Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: Arteta urged to trust Trossard and rest ‘tired’ Martinelli in title race clash

Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit spoke exclusively with Compare.bet this week ahead of the midweek title race clash between league leaders Arsenal and Manchester City. Petit urged Mikel Arteta to trust January signing Leandro Trossard and rest a “physically and mentally tired” Gabriel Martinelli. He also criticsed Arsenal’s centre-back pairing in the build-up to a potential clash with Erling Haaland, calling William Saliba and Gabriel “average”. Petit also advised Edu to cash in on Ligue 1’s leading scorer Folarin Balogun this summer.

DB: Arsenal are just three points ahead of City at the moment after losing to Everton and drawing with Brentford this weekend. Where is it going wrong for Arsenal at the moment?

I think they’ve lost their momentum collectively. Some individuals seem to be tired as well, Martinelli and Odegaard, for example. Eddie Nketiah hasn’t been effective anymore in front of goal. For me the main reason is collectively though. They didn’t play badly against Brentford, but they didn’t play the same way they used to. Against Everton too, they didn’t look up to par physically and mentally. If they can recover that collective spirit, then they can do something against Manchester City, especially at home. I remember the game recently against Manchester United, I think the fans will be very important again. It’s not easy for the players – a couple of weeks ago there was an eight-point gap between the two teams. Now, if City win, they’ll be top of the league. Mentally, it’s going to be a big challenge for the Arsenal players. They haven’t played the same way in the last couple of games, but it’s normal – you can’t play the same way every single game during a season, but it’s happened at the wrong moment. You can feel the pressure, City are breathing down their neck. Plus, City have that title-winning experience. That’s the main difference between the two teams. It’ll be one of the big keys to the game.

DB: We saw Martinelli start the season in great form but he hasn’t been able to sustain that form as of late. What would your advice for Martinelli be as he tries to regain his top form?

I know they bought a couple of interesting players, but he’s playing every single game. It’s the same for all the players that went to the World Cup. I know, from my own experience, that it’s not easy. When we used to play a big tournament at the end of the season, we’d look very tired mentally and physically. So I can imagine, after playing a World Cup and then going back to their club playing every few days, it can be tiring. They need time to recover. Martinelli is still young, he’s only 21, he’s still so young and he has plenty of time to improve. I’m not surprised that he’s having a difficult time at the moment. He looks tired – mentally and physically.

I would also say he has a tough time due to the tactical setup. With Zinchenko tucking inside to the midfield, he doesn’t get the same support as Saka does on the right side with Ben White. I can understand that, you can see the way Arsenal play, most of the time it goes down the right-hand side. For me, Martinelli has the quality to make a difference by himself – his speed, he’s fast with the ball. However, it’s not the main reason behind his form, for me, it’s more about him being tired mentally and physically. He needs to recover, but I’m not very confident that Arteta will rotate.

DB: Trossard has been making an impact off the bench when he comes on for Martinelli, scoring his first goal this weekend against Brentford. Do you think Arteta should start him vs Manchester City given Martinelli’s current form?

Yes, I think he’s got a good chance to start. It’s not easy to join a team in the middle of the season. He was playing very well with Brighton, but this is a different level with Arsenal. He’s come into a team which was running perfectly at the start of the season, with new teammates, and new tactics. It takes time to adapt. I think scoring against Brentford will be great for his confidence, maybe he should start, but I’m pretty sure Arteta will start Martinelli. I think Trossard is a good option and he’s shown Arteta that he can trust him as a starter in the first eleven.

DB: If City win they’ll go top. We saw this Arsenal team lose to Spurs with Champions League qualification on the line last season. Are you confident this team has developed a mentality that they maybe didn’t before, to win a huge match like this?

EP: Yes, they’ve changed so much. For the last eight months, I think it’s a different team now with a different mentality. You can see that through the season. You asked me something similar when they played away at Tottenham and won 2-0, they showed maturity and composure during that game and I think they controlled it from the first minute until the end of the game, but this is a different situation. If I am a player in the dressing room without the experience because you’re meeting a team that has won four titles in the last five years and they know they’ve got experience and they know how to win titles. Emotionally I think this is something very important. For me, this is key to the game. On top of it if you remember that two or three weeks ago they had an eight-point gap with Manchester City and now they all know that if City win, they will be leaders again. So this is something emotionally that they have to control. So the lack of experience can be a trouble for Arsenal in that kind of game. It’s very important mentally.

DB: Arteta will know City’s weaknesses better than anyone having spent years as Pep’s assistant. Do you think there are any particular areas of weakness in the City side that Arsenal can take advantage of?

