Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: It’s Time to Bench Kai Havertz

Following Arsenal’s late victory against Manchester United on Sunday, Compare.bet spoke to former France, Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Emmanuel Petit. He spoke about why it’s time for Kai Havertz to be benched, how Declan Rice can take another step to a higher level at Arsenal, and why he disagreed with Arsenal’s signing of David Raya. He also discussed his wish for Arsenal to sign Kaoru Mitoma, why Emile Smith-Rowe should stay with the Gunners, the world-class ability of Enzo Fernandez, and why he’s backing Nicolas Jackson to break Chelsea’s striker curse.

AS: Arsenal left it late to beat Manchester United on Sunday. What did you think of the game?

EP: It was a very tactical game, a bit of a frustrating game with not many opportunities to score. I was very happy with how it ended, especially the goal from Rice. When watching I thought to myself, ‘this is a very frustrating game’ because I didn’t recognise Arsenal. They weren’t playing in the same style with the same movements we’re used to. But this was also due to Manchester United’s tactical positions too, I think they played well. But at the end, I was very happy and it was very important for Arsenal to win that game, especially after dropping points against Fulham. This type of game can give you something special to build on for the rest of the season.

AS: Balogun seemed certain to leave, particularly with his lack of opportunity even with Gabriel Jesus injured. Do you think the move to Monaco is a good one for him?

EP: Monaco aren’t playing in any European competitions this season. So far I think they’ve been very good, it’s very different from last season. It was such a difficult season for Monaco last year, particularly with the behaviour of some players. I think it’s a good move for Balogun, but I would’ve preferred him to join a team who are playing in a European competition. He’s only 22, a young player with a lot of qualities. Monaco plays 4-2-3-1, with Ben Yedder upfront, and don’t often change their tactical position upfront, so there’s only one option for the striker. Ben Yedder has started the season well, so I think the way Monaco play, with no European Cup, there won’t be a lot of player turnover. So every time Balogun gets the opportunity to play, he has to be good. This season Monaco should be PSG’s biggest rivals for the title.

AS: Another player who has been limited when it comes to playing time is Emile Smith-Rowe. Do you think there’s a way back into the team for him?

EP: He hasn’t played a single minute since the season started. Smith-Rowe has been on the bench, it’s quite difficult to understand why he hasn’t been playing more often, not even 15 to 20 minutes per game. He’s been injured and had problems on the pitch and off, but I still have faith in him. He’s a quality player and brings a lot to Arsenal, but he plays the same role as Odegaard. But if we’re speaking about Smith-Rowe, we also need to speak about Kai Havertz, because right now he’s not playing well. There’s so much pressure on his shoulders, who knows what Arteta’s going to do in the next games. I don’t want Smith-Rowe to leave Arsenal. He’s a quality player with a great mentality, and fits perfectly with the Arsenal DNA. He has to wait and be patient, and bring back the confidence he used to have. You can see he hasn’t been the same player for 16 months. He needs to have a stronger mindset, and I have the feeling he could be fighting harder to get his position back. He needs to send good signals to Arteta and return to the player he was two years ago, with less pressure and more happiness. From the outside, he was very good at the beginning but now is in transition. That can impact his mentality and his confidence. But for me, he has to have a stronger mindset and take the opportunity to show his class every time he gets to play. It’s difficult because last season Arsenal were very good and he wasn’t really part of it. Odegaard is still the playmaker in the team. But Kai Havertz is not playing well, so sooner or later there will be questions of Kai’s role in the team. I don’t want Smith-Rowe to leave Arsenal, I want him to stay with the Gunners.

AS: Last season, you were calling for Arsenal to sign Declan Rice and he’s here now, what are your thoughts on his start as an Arsenal player?

