Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: “Struggling” Vieira Revealed Conor Gallagher Regret

Former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Emmanuel Petit spoke exclusively with Compare.bet ahead of The Gunners’ clash with Liverpool. Petit picked out the Brighton pair on his Arsenal wishlist and revealed his Conor Gallagher conversation with former teammate Patrick Vieira. Petit also urged Chelsea owner Boehly to win the race for Jude Bellingham’s signature.

DB: We saw Arsenal’s defence nullify one of the league’s more talented frontlines in the North London derby. It seems Saliba and Gabriel have formed a pretty formidable partnership. Do you think they’re the best centre-back pairing in the league at the moment?

EP: They could be. Most of the central defenders at the top teams are struggling at the moment. I think they are the best pair in the Premier League so far. I’m quite surprised, their performances have been great, I am very happy with them so far.

On paper, Liverpool are one of the better attacks that Arsenal will have faced this season. Liverpool have put a fair few goals past Arsenal in recent years. Do you anticipate things being a bit different with Arsenal’s new and improved defence?

When you look at Liverpool at the moment, they look so sloppy, terrible. Something has been broken in this team. But they are still Liverpool, with top players. It will be a game at home for the Gunners, and after beating Spurs, where they did great and had a brilliant performance. They needed to beat top teams, the improvement over the last few seasons has been great, step by step but the last step was to be able to beat top teams. They lost to Manchester United, but they beat Spurs last weekend. This is the third test this season, against a team that has struggled so far, with a lot of players so far away from their best level. This could be the last chance for Liverpool to make something of this season, if they lose to Arsenal, they will be 14 points behind after nine games. It’s a huge gap. They will have two more days than Arsenal of rest to prepare for the game, so they will probably arrive fresher than Arsenal. After losing two important points at home against Brighton, they have no choice but to react against Arsenal. The confidence is with the Gunners, playing at home. They are playing very well, but this is Liverpool, and they will try everything to get at least a point. It won’t be easy for Arsenal. This kind of game, you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m expecting a reaction from Liverpool.

DB: Are there any weaknesses that you’ve seen from Liverpool that Arsenal can perhaps exploit?

EP: There are so many weaknesses. There are so many things that are not working with Liverpool. There is something that’s broken with this team. Mentally, they are not the same unit they have been for the last four or five years. Physically as well. I think with the fact Mane has gone, you can see something is missing up front as well. Salah is a shadow of himself at the moment. The midfield don’t control the tempo anymore, they are not playing with character and personality. And in defence, my god. So many individual and collective mistakes, easily avoidable mistakes. These are the same players that are Champions League winners, Premier League winners, and all of a sudden you don’t recognise them. They are not the same players they used to be. They don’t have the same concentration, the anger to beat the other team, to hurt them, to put pressure on them. They don’t run together anymore. They used to run together, like a unit, and the opponent would be scared of them. They would know they are playing Liverpool and have the feeling of ‘it’s going to be tough guys, physically and mentally it’s going to be tough’. But now it’s not the same anymore. It’s a question now of getting a few things back, for me it starts with the players looking at themselves in the mirror. You used to be one of the best teams in Europe, and they don’t look like that anymore.

DB: We saw Emerson Royal struggle against Martinelli, do you think it’ll be a similar story for Trent Alexander-Arnold who’s struggling defensively at the moment?

EP: Sometimes during this season I have felt embarrassed to watch Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk and Gomez when he was playing. So many mistakes. Martinelli is very confident, and every time he runs with the ball, he is so quick, so fast, and that’s exactly what Trent doesn’t like. To be one-on-one with a player that can hurt him. This is exactly what Martinelli has. I don’t know how Trent is going to defend him, but the problem with Liverpool’s defence isn’t only on him. It’s the whole defence, and when I say that, I mean the whole team, because they start from the front. They are not doing the same job all over the pitch that they used to, and it means the team is too stretched. I think Trent is very good with the ball, but he’s one of the worst without it.

DB: Outside of the obvious – Manchester City’s dominance – do you think there are any questions that still need to be answered when it comes to Arsenal’s credibility as a serious contender for the title?

