Rob Holding reaction to West Ham scoring

Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: You Can’t Win Titles with Rob Holding

Ahead of tonight’s game between Chelsea and Arsenal, spoke to a man who starred for both clubs, Emmanuel Petit. He spoke about what Arsenal needs to do to compete with City in future years, why Rob Holding is a liability in the Arsenal backline, why Graham Potter shouldn’t have been fired by Chelsea and what Mauricio Pochettino has to do to fix Chelsea if he is named manager.

DB: Some fans are suggesting Arsenal ‘bottled’ the League. Do you think that’s a fair comment?

I think the title was already lost before the Manchester City game. Arsenal lost too many points in the last three games before the City game so I had this feeling before they came on the pitch, that they almost already knew what would happen.

I won’t point the finger at any of the players, I know that they have received a lot of criticism after the game. I just want to remember what they’ve done since the beginning of the season. I think they have a very good approach and have done something amazing this season.

They’re still doing something amazing but when I look back, especially after Christmas time, they were leading the premier league by a lot of points and yet they aren’t going to turn that into a title. You could see that against City, during the game, but afterwards as well – the body language, I think the Arsenal players know that what they’re doing is amazing but there’s still a big gap between them and Manchester City. And my question is very simple, who can beat Manchester City now, they seem so unplayable. They are unstoppable. So I’m very curious as to what they can do against Real Madrid in the Champions League. But so far it’s only green lights for them.

DB: Can you question the character of the players? Arsenal couldn’t get over the line with the top-four race last season when the pressure was on.

We’ve got to remember that this team is one of the youngest teams in the Premier League. Don’t forget as well where they came from. From the last couple of years, they were so far away from what they are doing so you know, I think it’s normal against City what happened, because they are winning titles for ages, they’ve been playing together for many years now so I think we should all remember that this team has come from nowhere and they’re having a great season.

So I won’t be part of the people saying that they’ve lost their mentality or whatever, because honesty this season is amazing. And I’m pretty sure that no one expected that at the beginning of the season, that Arsenal would have the season they have.

It’s easy to point the finger at them because of what they’ve done for the last four games, but I won’t be part of that. I’m very proud of Arsenal and this young team. And Arteta doesn’t have much choice. Look against Manchester City for example, Guardiola made four or five changes in personnel from the semi-final against Sheffield United. Look at Arteta, he has played with the same team for almost every match.

They’re young, they’re still learning but they have improved so much collectively and individually from the last season. So everyone needs to realise what they have done in the space of one year. It’s amazing so I won’t blame them for the mentality,

I’m just frustrated, not simply for the game against Manchester City but because I’m sad because they didn’t play to the level they can. There was no game against City. But I’m most frustrated with what happened before City, against Liverpool, West Ham and especially Southampton. Those points were so important and losing against Manchester City was somewhat predictable. But the way they played against Liverpool, the first 35 minutes was amazing. They showed character, maturity and mentality and all of a sudden they stopped playing. So is it because of the mentality? I don’t think so. I think somewhere they’re still learning. This is a young team, they’ve learnt so much from the last season, they’re still improving and they know there’s still a gap to reach Man City.

This is not the only team in the Prem League who is trying to bridge the gap with City. So honestly, I won’t point the finger at Arsenal and I won’t say they bottled the title and they lost their mentality. I won’t be part of that narrative.

DB: Arsenal are a young side and the expectation is they’ll be competing again next year. What do they have to do to get closer to City?

They need to improve the quality of the team. They have a very strong, talented team and structure and they are young so if they can still play together they will improve much more. I hope Arteta stays at the club as well, I think it would be a mistake if he leaves at the end of the season, I’m pretty sure he’ll stay.

I think Arteta and Arsenal know they have to be more active in the transfer market. We’ve seen that Saliba was missing so much for the last few games. With all the respect for Holding, he’s not the same player and he doesn’t show the same composure and quality on the pitch. And you can see that gap. He’s not the same player when he plays four with Holding when Saliba is not there.