EP: He was brilliant on Sunday. He bossed the midfield, was a playmaker, recovered so many balls and is very important for the tactical balance in front of the central defenders. It’s a new club for him, new teammates, so step by step he will be even better. On Sunday he played with composure, with authority, with maturity and character. To score the goal, the way he did it as a holding midfielder, you can see he’s very important defensively but also important going forward. For me, this is the sign of a great player. He takes the responsibility, has the hunger to win the game. He doesn’t want to draw and share the points. I saw a playmaker on the pitch. It was very enjoyable to watch him because he looked like he’d been playing for Arsenal for the last four to five years. He played with so much confidence, already bossing the midfield. You can see his teammates are looking for him on the pitch all the time. The way he reacts on the pitch, he’s a leader. I’m very happy he’s playing for Arsenal, but we still haven’t seen the best of Declan Rice yet. He’s good at the moment and was very good on Sunday, but I’m sure he can be at Sunday’s level for the whole season. He will take another step with Arsenal and go to a higher level.

AS: Aaron Ramsdale is still number one despite the arrival of David Raya. What did you make of the transfer and do you see Raya taking Ramsdale’s place?

EP: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as Raya arrives Ramsdale starts making mistakes on the pitch. Goalkeeper isn’t like other positions, and I really don’t like having two top class keepers competing against one another. You need to have a clear number one in that position, so that they can feel confident and focus on their game without worrying about losing their spot. I understand the decision from Arteta’s point of view, because Arsenal are going to be playing Champions League football whilst trying to challenge for the Premier League, so you want lots of quality in different positions, but goalkeeper is different. You need to have faith in your number one — let them know that if they make a mistake, they will still play the next game. It reminds me of the situation at PSG, with Donnarumma and Navas. It’s been a very awkward situation for the manager and the squad to deal with, and as a result we didn’t see the best of those goalkeepers during the season. So, I understand the reasoning, but I disagree with it.

I think Raya is a very good keeper, but he needs to play, and it will be very hard for him to break into the starting 11 this season. You have to be very careful with the goalkeeper position. When I saw Raya training with Arsenal I couldn’t help wondering how Aaron Ramsdale was going to react to it, especially after being such a key player last season — he’s never been in this situation before. On Sunday he did a good job, and I just hope that the pressure of having Raya breathing down his neck doesn’t affect his performances this season. You have to be very careful with goalkeepers. If Ramsdale doesn’t lose confidence and start making mistakes then it’s maybe justified, but I disagree with it in principle.

AS: The window is closed now after a busy summer of transfers. Are there any players that you wish Arsenal made a move for this summer?

EP: There are so many players I would’ve loved to sign for Arsenal, but there is one player in particular — Kaoru Mitoma. Brighton are playing very well and have been great to watch, and Mitoma’s quality, speed and dribbling have been a big part of that. He can score, assist and is always a danger on the ball. I also love the way he goes at players and enjoys taking on defenders, and I think Arsenal need some competition on the left wing for Martinelli. There are some players at Arsenal who can fill in this position, but for me Mitoma would have been perfect.

AS: The sporting director role has become quite a prominent one in football as transfer strategy seems to be more of a collaboration these days, such as the partnership of Edu and Mikel Arteta. We’ve seen Liverpool experience some struggles in the window after the departure of their sporting director. Do you think it’s a good thing that managers, such as Arteta, don’t have all the power when it comes to transfers?

EP: I came from an era when the manager was directing everything at the club. They were in charge of the players that came in and out of the club, but nowadays it’s not like that. Only big managers — the likes of Ancelotti and Guardiola — have a certain amount of control over the players they bring in. 99% of the managers in modern football don’t have the power to influence transfers. They can make suggestions, but at the end of the day they don’t have the power to make the decision. I understand, because giving managers complete authority on bringing in new players would be a big risk. Taking total control away from the managers seems to be the way of modern football, and it’s working, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the manager for his input on what kind of players he wants for his team. I also don’t understand why some clubs buy or sell players without asking the manager. You need to find the right balance between the two.

AS: Arteta has recently said he used ‘43 formations’ in a game against Man City last month. We know players switch position and invert in Arteta’s system, but this number was surprising to many. As a former player, would you find this confusing?

