Emmanuel Petit kicking a ball playing for Arsenal.

Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: Bruno Guimaraes would fit in perfectly at Arsenal

Emmanuel Petit spoke to Compare.bet yesterday as the title race in the Premier League continues to grow even more intense. The ex-Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder spoke about how Bruno Guimaraes would be a great signing for Arsenal and could add something different to the team, how Arsenal will need more squad depth for a Premier League title race and Odegaard’s comparisons to Santi Cazorla. He also spoke about how Chelsea need more players like Cole Palmer, and what players Chelsea should be going for in the next transfer window.

Arsenal were favourites against Bayern Munich but couldn’t find a way through to the semi-finals. What do you think was the difference between the two teams? Did the Gunners lack that European experience?

Experience was important. At the start of the season I said that Champions League games will be very important for Arsenal to show how they have improved in the last two or three years. For me, this is the last step for them as a team and individually as well, because most of the players don’t have the experience to play at this level. And for me, that was something very important this season, among the fact that they are fighting for the title in the Premier League as well.

Experience was important, but also I think energy. I could see that especially on Saturday when I watched the game, but it has kind of been the same for the last few games. It reminds me of how important the depth of your squad is. They had some very important players, like Declan Rice, but they looked so tired. They played very well tactically and mentally as well. But you can see, especially at the end, when they celebrated the second goal, so many players were trying to get a big breath because they were so tired.

For me, experience is important but also energy. I think Arsenal and Arteta know that what they’ve done for the last two or three years is very important, but then they must reach the last step in terms of being a competitive team with the biggest teams in Europe. When you look at Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, those kinds of teams, even Bayern Munich, Arsenal don’t have the same quantity of quality players in their squad. For me you could see this last season. We’ve seen it because some players were missing because of injuries, like (William) Saliba for example. But you had the feeling that they couldn’t compete with Manchester City in terms of the quality of the squad. And I had the same feeling against Bayern Munich, and I had [it] when I watched the game against Wolves, I had the same feeling. I was very happy that they won, but in the meantime I was thinking, they look so tired.

When I look at the games coming up against Chelsea and Tottenham… fingers crossed, is what I’m thinking. They have good players on the bench, but they need to add more and more players, important players, especially up front and creative players as well.

You mentioned Arsenal lacking the depth in their squad. Do you think that is their biggest barrier in getting over the line in these competitions? Or is it a mentality issue as well?

No, mentally they’ve shown great character this season. It’s completely different to what happened last season, you could see that. So many people were thinking, two or three weeks ago, that they would fall down, just like what happened last season. But you could see that they’ve moved on, they’ve improved mentally. The character is not the same. I think Declan Rice has been amazing this season for that as well. He shows so much energy. On Saturday, he was probably one of the only players on the pitch that could cover every inch of the pitch. He was marvellous.

But they still need more energy. You cannot rely on just one player, especially at the end of the season. This is the most important thing. Every game is important, but at the end of the season, everybody knows that it’s not only three points, it’s more than that.

Arsenal suffered a blip at this time last season that cost them the title. Will that experience help them to ensure they don’t suffer this time around?

There are 5 games left in the Premier League, but this is the most decisive week they have to play in the Premier League this season so far. The two games coming up, against Chelsea and Tottenham, two derbies. We all know how difficult it is to play against Chelsea because they can be so good against top teams and much worse against poor teams… But the same for Tottenham.

They’re going to fight to play for a Champions League spot next season, and we all know the rivalry between the two teams. So, for me, I’m not worried about experience or things that happened last season at the same stage. I’m only worried about the energy that Arsenal can put in the games, and this is my worry because I saw very tired players against Wolves, and Arteta has just a few options to manage this week. And it’s guaranteed for me that he knows that this week is probably make or break in the Premier League.

Arsenal have a chance to put four points between them and Man City – albeit having played two games more. In a title race, would you rather have the points secured or be chasing but with games in hand? 

