Emmanuel Petit Exclusive: Can someone explain Chelsea’s strategy to me?
The former Arsenal and Chelsea defensive midfielder sits down with SportingPost.com to chat through the previous weekend’s fixtures, why the only thing that can stop Arsenal is injuries, Chelsea’s strategy woes, Frank Lampard’s sacking and more!
Arsenal 3 vs 2 Man United
Q: You were at the game. Was it the right result that Arsenal won?
EP: I think Arsenal deserved to win. I think at half time it was a fair score to be level. But in the second half Arsenal were the better team and deserved to win.
They kept their nerve and were focused on playing the same football – they maintained their desire to win until the end.
I was a little bit disappointed with the way United played in the second half, they were outnumbered and couldn’t cope with The Gunners.
Q: Did it remind you of some of the classic fixtures you had against United?
EP: It’s about time for both clubs to come back to their old standards! It’s been so long since we’ve seen them fighting for the top positions, and for the title.
The atmosphere at the Emirates and the spirit on the pitch reminded me of the games where we were fighting for titles
The fans were amazing and I could see that. Straight after the game so many fans stayed in their seats celebrating the win with the players – they were so happy. I can’t remember the last time I saw that.
Q: In terms of the performances on the pitch, who was the standout player on the pitch for you?
EP: This was a game between two of the most dangerous, in-form teams and both were confident before the game. Arsenal have one of the youngest, if not the youngest team, in the Premier League. Even after conceding first and so early, they showed composure, maturity, character and personality to come back.
They didn’t lose their heads. They continued playing their way the whole time and this is different compared to last season.
Look at the game they lost against Spurs at the end of the last season – against Manchester United, things could have deteriorated easily for Arsenal after they conceded the first goal.
I was worried about Arsenal losing their nerve. But the team kept playing their football and that was remarkable.
The only person who was getting close to losing his mind was Arteta! He got a yellow card but I can understand it. This game was so, so important for both clubs.
There was one moment with Saka when he made a stupid foul and I was thinking “keep your head” and straight after that I saw so many teammates coming to him and telling him to “keep control, don’t lose your head. We need you on the pitch and not sent off.” This is very different compared to last season. Just in the space of 6 months they have grown up so much.
I have to say that collectively the reaction from the players was brilliant. They came back into the game. But Saka, wow, this guy is amazing. I can name Saka or Nketiah as my standout players
There were so many questions following Jesus’ injury and Eddie [Nketiah] took over his position and is doing a remarkable job. He scored two well- deserved goals yesterday. The work he puts in, the way he moves, the way he’s always an option for his teammates. He is always focused on the game and doesn’t lose his head.
If you take away those two, then there are three guys who had an important impact yesterday: Zinchenko, Xhaka and Odegaard. When you look at the goals, those guys were always involved in creating danger. Either by movement or passing, I was very surprised, in a good way!
Q: Arteta on the touchline – what’s your view on it? Is there a risk he goes too far? Or do you like seeing it?
EP: I like seeing it! It’s completely different to what Arsene Wenger used to do. He used to lose his mind a little but rarely – he was usually ice cold. But I’m very happy with Arteta. He’s always close to his players, talking to them, active on the bench and always supporting them.
He’s ready to fight. When you are a player on the pitch and you see your manager like that, it’s remarkable. This is the way I like managers. I want them to put the fire into their players and sometimes it’s close to the limit, but in big games like this it’s very difficult to keep your nerve. He was jumping around, shouting at his players, trying to motivate them. This is the role of the manager.
Q: Your Arsenal side in 1997/98, had 32 points (18 less!) after 19 games, were 5th and still won the title. Does that make you feel it’s even more remarkable? Arteta said that he evaluates the first half of the season as ‘extraordinary’ – do you agree?
EP: In Premier League history there are only 6 or 7 teams who have had this many points after half the games. This is the youngest team in the toughest league.
I’ve heard the critics, some saying they aren’t going to win the League. If Arsenal keep playing the way they are playing, which they will, I can’t see how they will lose their target. Except perhaps injuries. I’m slightly worried about the depth on the bench. If 3 or 4 players are missing it could be a problem. I know they bought Trossard and are looking at more signings, but I think they need more quality players. There are European games in February which will test the squad and they face Manchester City in the FA Cup this week.
This will be an important game mentally. If they can win it could make the difference for the rest of the season. What can stop Arsenal right now except injuries? I can’t find any reason why they can’t do what they’re doing until the end of the season.
But, the most important thing as a player is to enjoy the way you play together as a unit and this is exactly what they are doing as a team.
It reminds me of Leicester when they won the League. People were saying “they are going to lose games”- but they didn’t! They were playing remarkable football and they were enjoying themselves. You can make that comparison with Arsenal right now.
