Exclusive: Emmanuel Petit Warns Arteta Against Benzema Signing Amid Arsenal Links

Emmanuel Petit spoke to Compare.bet yesterday. The ex-Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder discussed the transfer rumours linking Karim Benzema to Arsenal, advised Mikel Arteta against a move for Amadou Onana and told us why he wouldn’t start William Saliba at the Euros.

DB: Arsenal have only won once in their last five Premier League matches. What do you think needs to change if they want to get three points when Crystal Palace come to the Emirates this Saturday?

EP: Arsenal must keep on doing what they’re trying, they need to keep their style. It’s normal that during a season you meet problems, especially the strikers. I’m not surprised about that, your Ronaldo’s, Messi’s, Mbappe’s, will score every game but Arsenal’s strikers are younger so I’m not worried about that.

I’m more concerned about the squad depth and who they are bringing off the bench. I’m very focused on the transfer market for Arsenal in January, nothing is happening but I’m not too surprised. Most of the teams in the Premier League have identified how Arsenal play so they need a plan B now. Most of the teams are more organised defensively against Arsenal now.

I think with Xhaka leaving the club, they’ve not replaced him well. I don’t think Kai Havertz has a solid role in the team with regards to his movement and he’s not creating enough goals and assists. I still believe that Arsenal have confidence in the way they play and the goals will come back soon, I’m pretty sure about that.”

DB: You mentioned the Xhaka role, do you think there’s anyone that can replace him from either a transfer or a player currently at the club like Emile Smith-Rowe?

EP: We don’t know what’s going to happen during the transfer market. There are so many names being linked to Arsenal in the press this week. This current group of Arsenal players have enough quality to replicate what they did last season. I don’t want to point a finger at Kai Havertz because I believe sooner or later he will fit into the team. But the way Xhaka moved and the way he understood his teammates was completely different.

The most important thing is that most of the teams have identified how Arsenal are playing with Martinelli and Saka out wide and now they defend much better. I still believe that when you meet problems you have to keep doing what you do best on the pitch. The priority for Arsenal is to keep their mentality and keep doing what they’re doing, the quick passing, the quick movement, if they can get this back, they will score goals without problems.

A big thing that they need to do, is to rotate their team more, I see big players for Arsenal looking tired physically and mentally. All of these reasons, I am not surprised to see them struggling but I wouldn’t worry too much, they will bounce back strongly and carry on scoring. The fact that they also have to play Champions League this season is very interesting, we will have to see how they recoup every couple of days after playing the top teams in Europe and playing in the Premier League. The Champions League, it requires so much energy mentally and physically, the rotation will be very important. You see it with Man City, they can win games without their top players and then De Bruyne comes back and scores. Arsenal don’t have that, they always have their starting XI and then a few more players and that’s it. This is what is happening right now at Arsenal.”

DB: You mentioned that teams have figured out Arsenal. Mikel Arteta is a pretty young manager, do experienced managers normally have a plan B?

EP: Plan B always depends on the players you have. What can Arteta even do with this group? He always plays the same first XI on the pitch that have the same style of playing. They’re young but playing every three days is tough. Saka last season played around 55-60 games, that’s not easy. Especially when you play in the Champions League on top of that. They need more players, they have top players and a quality squad but not enough players, and that’s why rotation is a massive problem for Arteta.

DB: Arsenal are clearly still in the market for a midfielder, particularly with the struggles of Kai Havertz and Thomas Partey’s injuries. Amadou Onana from Everton is reportedly open to a move, what do you think of him?

EP: I think he’s a decent player I have respect for him, but, the way Arteta wants to build the game from the back, I don’t think Onana has the technical skills to control the ball and build the game from behind. He’s played well for Everton, but with them struggling so much, he’s playing the majority of the game in his own half. Arsenal normally play in their opponent’s half so it’s completely different in terms of tactic and technique, I’m not sure on Onana I think there are better options.”

DB: One solution to the goalscoring issue could be a new striker. We’ve seen reports that Karim Benzema is having issues in Saudi Arabia with his club. Do you think Arsenal should make a loan move for him, to help give them a boost in this year’s title race?

EP: What’s the price for Benzema? Do you have any idea how much Benzema will be earning in Saudi? I don’t think any English club will be able to offer him the same amount of money. It’s Benzema’s choice if he comes back but after winning everything with Real Madrid and being 34 years old, I don’t think he will want to come to the Premier League, it’s so physical, it’s so mentally hard, it’s not La Liga, with all the respect for him, he played for probably the biggest club in the world with great success, but it’s not the Premier League. I’m not confident Arsenal should go to Benzema, they should go for someone else.

I’m not sure that’s good for the future as well, imagine they bring in Benzema on a big wage at 34 years of age, well it’s only for 6 months and I’m not sure that fits Arteta’s vision of Arsenal. I think it’s a totally different type of Arsenal.”

DB: So if not Benzema, Is there anyone that has caught your eye as a striker Arsenal should target?