EP: I think it may be too soon for Arsenal this year. When I look back to where Arsenal were a few years ago, when Arteta became the manager, it’s taken them a few years to come back step by step. City for me are untouchable, especially with Erling Haaland – he is a cyborg. How can you defend against him? How can you compete with Manchester City for the title? For me, if Arsenal can finish in the top four, that would be a great achievement. That would have been the target at the beginning of the season. They are on a very good run, but I think City are a bit too far for Arsenal to reach them this season. But if they keep performing well and improving, sooner or later they can become a contender for the title.

DB: Saka had a great game against Tottenham and caused all kinds of problems by cutting inside and creating chances. How important do you think it is that the club renew his deal and secure a long-term commitment from him?

EP: He is from the academy, he is young, he has great qualities. For me, he is the future of the club., and probably the next captain in the next few years, for the club and the national team. Edu and Arteta know this already, Saka is the future of the club, definitely, they have to sign him to a new contract.

DB: Emile Smith-Rowe has had surgery and will be out for a while now, are you concerned at all about squad depth given how busy this winter period will be?

EP: The squad depth is a problem Arsenal could face this season, especially with the World Cup in the middle. When I look at the squad, they have so much quality, but if they lose two or three players from the starting eleven to injury, that would be a massive problem for them. They are doing a great job in the transfer market, and I think they have to be active in January. They need to reinforce, definitely in the midfield and up front.

DB: Which players would you like to see Arsenal bring in in January?

EP: I have been hearing about Tielemans and Douglas Luiz. I like them, but to be honest, I would go after two Brighton players. Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. They are really good players. They are both young, they both play for their national teams, they are playing very well every week. I’m a huge fan of both of them, If I got the chance I would take them for Arsenal. At Brighton there are a lot of interesting players, with lots of quality, they are very underrated.

DB: Reiss Nelson is back at the club after a loan spell in Eredivisie, do you think he could have a role to play considering the injuries at the moment?

EP: He definitely has a role to play. Look at Saliba, he came back after a good spell away. Nelson just needs some playing time. That will be difficult, because of the attacking options Arteta has, but because of this strange season, he will for sure get time to play. Sometimes it’s good to leave on loan so you can come back better. Saliba came back with a different mentality. The young players from the academy know that when you play for a top club like Arsenal, you need to compete for your place, to prove yourself and get credit.

DB: Folurin Balogun has impressed on loan in Ligue 1. Do you think Eddie Nketiah might be looking over his shoulder a little, seeing he has competition for that backup striker role?

EP: Nketiah will be looking over his shoulder with Balogun playing so well. We are seeing what Balogun can do at Reims, he’s doing very well. If I’m not mistaken, Reims want to buy him, and they are thinking of putting the money on the table. I’m not sure that would be very good for Balogun. Time will tell to see what he does, but being away from Arsenal on loan is good for him, playing week in, week out.

DB: Do you think it’s important to bring in some competition for Thomas Partey given his injury record?

EP: I’ve been very impressed by Xhaka and Partey this season, they bossed the midfield against Spurs. But they can’t do it on their own. Especially if there are injuries. Arsenal need another holding midfielder. I’m not convinced by the other options, like Elneny. In the next transfer window, they should definitely be active in looking for another midfielder.

DB: Granit Xhaka has enjoyed somewhat of a redemption arc as of late, hearing the fans sing his name after falling out with them a few years ago. Has he surprised you this season?

EP: Yes and no. Yes, because it’s very rare to see this kind of redemption, especially after you throw your shirt on the floor. At that time, we were all thinking that a divorce between Xhaka and the club was the only solution. He showed his emotions when he reacted at the time, but he went too far. The fans have forgiven him and he has come back, step by step, working hard on the training ground and on the pitch. Most importantly, I think he has found his best position under Arteta, in this system. It suits him a lot. Now he’s getting back to his best level, and playing his best football since signing for Arsenal. He’s enjoying his game, you can see that. He doesn’t run around like a crazy horse on the pitch anymore. He knows exactly what he has to do, and the credit goes to Arteta for that. The system suits him really well and he knows what Arteta expects from him on the pitch.

On top of that, he’s becoming a leader on the pitch, you could see that when he was celebrating the opening goal against Spurs. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a smile like that on his face. He’s the symbol of this team – the resurrection of Xhaka is similar to how Arsenal have come back in the last two to three seasons.

DB: Xhaka has mentioned that he’s getting his coaching badges and seems to be a leader within the group, could you see him following in Arteta’s footsteps and becoming a manager?