I know that City won the Premier League 4 of the last 5 seasons, so I can understand that they are probably the favourites in many people’s eyes, but they are behind Arsenal and Arsenal have a game in hand. So what can stop Arsenal? I think the only team that can beat Arsenal is Arsenal.
Q: Arteta is a young manager, with a young team. Do you think it could give other clubs confidence to appoint such a young coach and set a model to work off?
EP: I’m very impressed with Arteta, with his staff. I saw on Sunday one cohesive unit on the bench. When they scored the last goal it was like they had won the World Cup or the title. You could feel the energy from the bench and on the pitch..
The unity of the team all together, the joy, they are all working for each other and there are no egos.
This is rare in football. When you have this it’s so hard to beat a team like this.
Q: You mention the energy for that third goal, did VAR affect the celebrations and ruin the moment?
EP: Of course! I was sitting close to a screen (to see the replay) and I thought Zinchenko was offside! We were all nervous about the possible offside.
VAR… it kills emotion all the time. You have to wait for 30 seconds for the decision and you don’t know whether to celebrate or not – it’s no longer spontaneous. I think football is about emotion. You want to celebrate but now you have to wait. I really don’t like it.
As a fan I don’t like it, but if I was a player… well you just stand on the pitch waiting and they tell you if it’s a goal or not? I know football and rules have to change, but it’s going too far for me – you’re killing the emotion.
I don’t know the answer but I think we need to make it more simple. I think football is about emotions. If we kill emotions we kill football.
Q: Trossard came on for a late appearance. What did you make of his contribution and how do you rate the signing?
EP: It’s going to be a different challenge playing for Arsenal compared to Brighton. Brighton are used to playing very good football and he was doing a great job until he was left out of the team. Watching him when he (Trossard) came on to the pitch, it’s not easy when you come into a team mid season like this, especially a team that’s working so well.
It can be difficult because it’s going to take time to settle, to get into the dressing room and to understand exactly what Arteta is asking.
He just needs time and patience because he has qualities but he needs time to show those qualities. I had the feeling that it would be difficult for him for the first few games, it’s impossible to judge him now.
Q: Arsenal had Polish International Jakob Kiwior in the stands ahead of an impending move – do you know much of him, what do you make of The Gunners strengthening in defence.
EP: He can play either midfield or defence. He is energetic and has good technique and he is very aggressive on the ball. It’s difficult to get past him and he always wins the ball.But I’m not sure if he can yet play as a holding midfielder in the Premier League because he’s young and still has to improve.
Trossard is more mature and has more experience whereas Kiwior is young and he will need time. But he is young like the rest of the team which I think is important.
This team is very humble, Arteta sent a big message to the dressing room with Aubameyang and why everyone needs to be right behind the manager. Why they need to support and understand the rules.
For me this is very important – when you are a young player coming in, you see how the rules are respected in the dressing room and on the pitch. I think it’s a great time for a young footballer to come into a team like this.
Q: Ivan Fresneda, the 18 year old right back from Real Valladolid has been strongly linked to Arsenal. Do you know anything of him and if so, any views on his potential arrival?
EP: He’s powerful and has good technique. He gets forward well and has great energy.
On Sunday Ben White was in a bit of trouble against Rashford and I think Arteta made the right decision taking him off at half time.
I think Arteta and his team understand they have a jewel in their hands with this young team and they represent the future of the Premier League. They have improved so much.
What is the meaning of being a manager? To improve the individual and collective quality of the team and this is exactly what Arteta has done.
I remember all the criticism that Arteta received at the beginning, but look at where they are now.
I’m so happy with the strategy of the club, and of Arteta and the board. It’s so different now with the money some clubs are able to spend. If you look at Arsenal they are taking the right decisions.
I don’t see anyone doing any better than them!
Q: How do you evaluate where Manchester United are right now after the defeat and the role Ten Haag has done?
EP: Over the last 10 years since Sir Alex left, they have been changing managers all the time and for any reason.
When he took over he found some opposition in the dressing room. It’s not easy to manage Cristiano Ronaldo, nor to put the captain Harry Maguire on the bench. He made the right decisions and look where they are now. They are getting back to where they should be and it’s been so long since we’ve seen a competitive Manchester United.
Now you can see a strategy in the team, Ten Hag’s vision too. I was sitting close to him on Sunday and you can see his commitment. He’s a real competitor. You can see he is ruthless with his players and I think this is the way you have to be as manager. You’re not there to please your players, you are there to win games.
You’re not there to let players play because they are big names, you need players to earn their place, whatever personal accolades you have.Now I think everybody agrees he made the right decisions with Ronaldo and Maguire.
I’m not 100% convinced by some of the players he bought – especially Antony, I think he was disappointing yesterday and got some stick from the Arsenal fans when he left the pitch. He looked miserable on the bench when he got taken off. You could feel the pressure on his shoulders. I think he’s losing confidence like Sancho and it’s the role of the manager, his teammates and the club to help him come back to his best because I think they are losing him.