This question is kind of like when you know you’re fighting for the title and you play the same day, but not the same hour. You play at one in the afternoon, and the other team plays at three or six in the afternoon, the same day. It’s kind of the same, you feel the breath of your opponents on your neck. So if Arsenal win and they get a four-point lead, that will put a lot of pressure on Manchester City. But we are talking about Manchester City, we all know how good they are in the title race. They are not going to fall down psychologically and mentally. I’ve seen Manchester City very tired as well recently, some players look very tired and it’s completely normal.

So, for me, we cannot judge the rivalry between the two clubs on this aspect because I think City are probably one of the best teams in the world for that. So it will be, again, in terms of energy. They all have the desire to win the Premier League. I watched the game yesterday with Liverpool and (Mohamed) Salah was on the bench at the start of the game. So even (Jurgen) Klopp sometimes, he knows that every single point will be important, but on top of it he cannot play every single player, every single game. You need to rotate – (Alexis) Mac Allister, started on the bench as well. So they all know that they have the mentality to fight for the title.

The question is, do Arsenal have the energy to win the Premier League? I’ve been in this position many times in France and in England, and I know that at the end of the season, it all depends not only with your desire, it can depend on the mental state. The most important is how fresh are your players mentally and physically, simple as that.

At the weekend, Santi Cazorla said he saw himself in Martin Odegaard. Do you agree with that comparison? Is there another ex-Arsenal player you might compare Odegaard to in terms of playing style?

Yeah, they have similarities in their games, I think, in terms of movement, technically as well, vision, the link with their teammates up front. I can understand why he said that. Santi Cazorla was very important for Arsenal as well so I’m not surprised about what he said with Odegaard, not at all.

Bruno Guimaraes has been linked with a move to the Emirates recently. Do you think he’d bring something different to the Arsenal midfield?

Yeah, in terms of keeping the ball, position, technique, this is something very important for what I’ve said before, when you are tired on a pitch keeping the ball is integral, and I thought Arsenal did it brilliantly on Saturday.

This is where I think you can see this team has improved a lot from last season. At the highest level when you’re tired physically and you’re tired mentally, you need to be better than your opponents, in terms of technique, keeping the ball, how you give passes and receive the ball. For me, Guimaraes is very good with the ball which would be very important if he comes to Arsenal. I have no worries about him settling in at Arsenal either.

Chelsea seem to play better against the so-called bigger sides in the Premier League this season. Why might this be? 

It’s surprising. That’s why Arsenal have to be very careful with Chelsea. It’s a very young team. We all know what happened for the last two seasons, on and off the pitch for Chelsea and now, it will take time for (Mauricio) Pochettino to get the good balance in this team and to get the best out of the players.

But you have the feeling from outside that this team is capable of much better than what they have been doing, they just need some confidence. They need players to improve individually and to get more confidence for the team. It won’t come in one week and you have to work on this. As it’s a very young team they also need to improve mentally. They need to improve in terms of character and maturity, and it’s just the beginning for them.

I think they will be much better month after month, I have no worries about that to be honest with you. They have so many talented players and you could see that they just need something, a Declan Rice or someone like him that could turn things around in a good way. I have no worries about that, because they already have players who are becoming actual leaders in this team, and they’re showing their ambition with Chelsea on the pitch, which is very important when you start a new story with so many new and young players. You need leaders, most of the players are on the same level in terms of trophies, except just a few that have won something. Most of them, they’re just at the beginning of their career. So it’s very important that there are some players who can become leaders in this team. For example, Cole Palmer is one of them.

Mauricio Pochettino has “warned” Cole Palmer about the extra responsibility he will have as a young star, from his private life to what he produces on the pitch. How difficult can it be for a young player to play with all this added pressure?

I think Cole Palmer wants it. Just have a quick look at what happened with penalties at the start of the season, how he wanted to impose himself, how he wanted to take responsibility on the pitch, his desire to become a great player. For me there is no doubt about it. As I said before, I think if Chelsea want to improve more, they need more players with this mentality.