EP: When I was a player I used to play five different positions on the pitch, so if you want to play at the highest level — for the best club in the world and for your national team — you must know how to play in different positions, it’s so important. Any player who can do this is a gift for the manager. There is a big difference between having players who can play in multiple positions — players who are adaptable and tactically intelligent — and just constantly changing your tactics and the way you play. Players should adapt to the system, not the other way around — I don’t get changing your system week in week out. There are a few clubs in France that have been doing this for the last two or three years, and you can see it on the pitch. You can see that the players are struggling because there is no consistency, and tactically the players aren’t on the same page as the manager. If unsuitable players are having to play different positions every single game, sooner or later they’re going to lose themselves on the pitch. So you need to be very careful about what you’re asking of your players — not every player is tactically capable of playing in multiple positions.

AS: Kai Havertz is another new addition who has featured in Arsenal’s midfield, what do you think of his performances so far?

EP: I felt pity for him on Sunday, even when he was almost given a penalty. You could see it in the replay, I was watching the game and thought, there’s no way to fall on the pitch, they didn’t touch him. I thought he’s going to save his game because of that but now, I keep faith in Kai Havertz. I still believe he has great qualities. We haven’t seen this since he came to England and he’s struggling. But Sunday, he was hiding everywhere. He didn’t ask for balls, he wasn’t moving. What is the DNA of Arsenal, especially up front offensively? It’s playing all together, movement between the lines. Take the space behind the defenders. Great movement, you play in a triangle. You play one-two. He has to be quick, passing quick movements. Sunday, he was a a shadow of himself on the pitch. Why? Because he’s not confident at all. When a player is hiding himself on the pitch it’s because he’s not confident. He’s scared. He’s scared of attempting things. He doesn’t dare to do anything on the pitch at the moment. But this doesn’t mean you need to kick him from the club. If I was Arteta, I can understand he was trying to change his system to suit Havertz. Remember they used to play 4,3,2,1, now Arteta tries to change the system to suit Havertz. This is not working. But in the meantime, Arsenal are not losing games. If I was Arteta, I would put Havertz on the bench. Not as a punishment – that’s very important. Not as a punishment. But I would put him on the bench just to step back a little bit. Release the pressure on him, the attention of people in the media. Try to give him the time to settle perfectly into the team and the club. And give him 15-20 minutes in games. I would do that within the next few games. I would hope this could change his mentality because you could feel every time he comes onto the pitch, you can feel that he’s struggling from the season he had with Chelsea, he’s suffering from that and the way it’s been tough since the beginning of the season, it’s not worked for him. He doesn’t have the confidence to bring what Arteta wants into the team which means there are many good players waiting for the opportunity to play. Give them the opportunity to play, put Havertz on the bench, release the pressure from him – the attention from the media and the fans – and step by step he will come back the way he was before he came to England.

AS: Looking at Havertz’s former club – they’ve brought in Nicolas Jackson who has impressed so far. Chelsea have had some bad luck with strikers in recent years – Werner, Lukaku, Havertz, Morata. Do you think Jackson has what it takes to establish himself as a success in the Premier League?

EP: He has to! Because sooner or later the curse will end with Chelsea. I mean, it won’t stay like this forever so sooner or later a striker will come and break the curse at Chelsea for the strikers. So I think he has impressed since he joined Chelsea but he’s going to find competition with Nkunku, as Nkunku can play up front right behind the striker. I definitely think they signed a very good striker. Strong physically, he’s fast, he’s a goalscorer, so I think he has the quality to fit with the Premier League. Don’t forget what happened with Chelsea for the last 16 months. There are so many players that have been impacted mentally and in terms of confidence as well, for example Sterling last season, he was in the middle of a storm all the time with the fans and the media. And since the beginning of the season he’s probably the best player for Chelsea. So, I mean it goes very fast in football but Jackson for me has the quality to perform very well in the Prem and to break the curse for the strikers at Chelsea.

AS: Jamie Carragher called Enzo Fernandez world-class after his recent displays for the Blues. Do you agree?