EP: Why not? You never know. I’ve been surprised by many players who go on to become managers, or begin getting their badges during their careers. Sometimes you might think certain players don’t have the character or personality to do it, but sometimes you discover another person when they are in a different role.

Xhaka has been the leader of his national team for years, he’s back as a leader at Arsenal. For me, the most important thing for leaders and warriors is how they react to setbacks. This is exactly what Xhaka has done well. He has the personality and character to do it, and if he does, I wish him all the best. He could probably stay at the club after the end of his career.

DB: Your former teammate has made the same transition quite successfully – what do you think of the job Patrick Vieira is doing at Palace at the moment?

EP: This season he’s struggling. Last season I was very happy about the way his team played and I’m still happy about the way he wants his team to play. I spoke with him at the beginning of the season, after the first game when they lost against Arsenal at home. I spent a few hours with him after the game and we both reckon that losing Conor Gallagher to Chelsea was a huge blow for him. He’s the missing link for Crystal Palace – the link between the midfield and the strikers.

They [Palace] must be more clinical up front when the chances come. They don’t get what they deserve sometimes, in games, but they are missing Gallagher for sure. I don’t know if they’ll try to bring him back in the next transfer window, but I think they were stronger last season, to be honest with you, in terms of their squad and quality on the pitch. They’re struggling, they’ve just lost to Chelsea in a frustrating result. I didn’t understand some of the refereeing decisions in that game – Thiago Silva should have been sent off.

DB: Do you think he would want to become Arsenal manager one day?

EP: Of course! All these former players that were legends at Arsenal and got their [coaching] badges, I’m sure they all dream of being Arsenal manager one day. I think it’s just destiny.

DB: Fabio Vieira plays more of an attacking role in midfield than Patrick did, what have been your first impressions of him in an Arsenal shirt?

EP: He needs to adapt to the Premier League. He’s a young talented player with great technical skills and very good vision, but he needs to play more regular football. He’s not the first choice for Arteta. I can understand that, because the physical and mental demands of the Premier League are very high. But step by step, he will get more and more time to play and he will become more important to the team. I’ve been following him for a few seasons and in that time he’s made so many assists. He doesn’t score many goals, but he’s got the maturity and vision to be another option alongside Odegaard and Smith-Rowe. I think it’s too soon at the moment, for him to be in the starting 11. He needs time to improve.

DB: Deschamps hooked Saliba at halftime against Denmark and pointed to lack of experience as a reason for defeat. Do you think Saliba still has a good chance of playing at the World Cup?

EP: Yeah definitely. To be in the first eleven I’m not sure, but part of the squad definitely. The squad is now 26 players. At the last international break, 14 players were missing because of injury. 14 players. I know we have a lot of players surrounding the squad, but Saliba has a role to play, he has something. He has a chance to be in the squad definitely for me. If he keeps on doing what he’s doing on the pitch with the World Cup coming in a few weeks time, with all the injured players and questions surrounding the leaders in the team and in defence, yes definitely. He has proved he can play in a three at the back or a four at the back, which is exactly what Deschamps wants. He showed great maturity last season with Marseille, he’s improving a lot with Arsenal this season and has had some great performances against some of the best strikers in the world. Look at what happened to Harry Kane last weekend. So yes, for sure, for me he has to be part of the squad.

DB: We look at young centre-backs across the world, we’ve seen Fofana impress, Konate has looked good for Liverpool, and Saliba has come in and wowed everyone this season for Arsenal. Do you think he’s the best of the bunch at the moment?

EP: No, I think he’s one of the best since the beginning of the season, but being the best, he needs to play more at an international level. He has improved a lot and is on the way to do more again this season, but he needs to repeat the performances he’s had against the likes of Kane. If he’s still doing the same things, yes for sure he’ll become one of the best in his position as a young defender.

DB: It’s reported that Arsenal, along with Liverpool, are looking to follow Manchester City’s ‘City Football Group’ model and become multi-club networks. What are your thoughts on this?

EP: Clubs are now like companies. They need to get more fans, they need to reach far from home to get new revenue, it’s an empire now. Clubs are now no longer managed the same way they used to be. If Arsenal want to stay competitive at the highest level, they need more revenue as well. But I can understand that, in terms of getting sponsorships, going to Asia or anywhere for more resources. But the priority for the club is still the sport, the results. Everything is based on the results and the image of the club, you need results to win titles. For me, I understand it, but the priority is on the pitch, not outside. I understand they need more revenues, but think first about on the pitch. You need to keep your DNA, to keep the link with the fans, that’s very important. Money is important, but for me, that’s not the priority. The priority is what you get on the pitch. If you get what you want on the pitch, you will get the money, don’t worry about that.