It may be that they need to buy five players, in important positions to improve the team, the quality of the team. On top of this, they’re going to play the Champions League next season so the standards will be higher, so I think Arteta and Arsenal know that. If they want to improve, they need to improve the quality and quantity of the team.

DB: You pointed to Gabriel not being the same player when he plays with Holding as opposed to Saliba. Why do you think that is?

They don’t have the same link. Defensively Arsenal are not as strong when Saliba and Gabriel do not play together, it impacts on the rest of the team, they don’t play the same way. White and Zinchenko don’t attack enough when Saliba isn’t there. It affects them mentally and with their confidence, they miss him when he’s not there. I don’t want to criticise Holding, he puts in a lot of effort and has done his very best, but if you want to win titles I think it’s difficult for Holding to play every game as he’s been required recently. Guardiola can make four, five changes a game and the level doesn’t drop. Arteta cannot do that. I can see Gabriel doesn’t have the same confidence when he plays with Holding, he looks like a different defender.

DB: How do you reflect on the season Gabriel Jesus has had and his role in this Arsenal side. He has 9 goals in 21 League appearances.

He has been affected by injuries. With the World Cup on top it’s been a long and hard season, some players have played over 50 games. Mentally, it takes a lot of energy. To be honest with you, I’m very happy with him, and I think he will only improve next season and score more goals. His link-up play is excellent, always providing options for his teammates. It’s been a difficult season for him, but nine goals is a good start for him.

DB: There’s been quite a lot of criticism from media and fans for Fabio Vieira, particularly after starting in Xhaka’s position against Southampton. Is he good enough for Arsenal?

I don’t think Fabio Vieira’s has shown as of yet, that he is the right level to play for Arsenal. When he signed I thought to myself ‘this guy looks very lightweight for the Premier League’. I don’t think he’s ready for the Premier League physically and mentally. He’s a very good player with the ball, and could be perfect in a league like Spain, where it’s more technical, less physical, when the game isn’t as fast as in England, but I don’t think he has shown yet that he can play a big role in the Premier League.

You can also say that he’s struggled not getting consistent game time and when you compare him to Emile Smith-Rowe, who I think has a future with Arsenal, he’s not the same. Respectfully, I think it was perhaps a mistake signing Vieira.

DB: The complexion of the title race has changed now, would your pick for the Premier League Manager of the Season change too?

Well, I think for me if City win, and win the treble as well – I know it’s not part of the premier league — then for me, Guardiola has changed so much this season. this way his team plays, you know, the way he transformed since the arrival of Erling Haaland, i think you could say the change made to the midfield with Stones… I think he has learned from his mistakes in the past. I think that this City has less possession of the ball, and they can still play with the possession of the ball, but they play now so impressively in transition as well.

We saw it against Arsenal, they were very good in transition, Arsenal were suffering from the high pressure from their opponents and City were using the long ball to Erling Haaland and they break the lines. This is new with Guardiola, so he’s adapted himself as well with new players that came last season, with Haaland for example.

If they win the Premier League then I will definitely say Guardiola. I am a big fan of what Arteta has done so far this season, as well as what Unai Emery is doing with Aston Villa. Honestly, he took over after Gerrard left and all of a sudden he’s transformed the team.

When you look over the last few weeks, Villa is the best team right behind City. They are so close to playing in European competition next season. Two or three months ago, who would bet on that? No one. So what Emery is doing with Villa is just amazing. For me, those three guys, and the Brighton manager, De Zerbi… there are quite a few managers who are actually very good and had great seasons.

However, if he wins the Premier League you have to give the trophy to Guardiola. In my opinion, this is the best team at Manchester City in recent seasons, and they’ve been very good in recent seasons. For me, this is the best team that Guardiola has managed at City.

DB: Unai Emery has done such an excellent job at Aston Villa, taking them from relegation candidates to possible European qualification. Why didn’t it work for him at Arsenal when he’s been so successful everywhere else he’s been?

