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Emmanuel Petit gives scathing Arsenal review, thinks Chelsea’s season depends on next two weeks and talks The Bill appearance

| 07.04.2021

World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit knows what it takes to perform at the highest level.

The former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder spoke to us about what he thinks Mikel Arteta needs to do, the type of player missing at Chelsea and what it was like appearing in The Bill.

Keep an eye on our social channels over the coming days to see Petit’s Crystal Palace v Chelsea 5-A-Side team.

Arsenal need a clear-out

I still believe they have some quality players available to them – do I think they have many quality players? No. They have a good group of young players, though that are still learning.

I think some of those youngsters can become very good in years from now – but to do that, they need to see an example being set by the senior players.

It shouldn’t be at a club like Arsenal that the younger players are the only ones showing passion, fight and aggression. It needs to come from the older players who should lead by example.

When I look at the older players in the team, it’s like they think it’s a retreat football club, somewhere you just go for a vacation. They have ambition, but I don’t really expect them to win big games anymore.

If you took away the name ‘Arsenal’ and looked at that group of players… average.

At the end of the season, if I’m Arsenal, if I’m Arteta, if I’m on the board, to be honest with you, I think my main concern is getting half of the dressing room out. Honestly.

The question is simple; how many Arsenal players would you look at and say ‘they’re one of the best in the league in that position’?

For me, if you look at the last two or three seasons, how many players are exempt of any criticism? Three or four, probably: Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno. I really like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe; the way Smith Rowe plays really reminds me of Paul Gascoigne. I like his behaviour on and off the pitch.

I like the young players, but they need to be surrounded by Lee Dixons and Tony Adams’, those personalities. It’s a simple science but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a footballer, it’s that you become a better player when you play with better players!

There are some intelligent players in that team but for me there’s a real lack of characters, of leaders. I think too many of their players let their heads drop when they go down and it’s rare you see the team playing with any real desire.

I saw it against Chelsea and Tottenham this season where they’ve fought for every inch on the pitch, but we don’t see it enough. If they can do it against very good teams as we’ve seen, why can’t they do it in every single game?

Replacing Wenger and transfer activity

For me, I think it’s just incredibly hard for a club to replace someone like Arsene Wenger in the dugout. It was the same for Manchester United after Alex Ferguson left. They lost the plot but now they’re starting to come back.

But it’s taken a long time. And it’s similar with clubs like AC Milan, Inter Milan – these clubs have disappeared for – what – 10 years?

I won’t say United disappeared because they won the Europa League, but they’re not the same club. They’re starting to come back now, slowly but surely.

Arsenal is the same; when you lose someone as important as Arsene Wenger, the transition is difficult.

But for me, the biggest mistake they have made in the last few years is their ridiculous transfer activity.

OK, it’s a question of money and they don’t have the same finances as Manchester United and Manchester City, but they’re not far behind those clubs.

They still have the power to get big players in. But the way they’ve spent money in the last six or seven years… who is directing that? I’m just asking that question: who is in charge of these decisions? Does the manager have a say, is it his responsibility? Or is it someone on the board?

I don’t understand the profile of players they’ve brought in – especially in defence.

I try not to get emotional anymore when I look at Arsenal. I try to step back and put away my emotions. I try and look at them like a normal team. I have to tell myself “don’t expect anything special from them today.” This is the way I am, now.

Guendouzi can learn from Xhaka’s Arsenal revival

I think things happened too quickly for Matteo Guendouzi at a time where he wasn’t strong enough mentally.

He has a volcanic personality. He was called up to the French national team after a good run in the Arsenal team, but I didn’t see him have a very good game in that spell. He did OK in games, but as soon as he went to the national team, he changed on the pitch.

He’s had arguments with referees, opponents, sometimes his own teammates, and I think this is something he has to control. If you want to reach the highest level and stay there, you have to control your emotions.

He needs to realise this and adapt very quickly because I think he still has qualities and can bring something to Arsenal.

When you can’t control your emotions, it’s very hard for your teammates to work with you, it’s hard for your fans to back you and it’s hard to keep out of the press limelight. But most importantly it’s hard for your manager to pick you.

I remember he had a fight with Mikel Arteta and after that we didn’t see him again in an Arsenal shirt. You need to keep it in mind that at the end of the day you are just a player. Until you are the best player in the world, which you are not, you shut your mouth and keep working hard and respecting others.