DB: One player they’re linked with a move for in January is Jude Bellingham. Chelsea are reportedly willing to pay Borussia Dortmund £130m. Is he what Chelsea needs to refresh their ageing midfield?

EP: Definitely, but don’t you think the price is very impressive? £130 million? He’s young, he’s got so much quality and experience for his age and he’s got a bright future. He can play different positions in midfield, can score, can be a holding midfielder. He’s got huge experience already with Dortmund, and when you look at Kante, Kovacic or Jorginho, they are no longer able to play every single game. They’ve been struggling with injuries recently. They will need fresh blood and fresh prospects at the club. He’s English, young, very talented, so if Chelsea want to put £130 million on the table, fair enough. If they have chance to buy him, then they have to buy him, but I’m not sure about the price.

DB: Chelsea have reportedly agreed a pre-contract agreement with Christopher Nkunku. Do you think he’ll be Chelsea’s starting striker role that’s currently occupied by Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang?

EP: There is the curse of the striker at Chelsea. If I was a striker and Chelsea contacted me I would think twice about what I’m going to do, as all of the big names have been following the same steps, except Drogba, who was the last striker that shone with Chelsea? Maybe Diego Costa. Nkunku’s a very talented player, very fast, his movement is difficult for the defence. He has great ability to score, to give assists, so he’s full of confidence now and has improved so much in three seasons and now he plays for the national team. It would be a good bargain for Chelsea, but for me the problem with Chelsea is not the striker, it’s what they want to do, since Abramovich left and Boehly took over the club I feel they’re missing some things that are very important.

There’s still a great team with great quality players, but I think something has changed during the last season, things that have happened off the pitch. Tuchel was fired, and stability has not been at the club anymore for the last few months. Of course, they can put a lot of money on the table which is what they did in the last transfer market, but they need to get a real sporting vision. Aubameyang was a panic buy and I didn’t understand why they bought him. It’s not because of Aubameyang, but they were in a rush to do things and stability was not at the club. It will take weeks and months to come back on a real level, so strikers are an option but there are so many different positions where there are still questions. In defence, they’ve bought some good players, Fofana seems to be a shadow of himself since signing from Leicester, same with Koulibaly who started well but doesn’t look the same anymore. Silva as well, we’re starting to see his age on the pitch sometimes during games, so strikers are very important for Chelsea but I think they should have anticipated the situation better as well, especially in defence.

DB: Mbappe and Neymar seem to be clashing at PSG with public rifts. Luis Campos has said it was a mistake to sign both players. How do you think this situation will be resolved?

EP: Well, for me I’m pretty sure Neymar won’t leave the club. He will stay at the club until the end of his contract, the World Cup is coming and he’s having is best season at Paris Saint Germain so far. He came back after proper preseason preparation and mentally as well, we saw all the rumours, and speculation surrounding him during the transfer market, and don’t forget what happened last season as well with the fans booing Messi and Neymar at home.

With all the talk and press, if I am Neymar, after good preparation, I’m pretty sure he’s back with the feeling of revenge and wants to prove a point to anyone that he’s still Neymar, one of the greatest players in modern football. I’m convinced, because of the World Cup, because of the start of the season he’s had, he won’t leave the club. He has something to prove to a lot of people and the first person is himself, because he knows he wasn’t 100% professional since he arrived at PSG.

But with the emergence of Mbappe, his stature has changed a lot in the dressing room, the eyes of the media and fans has changed a lot with Mbappe, he wants more responsibility in terms of ego as well. Neymar is a fantastic player. When I look at the season he’s having, don’t be mistaken, he will try everything he can this season to prove he’s one of the best and this next season is probably his last season to probably win the Ballon d’Or, he has a lot of competition with Haaland and Mbappe who will have something to say. So no, he won’t leave the club and will stay with the club until the end of the contract. I know the sporting director Campos two weeks ago on the radio, he said it was a mistake to sign both of them, but frankly, if you asked this question to all the managers in the world, would you like to have Mbappe and Neymar in your team, do you think they would tell you it’s a mistake? So no he will stay at the club because he has something to prove.

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

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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