What did you make of the penalty argument during the Blues’ win over Everton involving Noni Madueke, Nicolas Jackson and Cole Palmer?

That reminds me of what happened at Paris Saint-Germain between Neymar and (Edison) Cavani. We had so many stories like this in France for the last few seasons. Pochettino said something very important at the end of the game, he said penalty, which was the case back in the day when I was playing, penalty issues are always decided before the game on the team sheet. Who’s going to take the corners? Who’s going to get the free-kick? Who’s going to take the penalty? Everybody knows, it doesn’t happen like this on the pitch when the penalty comes.

I heard the reaction of Pochettino and I totally understand, and I think some players disrespected the rules and they were showing selfishness on the pitch instead of thinking about what was best for the team.

If you could sign one Chelsea player for Arsenal, who would it be and why?

Cole Palmer, for sure. I think he would fit perfectly with Arsenal. He’s got this freedom on the pitch. Most of the players who play for Chelsea have specific demands from the manager, you can see that they have the zone and they play in the zone. But I think Cole Palmer is probably one of the rare players in this team that has the freedom on the pitch. His movement, I love it, in the last third I love how he plays. He’s feeling his intuition and technically, as well, I think he’s a very good passer and a very good finisher. So yes, Cole Palmer, if he were to be with Arsenal, I think he will be very important for Arsenal at the end of the season.

And the other way? If you could sign one Arsenal player for Chelsea?

I would probably say a central defender, Saliba.

You’ve recently urged Chelsea not to sign Leny Yoro to replace Thiago Silva and to allow him to develop further at Lille. Do you think they should look to sign a more experienced defender to replace Thiago Silva or give more playing time to some of the players they already have?

I always say that they should keep their money. They’ve spent more than £1 billion already recently on players. Very interesting players with good profiles, but they need to stick with that. They need to gain confidence, and they need to receive the message from the club and the manager that they will try everything they can with this team, with those players. Maybe they’re going to change two or three players at the end of the season. They also may have to sell for the finance situation as well, but I have no idea.

So far with all the players they have, why should they be buying more players? I think if you want to buy more players, I think you should add experienced players, with a great mentality that can be father figures for young players in the dressing room, but also on the pitch. A player with pedigree, someone who has won trophies already, who knows how important it is to have a great mentality. A player that is respected by every single player in football.

So if you want to spend 50, 80, £100 million on a player, I think they should try to get players around 27, 28, with a very good pedigree, a very good mentality, with a great desire, a great personality. Someone like Declan Rice, for example.

Reece James gave an update on his return from injury last week, saying he’s doing really well. How important is it that Chelsea get his return right – whenever that is – and don’t rush him back too soon?

Honestly I feel so bad for him. And it reminds me of (Abou) Diaby, the former Arsenal player. Or even Neymar with Paris Saint-Germain. Reece James is very important for Chelsea, but he never plays. He’s always injured. I feel pity for him. He must be very down mentally. For me, they need to sort out what is wrong with him physically, because he is like ice.

I think that the most important question is ‘what is wrong with you?’ Before thinking about what he can bring into the team. Because even when he comes back, you have the feeling that in three games he will be out again for months. I think they need to sport out what is wrong with him physically. They need to work on that.

Barcelona have the likes of Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsi thriving in their team at the moment. How important is it to the Barcelona identity that they keep finding ways to integrate academy graduates into their first team?

They don’t have the money anymore to buy players. However they are still Barcelona with a great name, one of the biggest clubs in the world, so they have the possibility to bring important players in, but they need to pay them. It’s been like this for years already, so they are still competitive, but the fact that they don’t have the money to splash on the transfer market, and wages means they need to use their academy as they have done in the past. They have always brought through very important players from the academy, but now more than ever, it is the most important thing for Barcelona right now. They don’t have the finances to think otherwise.

We’re getting closer to the summer and there are still a lot of names being linked with replacing Xavi as Barcelona manager. Is there anyone that has caught your eye, that you’d want to take over?