It’s the same with Paris St Germain. He won many trophies with PSG but failed in European competitions. So many people in France, In England as well, they were being unkind and unfair, talking about the way he was speaking French or English.

I think his mentality, the way he manages players, the way he can transform the team fits better with, respectfully, smaller clubs. With Villa, or Villareal for example. He has done so many good things in Spain, for example, he’s doing a great job at Villa, but going to the biggest club… I don’t think he’s got the personality to do that. Maybe one day he’ll go to the next step, but he tried already. It seems he’s better suited to managing without big egos or stars in the dressing room. He’s a very good manager with a good team, but not with great egos, big egos, too many individuals with big names.

DB: Patrick Viera was recently sacked by Palace. What do you think is next for his career as a manager?

I don’t know. You can see that it’s quite difficult when you were a great player. Look at Lampard and Gerrard, for example. It doesn’t matter what kind of you player you have been, whether you are a legend or whatever, it’s not the same job. You’re not on the pitch anymore. They are still learning, learning about their own management and how they approach this job, and it’s sometimes hard. But you need to bounce back very quickly. I don’t know if it will be in England or somewhere else but definitely… I’ve never been a manager but I know that, if you are a manager, even if you are a young manager, if you wait too long to get a new job then problems start.

It goes so fast in football, and if your name is not on the team sheet anymore then you’ll struggle to get a new job. I hope he’ll find a new job very soon, especially for next season. I’m pretty sure he’s got contact with different clubs, actually, because I remember the first season at Crystal Palace was very good, and then things went wrong in the last couple of months. But I think he definitely needs to get a job for next season because, if you’re out of a job at the beginning of a season, then we all know the story. He would then probably get a new job during the season, and it’s not the best thing for a manager to come into a club during a season. You want to start at the beginning with your group, you want to train the positions. I think this is the best way for him to get more experience.

DB: The Lampard experiment is clearly not working for a second time at Chelsea. What do you think is next for Lampard after this stint at Chelsea?

The last 16 months have been very difficult for him. He was sacked by Everton, now having the worst time ever for a manager on Chelsea’s bench. We all know that he won’t stay next season at Chelsea. It will be very difficult for him to get a new job straight away. Maybe he should look outside of England. Sometimes, just like players, good managers go somewhere else and come back stronger. Just like Patrick Viera, he’s a young manager who’s learning a lot. The difficult times he’s been through the past two years will teach him a lot about management. It will be difficult for him to find a new job in the Premier League straight away. Just like with Steven Gerrard, it could be worth him looking outside at a different country. His future for me is probably there.

DB: Was Graham Potter unfairly treated?

Yes, definitely. Have we seen anything new since Lampard arrived? No. Can you imagine Guardiola, Klopp or Ancelotti, the best managers in the World, managing 35 players? Most of them internationals, with a very high price tag on their heads? It’s not easy to do that. It’s not a gift for a manager to have something like this. I think Chelsea were unfair with Graham Potter. They should’ve given him more time. Buying so many players was not a gift for him. Tuchel was sacked, Potter was not there for preseason. If you add everything together, you think what’s the point of sacking him if you don’t give him the time to set things right? Especially with all the trouble he has to manage on the pitch and in the dressing room. Abramovich was at the club last season. Everything has changed so much since last season for Chelsea, and Potter was not there in the preseason and responsible for the players who joined and left the club. So what is the point in hiring a manager and then six or seven months later you sack him? What’s the point?

DB: It looks likely that Mauricio Pochettino will be named Chelsea manager in the coming weeks, he’s currently the favourite at top UK bookmakers. He’s a popular figure for one of Chelsea’s biggest rivals, what do you make of this?