Is there a future there for him at Arsenal? It’s not too dissimilar to the situation with Granit Xhaka a few years ago when he threw his shirt on the floor and fans turned against him. We thought his career at Arsenal was over but after a while he worked his way back into the team and fans forgave him. And he’s done well since he returned.

You have the right to make mistakes, especially when you’re young. But that means you also have the right to a second chance, but you then have the obligation to learn from your mistakes.

I wouldn’t mind seeing him back at Arsenal but I don’t think Arteta wants him back, and that’s the main problem.

Arteta has to be realistic

I really liked the first few weeks when Mikel Arteta came in, we could see instant improvements and you could see things he was trying to implement on the pitch, in particular out of possession. He set his side up very well in those opening weeks in charge.

But they’re constantly facing danger because they don’t have the technical capabilities to do the things Arteta wants them to do. Not only that, but they don’t have the confidence, either.

I don’t understand this with Mikel Arteta; you can tell he’s got an idea and he wants to stick with it – it doesn’t matter if he’s wrong, he wants to stick with his idea.

It’s very similar to Pep Guardiola at Man City. But the big difference is that Man City’s dressing room and Arsenal’s dressing rooms are incomparable. You have to be realistic with the level of your players.

Aubameyang’s form an Arteta’s tinkering

For me, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a striker, so he should play up-front.

Yes, his speed means he can do a good job playing from the left-hand side. But this guy has to stay very close to the opponent’s box, not out wide where he has to get back and defend.

He’s scored so many goals throughout his career, but when you lose that little bit of confidence, you’re not the same player and I think that’s what we’re seeing from Aubameyang at the moment. When you’re not playing the same position every week, it doesn’t help.

I don’t know how many times this season Mikel Arteta has changed his formation, changed his starting line-up, I understand he’s trying to find a winning formula but that won’t work for every player.

Not every player has the same level of intelligence to go out and do a job one week in one position, then do as good a job the next game in a different position.

Some players aren’t the same in terms of personality, so you need to be very careful with the position you put some players in.

Chelsea’s critical run and bust-ups

You’ve got to look at what’s happened since the West Brom game. They conceded five goals at home but before that they’ve been very good defensively this season – especially under Thomas Tuchel.

After the game at the weekend there was reportedly a fight in the dressing room and I’ve heard about a dispute on the training ground this week as well, between Kepa Arrizabalaga and Antonio Rudiger. I’ve also been told there has been some electricity between Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James, which for me is a wake up call the team needs.

If you look at the next two weeks – they’re so important for Chelsea’s season. There are two massive games in the Champions League against Porto, there’s also a game against Crystal Palace in the Premier League which is just so important now. And there’s an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.

For me, if I’m a Chelsea player right now, I’m thinking that these next two weeks are pretty much my whole season.

If they drop points against Crystal Palace, you’ve got to expect at least two of West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham to pick up three points which means the gap is even bigger with fewer games left.

If they lose against Porto, it’s the end of their Champions League run and if they lose to City in the FA Cup that’s the end of their season. So these next two weeks, for me, are massive.

What happened against West Brom was a wake-up call for everyone.

What happened in training between players, for me, is a good thing because it shows there are characters in the squad. When you have fights with your teammates, it’s actually a good thing.

Everywhere I played, I’ve seen teammates fight and it’s normal. When you’re in the middle of a storm, it’s natural and human for teammates to fight. The opposite would be a worry for me; if players aren’t reacting passionately after a bad game, that can’t be a good thing.

Chelsea need a new playmaker

I’m expecting Olivier Giroud to leave the club this summer, which means Chelsea need to go out in the transfer market and bring another forward in alongside Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham.

I’m not sure about the goalkeeper situation because I’m pretty pleased with Edouard Mendy but I’m quite sure Arrizabalaga will leave in the summer, so they’ll need a replacement for him.

If I could, I’d bring in another playmaker; they’re missing something in the game.

They’re a very good team and they’ve got some beautiful players, but they need another player like Mason Mount in there who can direct and dictate the game in that transitional area between the midfield and the strikers.

Hakim Ziyech can do it but he’s more of a winger; I need someone in the middle of the pitch who can take responsibility and drive the game for Chelsea.

Timo Werner will be fine… I’m more worried about Kai Havertz

I think moving countries and changing cultures is a big ask – you need to adapt yourself and sometimes it takes longer than people may expect.

It’s difficult to do it quickly, which is what makes Bruno Fernandes so impressive. But we have to give these players time.