EP: Yes, of course. Arteta knows perfectly how Guardiola works and he knows the tactics as well because he tries to do the same at Arsenal. But on top of this, I saw City’s game yesterday – they were brilliant in the first half – they reminded me of the time when they were unbeatable on the pitch. But in the second half, they dropped mentally, they dropped their concentration as well and they let Aston Villa come back and they scored. They only scored one goal but they should have scored more goals in the second half so since the beginning of the season, City looks strong but not as strong as before because there were opportunities to score in that game. Even if they control the game, you still have opportunities to hurt them. So this is something I think Arteta and the Arsenal team know. If you remember the game when they beat Manchester United in the very last minute of the game. I was at the stadium and the atmosphere was amazing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen that. So I’m pretty sure the fans will be behind their team – they know that they’re struggling at the moment and this is probably the most important game of the season so far for them in the Premier League.

DB: Erling Haaland could be out of the game after coming off injured vs Aston Villa. We’ve seen City play some of their best football without an out-and-out number nine in the last few years. As good as Haaland is, do you think Arsenal might be facing a more dangerous City team without him?

EP: No, come on! I saw this and heard this – I heard some criticism from some former players in England. Come on guys, he’s scored 25 goals so far in the Premier League! I remember all the compliments in the last couple of months – he’s breaking records, we’ve never seen this before, it’s amazing – and now all of a sudden City are a better team without him? Come on guys. Haaland won’t score goals every single game, that’s not possible. After a couple of months in the Premier League, opponents have studied the way City play with him. They try tactically and defensively as well, especially with the central defenders being more compact, they don’t give more space behind them and they try to control Haaland because he was the main threat for City at the beginning of the season. But come on, I wouldn’t like to be the central defender to be marking him. Saliba for example, and Gabriel, don’t look the same defenders as they used to a few months ago. In the last couple of games, they look average. Especially Saliba, he is not playing like he was earlier this season. So you could ask the same question on the opposite side. For me, City looks strong with Haaland and invincible for the first couple of months so, to be honest with you, this question is ridiculous!

DB: There’s lot of controversy surrounding Manchester City at the moment – what do you think of the situation with their alleged financial breaches?

EP: If this is proven to be true, then they should be punished. I don’t know the punishment, but it shouldn’t be a fine, because that would be easy for them, financially. Can they be kicked out of the Premier League? I don’t know, but they should be punished. They should receive a big points deduction like Juventus did in Serie A, that would be good news for Arsenal and the rest of their opponents at the top of the table. This has been taking so long to resolve, almost like City are trying to buy time and avoid any sanctions. If that’s the case, it would be sending a very bad message to the rest of the Premier League teams. If it’s true, I want City to be punished.

DB: Most of the focus in January was around the club’s pursuit of Mykhail Mudryk. Arsenal could end up winning the league and at the very least qualifying for the Champions League next season, while Chelsea seem a long way from where they want to be. Do you think Mudryk may have any regrets about not joining Arsenal?

EP: Well, look at his face when he signed for Chelsea. He didn’t look very happy. I remember when he was posting about Arsenal on social media, saying how he was a huge fan of Arsenal and willing to join the club. I can understand that Arsenal didn’t want to pay more than £100 million for this guy. Arsenal were willing to pay a lot of money for him, but Chelsea were putting more money on the table. Arsenal didn’t want to challenge Chelsea at the casino table, which I can understand. If you ask that question to Mudryk, I’m pretty sure he would have loved to go to Arsenal instead of Chelsea.

DB: Similarly, the club failed to sign Moises Caicedo but ended up bringing Jorginho in, a very different player to Caicedo. Paul Merson said he’s “perfect for Arsenal”, do you agree?

EP: No, I disagree. This is a position I really know. I have a huge respect for Jorginho, the way he plays, but Jorginho is a perfect player when you dominate the game, when you control the game technically and tactically. But, when he’s under pressure, when he fights against tough opponents, physically, he drops. All of a sudden he disappears on the pitch. We saw that against Everton when he came in, and we’ve seen it so many times with Chelsea as well. When the team is under control he’s a perfect player for that, he runs the game, he manages the game, he’s got vision, technique, and there’s no problem at all for that. But all of a sudden, when the team is under pressure, when they meet a strong opponent physically that can play with the ball, it becomes very difficult for him. So no, for me he’s not the first option in the midfield. I would have loved to see Rice, or Caicedo, or even Mac Allister from Brighton. I prefer Mac Allister because he fights to get the ball, he’s got hunger as well. He’s also young. Jorginho is 31, he doesn’t represent the picture of the club. He will be included in the rotation with Arteta, that’s it, but for me, he won’t be in the first eleven, for sure.

DB: Balogun continues to impress at Reims and is Ligue 1’s top scorer. What do you think will be best for his development – coming back to Arsenal next season or another loan, like Saliba? There are reports linking Arsenal with Marcus Thuram, who will be a free agent in a few months. Is this someone that Arsenal should pursue? From the perspective of the club, who currently have Nketiah and Jesus ahead of him, is it best to cash in now?