This is a question for Spurs fans [laughs]. He left with great memories at Spurs. I was a big fan of his work at Tottenham, and now look at what Tottenham are. They’re firing managers all the time. He knows the Premier League. He knows management, he knows the standards. I think Pochettino will fit perfectly with Chelsea. The manager is one problem at Chelsea, but if you take that away, the main question is the big decisions they need to take in the dressing room. Boehly the owner, he needs to give Pochettinho, if he is to come in, a blank piece of paper and let him decide who’s going to stay and who’s going to leave the club. If Boehly doesn’t give him the freedom to do what he wants, what’s the point in hiring Pochettinho? This is my main concern. The manager is important but he needs the power, let him do what he needs to do in the dressing room. This is the most important decision the next manager at Chelsea has to make.

DB: Is Poch the right kind of manager to handle the egos having come from PSG?

Do you think the Chelsea dressing room is the same as PSG’s? No. At PSG, there’s Mbappe, Messi, Neymar, Ramos. So many big, big stars. Some of the most powerful players in football. It’s not the same as Chelsea at all. For me, if Pochettino is the next manager at Chelsea, he needs to look at the team and he needs to fix it because there’s no unity, no link between the players and who can blame them? When you go into the dressing room and there’s so many players to keep happy. If Pochettino is the man Chelsea hire, I will say this: please, Mr. Boehly, give him the power to do everything, because you don’t know football. The manager needs the power to do everything, from tactics to the transfer market. Don’t do anything else and leave everything to him.

DB: Either way, Spurs fans will hate to see him leave?

Come on, it would already be a big blow for the Spurs fan to see Pochettino go, especially after what Spurs are going through. Can you imagine if these fans see the papers and they see Pochettino is going and all of a sudden he wants to bring Kane as well? Can you imagine the next game between Chelsea and Spurs if that happens? Oh my god.

If Kane decides to leave, he won’t go to Chelsea, I feel he will go to Manchester United for sure.

DB: Chelsea need a number nine, do you think Pochettino could convince Harry Kane to go to Chelsea?

Yeah, but does he have a choice? He’s such a big player and he has shown so much loyalty to the club. I feel sorry for him. Sometimes I feel sorry for the fans as well, but the fans must realise that he’s been so loyal for at least a decade. It’s probably the end of the story between Kane and Spurs and the fans will have to understand why Kane is willing to leave the club. I’m pretty sure Spurs fans are so tired of what’s been going on at the club for years now. There’s been no trophy for so long. If I was a Spurs fan, I’d be very upset if he left, but I would understand it.

DB: Arsenal play Chelsea on Tuesday at the Emirates – how do you think the game will go?

Arsenal still have a large cushion against Newcastle and Manchester United. Even if Newcastle win their game in hand, they are still 10 points clear. They play each other soon and if Newcastle win that’s still a seven-point gap between both teams. Arsenal have already qualified for the Champions League, but now they are freer in their minds.

They’re still focused on the title, but to be honest with the loss against City, that should help them on the pitch and allow them to play with less pressure. They’ve already qualified for the Champions League, maybe there’s a 10% chance of winning the title, but there is still a small chance to do it. They can start with a victory over Chelsea and just see what happens after that.

Arsenal need to bring desire and pressure on the pitch, go back to how we were playing a few weeks ago. To get that back on the pitch all together. If I was at Arsenal now, this is how I would put it in my mind. I would say to myself, listen Manu, maybe we won’t win the Premier League, but you still have five games to play. For Arsenal, now it’s important to finish well this season, starting with Chelsea. We need to get back to winning because it’s been four games in a row without. Start with a victory, and then we’ll see what’s going on. That would be my mentality against Chelsea. If I was at Chelsea, I would try everything I can to give Lampard his first victory. To give something to the fans. It’s a derby it’s important for them.

They should go into it with the feeling of ‘We lost at home, again. We were poor.’ Chelsea’s season would always be a transition season. But Chelsea vs Arsenal, it’s a derby, as a player you know it’s important for the fans for yourself as well. Now, for Chelsea, if I’m a player, you make sure in every game remaining, you’re playing for next season. Are you part of the plan for Chelsea? Those games are important, they need to understand that. Chelsea players need to understand that next season starts from now.

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Daniel is Head of Operations at 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 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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