Q: Casemiro picked up a yellow card that meant he missed the game yesterday. Do you think Casemiro playing would have impacted the game?
EP: United missed Casimero – especially thinking about Saka’s goal. He stabilises the Manchester United midfield tactically. He protects the defence, especially the centre.
When I look at how Arsenal play, how Saka plays. He always drives with the ball, always coming inside trying to find the angles to shoot, he did it a couple of times yesterday and scored a brilliant goal. I can’t help but think that if Casemiro was on the pitch, maybe instead of Eriksen, he would have been there and blocked him.
That’s the kind of play Casemiro is so important for.
Liverpool 0-0 Chelsea
Q: What did you make of the game, was it a better point for Chelsea in the circumstances?
EP: It was a game with a lot of energy but not many chances to score. Technically it was a really poor game. So many passes were given away, dribbles that went nowhere and poor touches all over the pitch. You could see both teams were lacking confidence and were so scared to lose the game – that’s why it ended 0-0.
The only positive was when Mudryk entered the game. He tried to do a few things, interesting things and I think it’s a good sign for the future of Chelsea.
Before the game I predicted 0-0 and I wasn’t surprised because although it was fast and competitive, nobody calmed the game down and took a second to control the ball.
There was so much distance between the lines I couldn’t believe it! Two teams who were recently playing in the Champions League Final! FA Cup finals, winning League titles – are these the same teams?
Even Mo Salah – he isn’t the same player anymore. Things can turn around very quickly in football and I know victories can bring confidence, but we are talking about Chelsea and Liverpool. They have to show more character and personality on the pitch.
Q: Mudryk impressed many – what did you make of his cameo appearance? Could he ignite Chelsea’s season? Do you feel the Mudryk deal is good business?
EP: When he came off the bench he did some things very well. He missed a great opportunity but he’s very fast, quick with his feet and I think it’s a great addition for Chelsea.
But £100m? I didn’t think he was feeling pressure when he came on. But he’s coming into a club that’s losing confidence – we can’t see the strategy in Chelsea.
I wonder what is going to happen at the end of the season with Chelsea? All of the injured players are going to come back, and Graham Potter is going to have 25 players to manage. They have already spent over £450m over 6 months, what is Potter going to do at the end of the season with all these players?
Can someone explain the strategy of the club to me? I don’t know what Chelsea are trying to achieve by spending so much money with such long contracts. Of course they are young players but it’s a big risk to buy so many young players, it’s a gamble!
It seems when Liverpool or Arsenal are interested in a player, then suddenly Chelsea are making an offer? It’s strange because it suggests there is no strategy.
Does the owner have someone giving him advice? Spending money is a good thing but you have to spend it in the right ways. Arsenal are doing it in the right way, they don’t splash money like Chelsea. They have a vision. They have a young competitive team and they develop themselves.
They figure out where they need more quality and add to it. Whereas Chelsea seem to buy players for the sake of it.
If I am Chalobah, for example – he sees them buying so many defenders like Koulibaly who has been playing as one of the best central defenders in Italy, in a four man defence! Then he joins Chelsea and they play with three defenders? Then the manager who wanted him is sacked. I can’t see a strategy.
Q: Chelsea have scored only 2 goals in their last 5 games, why have they struggled for goals? Chelsea lie 10th in the table at the half-way point, comfortably below expectation. What do you put that down to?
EP: I think this year is a transition year for them. The last season was not easy for them. Abramovich left and on top of it they allowed key players to run their contracts down and leave for free.
Three important players at the back had their contracts expire and there was a lack of vision to deal with it.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be irresponsible in the transfer market – you have to have a vision and a strategy. Especially when you look at the big games. Look at Liverpool – Klopp has taken every ounce of energy from his team, they look tired and I can understand that he wants to bring new energy, new players into his team. But for the last few years they had strategy and it paid off, now they have to change and Klopp said it.
At Chelsea, it’s hard to see what they want to do. I have the feeling some players want to leave because they are not happy. If you have unhappy players in the dressing room, how can they be happy on the pitch?
Q: Is there a certain position you feel he needs to fill in the League to remain in his job? How would you summarise Chelsea’s 500m spend so far under Todd Boehly?
EP: If you put Arteta or Guardiola in Potter’s position would it be going differently? I don’t think so. I think there are too many issues off the pitch there at the moment.
If they can do as well as possible until the end of the season that’s great, but they need to prepare for next season.
That doesn’t mean just spending money, but having a vision and a plan. Speaking to the manager and understanding what he wants for the next two or three years.
Q: Aubameyang has only scored one league goal since coming to Chelsea, do you think he has any future at Chelsea?