Not only are they moving to another country with lots of expectation, but they are coming at a strange time in the world. This is not a normal time for anyone, and we need to remember this in cases like Timo Werner.

I’m sure next year will be very different so fans just have to be patient. The new manager should be a big help for Werner, especially with the German link. Look at Antonio Rudiger; he was pretty much in the basement under Frank Lampard, and now he’s playing in the first-team.

But looking at someone like Werner, he came with a lot of expectation but he’s moved to a country where he can’t do anything. Can you imagine moving to a new country and someone telling you you have to stay at home all day except for going to work? It’s hard to adapt to a culture when you can’t go out and appreciate your new surroundings.

I’m not worried about Timo Werner, though – I’m more worried about Kai Havertz.

Werner has got the personality to get over this season and turn things around. You’ve got to remember at RB Leipzig he was the central figure in a team largely centred around a counter-attacking brand of football, and that’s not a style Chelsea operate with. So that’s something him and his teammates have to get used to, and that kind of thing takes time.

Chelsea are a very possession-based club, but when they do play on the counter attack all of a sudden you see Werner’s qualities. I’ve seen plenty of good things from him on the pitch and I’m sure he’ll bounce back.

But Havertz gives me more worries, because of his personality. I know he’s very young but I think he’s very shy. He needs to fight and show his personality on the pitch.

I worried I’d made a mistake coming to the Premier League

I had to fight with myself quite a lot in the first few months at Arsenal, simply to get used to the physicality of the English game. It was a battle for me to get used to some of the refereeing decisions at the time.

I remember playing away from home the year we won the double, and we played against Southampton. I remember I received a kick on my knee from one of their central defenders in that game. He gave me a big kick and I had to have five or six stitches – and after the game I was so down.

Yes, we’d won the game, but I didn’t really feel like we’d played a game of football at all. I just felt like we spent most of the game watching the ball in the air and the ball was hardly on the ground. I remember having a talk with Arsene Wenger because he could see I was down. We won the game but I was disappointed.

He came to see me and told me we needed to talk. I was thinking do myself ‘did I make the right decision coming to England?’ because this just wasn’t what I expected it to be like.

Arsene said to me: “Listen, this is English football. This is the way they play here. We try to get the ball on the floor and play but sometimes you’ll meet opponents who won’t play that way; they’ll just want to kick you off the pitch.

“You need to accept that this is their tradition. But we need to play a different style of football. We need to show these teams that we will win matches, even receiving kicks, by playing good football. It will come.”

“The reason I asked you to join is because I have trust in you to become one of the best players here. You have the ability to make it here.”

From that moment I told myself to keep my mouth shut, get my head down and work twice as hard for my manager. I even followed the advice of my teammates to train without shin pads to make myself stronger.

When I talk to Ian Wright, I mean he’s not normal. He’s not a normal human being! It’s the same with Tony Adams, even Dennis Bergkamp.

The crazy thing about our team is that when you looked at us individually, we should have never won the double, because we were so different from each other, but it worked because we were a great bunch of friends.

We respected each other; it wasn’t that it was the Dutch players in one corner, the French in another and the English in another; we mixed together all the time and we all became best friends.

Ray Parlour was so, so funny. The transition was great because the English players were so welcoming with us.

They could see straight away that all the foreign players were not only trying to adapt to English football, but we were also making an effort to understand the culture of the country and the club.

That means we tried to learn English as soon as possible, we studied the history and the tradition of the club and its supporters. Also we knew we had to adapt ourselves; I never forgot that I was a foreigner in another country and therefore it is my responsibility to learn and understand the culture of that country.

I was just a guest in England, and to be honest with you I think that’s how everyone should think.

Every foreign player tried to speak English as much as possible in the dressing room. When you play on the pitch, language and communication is so important, so we had to learn certain football phrases very quickly.

It’s something I think Chelsea have to do with their current group of players because of the amount of foreigners that joined in the summer – especially in defence with Thiago Silva.

You only have a couple of seconds to communicate the right thing with your teammates and I wonder whether Thiago has struggled this season with that side of the game.

Leaving Arsenal was a big mistake

I fell in love with Arsenal and the supporters very quickly, and it was a big mistake when I left the club. I look back now and I know I left the club simply because of my ego.

When I won the Euros with France in 2000, I had two weeks off and I remember being in France with my ex-wife. She was driving and my phone rang, I could see it was Arsene so I answered and he told me Barcelona wanted to sign me. I asked Arsene what he thought and he said “if you want to go, good luck”.

