arteta, in terms of rotation with Saka. I watched the game yesterday and I was so scared when Saka left the pitch. For the last few months, he’s reminded me of last season when he was suffering physically, you could see that on his face. And if he [Olise] can come to Arsenal, that would be perfect in terms of rotation, in terms of quality as well. Because this guy is young and you can see that he’s got great ambition, it’s just the beginning, just the start for him. For the ambition of Arsenal, they need players with big ambitions who want to improve and grow with the club. And he fits perfectly at Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger recently said that his biggest regret as Arsenal manager was allowing Nicolas Anelka to leave. Do you agree that was his biggest mistake?

I was very sad when Nicolas left the club. I remember that with the money they received from his transfer, I think they built the training ground. And when we did the opening ceremony, I remember that Nicolas was missing so much as a person, but as a player as well. I think we could see the best of Nicolas with Arsenal. And when I heard that he was leaving the club I was upset, because I really liked Nicolas.

Much has been made of Ben White’s decision to excuse himself from the England set-up. How do you see this situation? Did any of your international team-mates do something similar while you were playing for France?

Yeah of course. If you look at France’s history, you have a couple of players that refused to play for the national team because of the manager, or because of the federation, or the relationships with the team. Some players decided not to come to the national team anymore. 

I can understand that, but to a certain limit. Because when you play for your country, it’s something different to when you play for your club. You are an ambassador for your country, so you have to precisely analyse why you are making the decision not to go to the national team anymore. I’ve been asking questions, many questions about what’s going on with him, with the national team. Apparently he had a fight with someone on the staff and he went too far, and then I heard so many stories, I don’t understand why.

But I just want to say to Ben White, playing for your country is the pinnacle as a player. You can reach the top, you can be the best in the world with your club, you can make millions of people happy. But when you play for your country, it’s beyond football. So I just want to tell him, if you make this decision, I can understand it, but at the end of the day you’re punishing yourself. You only see great things and emotions with your country, and if you do something for your country when you retire, it’s something different than what you’ve done with your club, you have to understand that. This is my only advice to Ben White.

Chelsea’s form has improved somewhat since their humiliating defeat at Arsenal. Do you think this is just a case of the pressure being off or has Mauricio Pochettino started to turn things around at Stamford Bridge?

I said a couple of months ago that Chelsea will be able to reach the European spots and they are not far off. But we could see throughout the season, they were so unpredictable. They could play very well against top teams in England and then be so average against small teams. And it’s been like Russian mountains all through the season. But you get the feeling at the end of the season that some players are coming to give their best. They still have a big march ahead of them collectively and individually. But you can see that some players, week after week, are becoming more interesting on the pitch in terms of movement, understanding, connections, automatism, things like this.

And this is why I beg the board of Chelsea not to sack Pochettino for another manager. Because you’re going to have to close the book and then open another one, and then the manager will probably need weeks to understand his players and human beings but also as players on the pitch. And then you never know, maybe he will change the formation, tactically, things like that so you start again. Keep Pochettino, because you can see that the team has improved. Not a lot, but the team has improved, and individually as well. So I’m not surprised, and I think Chelsea will be much stronger next season. Serenity, this is my advice to Chelsea actually, keep on working step-by-step. After one year, it’s going to be better next season. 

Nicolas Jackson looks to have found his feet in the Chelsea team. Do you think he’s the man to lead the line for Chelsea next season?

He’s improving step-by-step, and all of a sudden you want to change your plans and buy another striker and add competition for Jackson? And then all of a sudden you’re going to ruin everything you’ve done for the last couple of months. We’ve been worrying about the striker position with Chelsea for ages, the famous curse, and now we get someone who step-by-step is becoming very interesting. So it would be crazy to bring another striker and then to make a change and stop his improvement. Actually, there are positions at Chelsea that need to improve more than the striker positions. That’s my opinion. So just support him and try to help him to improve step-by-step. But don’t cut his run right now, because you’re going to ruin everything you’ve done with him.

What positions do you think that Chelsea are weakest in, and do need to strengthen in the summer?

I still believe that some players are far from their right level, so I’m betting on that. But they have so many players to be honest with you, so if you bring in more players… I still really believe that Chelsea have a very good team that needs to improve. I believe that (Moises) Caicedo, Enzo Fernandez in midfield, all those guys will improve even more next season. I want (Conor) Gallagher to stay at the club, but you never know because with the rules they may have to sell players.

Maybe a right back because Reece James has just come back from injury, but he’s been like this for years. They have enough central defenders. To be honest with you, they have enough players, they just have to improve them.

We haven’t really seen Christopher Nkunku for Chelsea this season due to injury. Where do you think he fits in Pochettino’s team and system when he is 100% fit and ready to start?

He can play as a striker but for me his best position is behind the striker. In terms of movement and combinations, things like this. I think technically, he’s quick, he’s fast and he’s a fast thinker with the ball. He’s a good finisher, but I think he’s more capable of giving goals, in terms of assists. So yeah, behind the striker.

When we last spoke, you said you hoped that Xavi would change his mind and stay at Barcelona. Now that he has committed his future to the club, what do Barcelona need to do in the summer to make sure they can keep up with Real Madrid next season? 

They have to sell a lot of players, especially experienced players because of their financial problems. They need to be very careful about every single penny they spend in the transfer market, and wages as well. But I think the spine of this team is the young players. You’ve got very experienced players, but I think some of them should leave the club. It will relieve pressure from the finance, the wages and they can have more options to bring in new players, especially young players.

They have to keep a few experienced players, like (Ilkay) Gundogan for example, (Andreas) Christensen, even (Robert) Lewandowski. I think they need to sell a few players before thinking of bringing in new players.

We’re not too far away from the start of the Euros and France are among the favourites. What qualities might France have that set them above the other favourites?

If you could put away the individual qualities, and collectively as well, because we all know that we have very good players. The main difference in the last 20 years – or more than that, I think it started with us when we won the World Cup in 1998 – for 25 years, we have been consistent in terms of results. The main difference for me now is we have learned how to win, not games, but competitions. It’s different.

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