EP: I said at the start of the season when they bought him it looked like a panic buy. Aubameyang is still a quality striker but he isn’t what he used to be. I think he lost his passion and I think after his spell at Barcelona he can see what Arsenal are doing without him. What Jesus and Nketiah are doing. Maybe he is thinking if he had the right attitude he could be part of what is going on.
Now with Chelsea, maybe there is a “curse” with the striker, but Drogba wasn’t cursed – the whole team is not working, there is something wrong at the moment.
There aren’t many players playing well for Chelsea right now. Even Mason Mount! I don’t recognise him at the minute.
Q: Do you think there are any positives for Chelsea? Can you see them improving in the second half of the season? They have Joao Felix who will come back in and they just signed Noni Madueke.
EP: If they can bring leaders, those who are injured, back into the team it will be a great help. I still don’t know what’s going on with N’Golo Kante, they’re missing so much on the pitch without him.
He was a leader on the pitch in terms of attitude, in terms of spirit. They’re missing Kovacic as well, those kinds of players.
When you’re going into a storm like this you need experienced, mature players who can keep their nerve and show responsibility on the pitch. I think that’s exactly what’s missing at Chelsea at the minute. So many players are playing far from their usual level. They’re lacking confidence and you need players with character and personality.
Q: Arsenal, City, Newcastle and Man United occupy the top four spots. Do you expect it stay like that?
EP: Yes I think so. With Newcastle they don’t have any European football and have the best defence in the League, they are so compact and it’s hard to score goals against them.
Last season they were fighting relegation and this time last year they brought in the perfect players for what they needed, because they had a strategy. They looked at the team and figured out where they needed to improve to stay in the Premier League. They brought in players that know the League and how to fight against relegation.
Then they added quality in the summer market and it’s paying off now. Eddie Howe is now making the right decisions because he worked with the board. Look at Allan St Maximin, he was their best player last season and he keeps him on the bench. Eddie Howe he knows what he’s doing.
In football it’s great to have money, but it’s better to have ideas.
Q: Man City are the biggest threat to Arsenal. Do you think there’s any regret about letting Zinchenko leave Arsenal given his form and Man City tinkering so much with their left back position?
EP: I think it was a win-win for both parties. Manchester City won the Premier League 4 out of the last 5 seasons and I don’t think they are missing him that much. But it’s a great value and addition for Arteta and Arsenal.
Zinchenko wanted to play regular football and he’s doing that at Arsenal. On Sunday he was great again in terms of experience and maturity, but personality as well. The way he plays fits perfectly with Arsenal and Arteta.
I don’t think he’s missing Manchester City, but I also don’t think Manchester City are missing him.
Q: Frank Lampard has been sacked, what are your thoughts?
EP: I watched the game against West Ham and I thought Everton were poor again. The most important thing for a manager is to improve the team and individuals, I don’t think he’s done that at Everton.
This is common with Everton, they are always sacking managers. Since Moyes left the club I think this heritage affected the managers.
They have spent money but I think they spent it on the wrong players. Also all the players that came into the club have stayed for a short time and left the club. I don’t see a clear strategy.
Q: Barcelona won again this weekend (1-0 v Getafe) and top La Liga. After some difficult years, how pleased are you to see them back at the top?
EP: It’s always important to have your best teams fighting for the title. I know Barcelona have been struggling financially, yet they spent so much money in the last window and it paid off for the moment.
It’s good to see them fighting with Real Madrid like the old days. I’m happy for Xavi and for Barcelona because just like Arsenal and Manchester United, if you want to have the most competitive league, you need to have your strongest clubs to compete for silverware.
Q: Lens are only 1 point behind PSG this season, they have only lost once. Do you think there is a chance they can lift the Ligue 1 title this season away from PSG?
EP: Of course they can. I know I will probably be against thousands of people saying the opposite but PSG have already lost two games since the beginning of the New Year and lost 3-1 to Lens.
Lens played yesterday against Brest in the League Cup and made 6 changes to the team and they played with the same spirit. When you look at Lens they don’t have the same money other clubs have, but I know the manager, Frank Haise, we grew up together and played in the same team when we were young.
He’s doing such a great job and when you look at the club it’s one of the only clubs in Europe that has kept the family mentality in the club. They are so close to the fans and you can see it.
Lens has the best atmosphere in France, it’s amazing. They live and support their team every game. It’s in their blood.
Is there a risk PSG lose the title? I think there’s a chance. They have lost games already and have some players with bad attitudes. They don’t play as a unit. The three musketeers up top – Messi, Neymar and Mbappe – the idea is to give them the ball and they will make the difference.
The game in Saudi Arabia last week, yes it was a friendly, but they conceded 4 goals and won 5-4. I know it wasn’t a competitive game but how can you concede so many goals like this? You can’t rely on your stars all the time to save you.
The answer is simple: Lens can compete for the title.