EP: Ivan Toney, but the price seems very high, £100m for him? That’s a lot of money. I’ve always said the transfer window in January is not the best one. I don’t know if there are any players that are unhappy at their club and they want to play in European competition. They should target middle-aged players who can represent the future of Arsenal as well, and who can bring something to the group for example quality. You want someone like Trossard who can play as a striker and on the wing. I think they really need a typical striker, someone who can fix the defence, someone who will be there when they cross the ball, like I said, the plan B. Sometimes when you can’t break the defence with Martinelli and Saka, you need to go to your plan B and put the ball in the penalty area and have the presence of a striker that can be a threat in the air and put the danger closer to the goal, for me Ivan Toney represents that.”

DB: It’s been reported that Crystal Palace are prepared to pay at least £30 million for Eddie Nketiah. Arteta will want to retain his squad depth, but do you think he’s a player that has a long-term future at Arsenal?

EP: Eddie Nketiah is a good player, he’s a useful member of the squad, but I don’t see him as a member of the starting 11 in big games or for a long run of games. He is a useful squad player. They still need to bring in somebody else who can be the starter and consistently score goals for them. I don’t see him as any different in ability to Balogun, who they clearly thought wasn’t good enough for them and they sold to Monaco. I think Nketiah is no more than a rotation player.

DB: Arsenal are largely unaffected by AFCON, with Elneny the only departing player as Partey continues his recovery from injury. Is this a good opportunity to catch up with Liverpool, who are missing Mo Salah?

EP: Liverpool have an extremely strong team and even though of course they are worse without Salah they still have a lot of attacking quality. Liverpool and Arsenal face each other on 4th February and Zinchenko must be very happy he won’t have to face Salah after the terrible game he played against Salah at Anfield. This could definitely be a chance for Arsenal to put pressure on Liverpool at the top of the table.

DB: Kevin De Bruyne returned from injury in style with a goal and assist over the weekend. Seeing the impact he has on games, does his return worry you as an Arsenal fan?

EP: Of course! De Bruyne’s return worries me massively as an Arsenal fan. The guy has just come back after months and in the space of 25 minutes changed the game on its head. You can see the opponents were scared of him when he came on the pitch and his teammates were lifted. This makes Man City very, very dangerous and it’s bad news for Arsenal for sure.

DB: Arsenal’s biggest rivals Spurs have been better than many expected this year and after the Manchester United game on Sky, Gary Neville said he could see them finishing above both Arsenal and Liverpool this season. What did you make of that?

EP: We will see at the end of the season, but of course, you have to say Spurs have been very impressive under Postecoglou. Against United they were the better team and deserved to win and also the fact they aren’t playing in any European competition will make a big difference for the run-in so Gary Neville could be right about Spurs finishing above Arsenal, of course, I hope he’s wrong and I trust Arsenal to have the quality and mentality to finish above Spurs.

DB: After Liverpool played Arsenal recently, a few fans have engaged in debate around William Saliba and Ibrahima Konate. They’ll be competing for starting roles in Deschamps’ first XI. How do you think the two compare?

EP: I have a lot of trust of Didier Deschamps and think he is a brilliant manager. He thinks Saliba should be on the bench and Konate should be starting and I trust him with that decision. Saliba is a brilliant defender and he’s learned a lot in the past few years. Sooner or later he will get his chance in the national team but for now Konate is doing so well there so there is no reason for Deschamps to drop him. Konate earned his place and has never let his team down. Saliba must be patient, he will get his chance I’m sure.

DB: What do you think of the partnership between Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez in the middle of the pitch for Chelsea, do you think they complement each other well?

EP: Caicedo isn’t playing the same role at Chelsea as he was at Brighton. He was playing deeper and building the game from the back, which he isn’t doing at Chelsea and he doesn’t look as comfortable. It’s the same with Enzo, he’s not playing the same role as when he was so excellent for Argentina in the World Cup. It seems like Pochettino still doesn’t know the best position of so many of his players because there has been so many signings since he got there.

DB: Chelsea reportedly want to sign Roberto Firmino on loan. We’ve spoken about the cursed number nine position at Chelsea, is this a good idea, or should they stick with what they have in Nicolas Jackson and Armando Broja?

EP: What’s the point in spending £1 billion on a whole new radical transfer strategy and then giving up on players and decide to bring in replacements after six months? These are young players and it takes time to adapt to the Premier League. They are learning and they need time. Chelsea needs to understand they are under reconstruction and they need to be patient. When you change so much in a short period of time there is no way you are going to have instant success, it’s impossible. I like Broja, Jackson and Nkunku – these are good players that need time and patience.

DB: There’s reportedly strong interest in Conor Gallagher from Spurs. Do you think he’s an important player that Chelsea should retain?

EP: I couldn’t believe it when I saw the rumours that Chelsea want to sell one of their best players in Conor Gallagher. Honestly, I don’t get it. What is the strategy here? He’s been wearing the captain’s armband recently, he’s so important for the fans and the identity of the team but also he’s been of the best players in the Chelsea squad this year. If they sell him, it’s nonsense.

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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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