So I didn’t feel like Arsenal wanted to keep me. Because of that feeling I got, I started to think that maybe my future was elsewhere. So in my mind it was clear after that conversation that Arsenal had made their decision. I needed to speak with Barcelona to agree personal terms and that’s what I did.

But I regret that move because I didn’t really want to go to Barcelona. I think I followed my ex-wife’s decision in that move. She was tired of living in London and she was born under the sun in a country where she had so much sun, so she wanted to return to that.

I didn’t enjoy my time at Barcelona

Once I’d signed for Barcelona I was in the team but I wasn’t playing in my natural position. If I remember right I played 32 games in that season and I spent most of those games playing in a back three.

Playing at the Nou Camp for Barcelona, the biggest pitch in the world, as one of a back three, knowing that the philosophy of the rest of the team was to attack and not track back, I was constantly outnumbered and I lost my motivation very quickly during my time at the club.

I arrived at a strange time in terms of the dynamics at Barcelona; there were lots of arguments and fights between players and it just didn’t feel right. I really didn’t enjoy my time over there.

It was the first time I’d been at a club and didn’t want to honour my contract. I signed a four-year deal but after six months I went to the club president and asked him to put me on the transfer list.

They told me I needed to be patient, that it was always difficult in the first few months and that things would improve in time.

But it wasn’t just what was happening on the pitch – there were so many problems off it; there were fights in the dressing room between players which made it so hard to then go out and get results.

I felt like I was losing my passion for the game and I just wanted to leave.

Sir Alex Ferguson called me twice to join Man United

During that bad period at Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson called me twice and wanted me to join Manchester United.

Arsene Wenger also called me because he wanted me back at Arsenal. But Claudio Ranieri had just taken over at Chelsea and after a call with me, he came to visit me in Barcelona.

Three managers had called me from three big clubs in England, but only one took a plane to come and see me.

I really liked talking to Alex Ferguson, and I love the way Arsene tried to convince me to come back to Arsenal because he told me he’d made a mistake. But I appreciate the fight Ranieri put up to sign for Chelsea. He’s such a great guy and I was won over by his personality.

He accepted my invitation to come and have lunch at my home in Barcelona. He wasn’t interested in anything other than coming to see me in my home, meeting my family and seeing how I was getting on.

I don’t think we spoke about football for the first hour, and that meant a lot to me, because there are so many things that are more important, and it told me about the type of person Ranieri was.

We talked about everything but football in that first hour, in fact. I loved it. I love football, but for me life is more important than football. If you want to be a better player, you also need to be a better human being.

I signed for Chelsea and my ex-wife was happy with my decision because she wanted to go back to London. Can you believe that? After telling me she wanted to move away from London, she decided after six months in Barcelona she wanted to return.

Appearing on The Bill

I didn’t know much about The Bill before I appeared on it for their Christmas special and I’m not really sure how they came to use me.

Maybe it’s because of the way I am, I had long hair which made me different to the other 99% of football players. I’d just won the double with Arsenal and the World Cup with France so I guess I was pretty popular at the time.

They asked me if they wanted to be a part of the show as a guest and because of how much I loved Friends and all the guest stars they’d get on that show, I thought it would be the same with The Bill, so I said ‘yeah, no problem, I’ll do it’.

In the space of one year I’d won six titles so it was the best period of my career. I was very popular in France and in England too, so someone from The Bill got in touch with my agent who asked me if I’d heard of the show.

I hadn’t, but I was happy to go along, I just wanted to know what I needed to do. They said I just had to make an appearance in a hospital to give some flowers to a young fan.

Then he said I’d have a few lines and all of a sudden I was just so nervous about the whole thing because my English wasn’t great, but I couldn’t go back on it and it was nice to be invited onto something like that show as a guest.

It was very good and it’s not something I’ve thought about until very recently, where someone I was working with in France over Christmas found the video and showed it to everyone. I walked into the shot with this bouquet of flowers and I looked so thin and it sounded like I was whispering because I was so nervous being on camera at the time.

They never called me back for a second appearance though, and my possible Hollywood career pretty much ended there.

Of course my Arsenal teammates gave me a hard time for it. I used to do so many commercials back in the day, so the players were always printing out photos of me and putting them up in the dressing room.

It was funny, to be honest. It wasn’t like any of them were jealous of me for getting to go on The Bill!

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