EP: He’s a World Cup winner! I’ve watched him so many times with Argentina. Even last season, I think he wasn’t the worst player on the pitch. Fernandez is a world class player, yes definitely I agree. I think he just lacks the cohesion with other teammates at Chelsea for now. He has a big career in front of him and we haven’t seen the best of Enzo Fernandez yet. Step by step I think he will become the best, because of the situation at Chelsea last season when he joined. So I can understand this season is a completely new season for all players in the dressing room, and Enzo Fernandez the way he plays for Argentina is not quite the same as the way he plays with Chelsea. But he has so many great qualities – to be a playmaker in the mid-field, so I totally agree with Carragher. I think this guy has a lot in front of him, I think he’s been doing well with Chelsea but he can do much more than that.

AS: Reece James remains out injured after yet another setback following the first game of the season. He’s now the club captain, do you think Chelsea fans should be worried about his long-term future due to his injury history?

EP: How many injuries has he had? I can’t remember. Some players, you have the feeling they don’t have luck, but I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s so important for Chelsea and he can be so important for the England National team. Especially in the system that Pochettino wants him to play. He’s a very talented player and I’m so frustrated for him, so many injuries.

It must be so hard for him to deal with it. If I was Reece James, I would be so tired and fed up. When you wake up in the morning and think, am I going to be injured after today’s training or not? Because this is the question with him, you never know how long he is going to play on the pitch for and it’s so frustrating for not just him, but the other players. I don’t know what’s happening with him or what the solution is. You see it for French players as well, they come back, play two or three great games and then they’re injured.

AS: Raheem Sterling has started the season in great form, what do you think has changed for him after a tough time last season?

EP: Last season, it was difficult to judge him because of what happened with Chelsea. So many things happened off the pitch, so many players came and so many left, so last year was more of a transitional season. I still believe they’re far from their best level, but step by step they will come back sooner or later, I believe in that.

Last season Sterling was in the middle of a storm, criticism from the fans, the board saying stuff about big players with big wages in the dressing room and it was linked to Sterling, he was a big target for people last season. He changed his mentality this season and with new players on the pitch and a new manager, he has changed.

When you take away a few of the problems, all of a sudden, some players are showing their best on the pitch, but the problem is with Sterling, you never know how long he is going to play well for. I remember at the start of the season he reminded me of him at Manchester City, he was enjoyable to watch and a nightmare for the opponent. But he must do that until the end of the season. This is the problem with Sterling, I’m not surprised to see him play well but I will be surprised if he does it for the whole season.

AS: Liverpool rejected a bid worth over £100 million on deadline day for Mo Salah from the Saudi League. It’s become a popular destination, particularly for players in their 30s. However, we did see Ruben Neves surprisingly join Al Hilal. What are your thoughts on these transfers – would you have moved to the Saudi league if you were playing today?

EP: I know Saudi Arabia have been subject to a lot of criticism regarding human rights. I totally understand that, but I think football has changed a lot for them and I think opening the door through football will change the mentality for a lot of people. You need to change the vision of the country.

To answer the question, if you’re in your 30s and already have a bunch of silverware and just hit the pinnacle of your career, then someone comes in and offers you 10-20 or even 100 million to come and play in Saudi Arabia, if you find someone that can say no to that, well I’d be interested in speaking with them. But if I was 22 or 23, definitely I would not go to Saudi Arabia.

If I was older and I’m coming towards the end of my career, how can I refuse that kind of money, at the end, the last few years are important. But if you were young, I don’t understand it. For example, Saint-Maximin, I don’t understand that. 25-years-old at Newcastle, they’re in the Champions League, he never played Champions League football, I don’t get it. He could have had a great season with Newcastle, challenging for the top spots and playing great teams in the Champions League, this is something money can’t bring you. So I don’t understand it when you’re young but if you’re older I completely understand it.

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Alice is an Editor at Compare.bet, having joined the company from Gambling Insider in 2022. She's a dab hand at all things online gambling, from expertise in payment methods to her commitment to responsible gambling promotion. Outside of work, Alice is a huge sports fan who closely follows Arsenal and plays lacrosse in her spare time, to name just a couple of her sporting pursuits.

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