I wish he would stay, to be honest with you. I wish he would stay, because he won La Liga last season, he was very close to qualifying for the semi-finals of the Champions League. I was commentating on the game for French TV last week and if (Ronald) Araujo is not sent off, I think it’s a different game. I think they would have had a very good chance to qualify, they were leading the score and they were controlling the game, until this happened and it changed everything.

I wish Xavi would stay because I think Barcelona is Xavi. Just a few players through the generations have represented the club very well in terms of DNA and in terms of identity., and I think Xavi is one of them. I totally understand his frustration, and he’s very tired and fed up with what has happened for months. Managing a club like Barcelona is incredibly difficult, because it’s not only football. On top of it he has had so much trouble. He had so many injured players during the season and it was a very hard and difficult season for them.

Just like what happened on Sunday in the Clasico, they gave everything on the pitch, and we all know what happened with the goal and the ball going over the line, with the VAR. But I wish he could stay at Barcelona.

You ask me what manager will be good for Barcelona? It’ll be another manager and then in two years’ time, he’s going to be fired again, or he’s going to leave the club. And then the story starts again, and all over again, and all over again. After (Pep) Guardiola, after Luis Enrique, now Xavi, those guys represent Barcelona very well. So I don’t know, to be honest with you, I have no idea who’s going to be the next manager for Barcelona. But I’m very sad that he’s had to say months before the end of the season that he’s going to leave the club. It shows how difficult it is to be a manager at Barcelona.

What has been the key difference between Real Madrid and Barceona this season, proving vital in the La Liga title race?

If you compare Real Madrid to Barcelona, Real Madrid have been present every single season in the Champions League. Not Barcelona. Barcelona have disappeared for a few years in the Champions League. You cannot compare both clubs, because serenity has been at Madrid for years now. Success as well, and stability on the bench. They changed so many important players, but this is Real Madrid. It’s the DNA of the club, the history of the club and you can see that in the Champions League games. They have this psychological thing all the time. And for me this stability and the success brings more success most of the time. This is the main difference between the two clubs, when you look at Barcelona, they have been in trouble for years.

With no English teams making it to the final four stage of the Champions League, do you think the Premier League is perhaps slightly over-hyped in this country?

No. I believe that the Premier League doesn’t listen and learn from their mistakes. Look at the schedule of the games, I know the tradition in the Premier League and I’m very happy with it and of course I totally understand the fans, the approach of clubs, but they must understand that football has changed a lot. A lot of teams have improved in different countries and they have a lot of money as well, big budgets, so they can fight as well against the top teams in the Premier League.

The Premier League is the richest league in the world, but there are so many clubs in Europe that can fight with them financially, both in terms of wages and in the transfer market. But they have to learn from their mistakes. Why is it so difficult? And so many people would tell me, ‘yeah but they have won European Cups in the past’. Sure, but that’s not enough. With their power, the financial power of the Premier League, and also the quality of players in the Premier League, they should be in the semi-finals every single season, they should be in a final almost every single season because of that. But that is not happening. Why? For me it’s simple. There is no break in the Premier League.

Why is the Premier League the most powerful league in the world on the pitch and off the pitch? Simple, because they have most of the best players in their teams, the best managers on the benches and the best fans in the world most of the time, simple as that. But they have no break. When I look at the Bundesliga, when I look at the French league, when I look at La Liga, they all have a break in the winter. I know when I talk like this, it can upset people. I understand because of the traditions and I totally understand. But don’t be surprised at the end of the season, because the physical demands to fight for the Premier League. We are all witnessing what is happening, for the past few weeks between Liverpool, City and Arsenal. I’ve seen so many players so tired again at the end of the game in Champions League games, Premier League games as well. The demands are high in the Premier League, mentally and physically. If you don’t put a break for them, well don’t be surprised that at the end of the season, sometimes Premier League clubs are struggling on the European scene.


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