EP: Nketiah has just signed a contract, Gabriel Jesus has just signed, he’s 25. Nketiah is 23. Both are still young. They represent the future of the centre-forward position. I know they can play, sometimes, at left wing or right wing, but their main position is striker. Balogun is a typical striker as well, he’s very confident, he scores so many goals. There are also links to Thuram, he’s a proper striker as well, but not a proper goalscorer, he does not score as many goals, so I’m surprised that Arsenal want him. Maybe it’s because he’s a different option in terms of physical presence. He’s a tall, powerful guy, and he’s different to Jesus and Nketiah where there’s always movement. So, because of that, if you ask me the question about Balogun, at the end of the season, I believe Arsenal will receive so many offers for him. Is it the right time to bring him back to the club, knowing that Nketiah has signed a new contract, and Jesus has just signed? He will be on the bench. He will only play a couple of games. That will be difficult for him. If they receive a very good offer for him, my answer is: sell him.

DB: Albert Sambi Lokonga made way as Jorginho arrived, joining your former teammate Patrick Vieira on loan. Do you think Patrick can maybe teach him a thing or two while he’s at Crystal Palace?

EP: Of course. I know Patrick very well. I know what he’s like in terms of character and personality. He’s a very sweet, very decent human being, and he knows what he’s doing on the pitch, especially in the Premier League. He knows Lokonga’s qualities. Lokonga’s been struggling because he came straight from Belgium with big expectations at Arsenal and he struggled a bit with confidence and being able to answer what was being asked of him by Arteta on the pitch, tactically and in terms of leadership as a holding midfield player. I think Palace is the kind of club that will suit him and will help him to regain some confidence game by game, and I think Vieira is the best manager to allow him to do that.

DB: We’ve spoken about the club’s pursuit of Caicedo, do you think that with Lokonga’s development, he could be an option coming into the midfield next season?

EP: Of course, there is Declan Rice as well! I’m happy that Arsenal are looking at Caicedo and Mac Allister. I’ve been saying they should for the last two years, so maybe I should be working for Arsenal! But for me, the first option would definitely be Declan Rice. I’m a big fan of Caicedo and Mac Allister – both players know each other well and they’ve been brilliant for both Brighton and their national teams over the last couple of years, so they’re gaining lots of experience and becoming leaders for their teams, which is very important. They can pass, win the ball and score goals, but the first option has to be Declan Rice. Arsenal need leaders in important positions, and holding midfielders are very important in the Premier League.

DB: Chelsea will face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday. With Chelsea out of contention in all other competitions, how important is it for Graham Potter that his team progresses in the Champions League?

EP: With all the money they’ve splashed in the last 6 months – I think around six or seven hundred million – it’s a very important game. I heard Joao Felix say after the West Ham game that they need to win the Champions League if they want to play Champions League football next season. I still believe there is a chance to qualify through the Premier League, but they need to start winning games quickly. They were unfortunate against West Ham, with the refereeing controversy. It was a bad weekend for Premier League refereeing and VAR, altogether – I can’t imagine the frustration of the Arsenal fans after the Brentford game. But anyway, Graham Potter is under a lot of pressure, they need to win games as soon as possible. They’re struggling in the Premier League, but they have an opportunity to do something good in the Champions League. Don’t ask me why, but sometimes, somehow, players perform differently in the Champions League. The music is different, the atmosphere is different, and the opposition is different, so this could be a big opportunity for Chelsea’s new signings. So yes, I agree with Joao Felix. The Champions League isn’t like what it used to be, with certain teams dominating every year, so I think Chelsea can produce another surprise like they did in 2021 against Manchester City.

DB: What are your predictions for the Arsenal vs City game?

EP: I’d bet on a draw. It’s going to be a very competitive game and I think experience will be the key. With an 8-point gap separating them from Arsenal, City know that they have to stay strong mentally. They’re still in the Champions League and the FA Cup, so they’re playing in virtually every single competition, every three days. I’ve heard a lot of recent criticism of Manchester City – “they’re not playing the same way”, “they don’t look like the same team”, etc. – but if they win on Wednesday they’ll be top of the table with a great chance of winning the treble. If Manchester City are in trouble, then what could we say about the other teams in the league that are genuinely struggling? City have bounced back at the right moment, and Arsenal know that. They’ll have to play a very good game, and recover their strength collectively, like they did brilliantly against Manchester United. This is a turning point in the season. Arsenal have games in hand over both City and United, so even if they lose, destiny is still in their hands. Don’t forget that they still have to play away at the Etihad as well, so losing this game wouldn’t be the end of the world. Hopefully, they’ve learned from their recent performances over the last couple of weeks, but they don’t have the experience to manage this kind of situation emotionally like City do. This, for me, is the key to the game: who can be the strongest mentally and emotionally?

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Compare.bet's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check the content on this page:

Daniel Bennett headshot
Daniel is Head of Operations at Compare.bet. He has half a decade of experience writing on topics including sports betting, online casino and the NBA. Daniel also covers Premier League football for Compare.bet news and has interviewed Louis Saha, Richard Dunne and Gary Pallister. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys film photography and making Spotify playlists.

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