One of the players most closely associated with Arsene Wenger's early success at Arsenal has reluctantly suggested that it might be time for the manager to move upstairs. Emmanuel Petit says his former club's task in Barcelona tonight is "impossible" and that the league title is beyond them too but that, he believes, rather than the Champions League, needs to be the first target.
“This Premier League seems to be over for them after Leicester won on Monday against Newcastle [but] ]before thinking about making the impossible possible [a reference to the manager’s assessment of his side’s task tonight], you need to focus on the target you can reach [and that is] ]the Premier League,” said the former midfielder, who was in Dublin to promote a Carlsberg sponsored Euro2016 promotion in which 1,100 tickets for Ireland games can be won (see facebook.com/Carlsberg).
Petit says he still feels a strong personal loyalty to Wenger, under whom he played at Monaco and Arsenal, and he believes his fellow Frenchman should have a major role to play in bringing the London club forward but, he says, it may be that one of the other great players he coached is now better positioned to achieve the overdue title success. Friends “Arsene and I have been friends for 25 years,” he says, “he was my first manager, he brought me from the Monaco academy to the first team, we did great things together with Arsenal, so I won’t say that he has to leave. I am pretty sure he has to stay at the club but maybe it’s time for him to open the door for something else as well.
"When I look at the former players from Arsenal, how many of them have their badges to manage a team? Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, many, many great players. So I think Arsene . . . it's good to share the place with someone else and try to open the door to the former players." Petit makes to clear that he has no ambition to play a part himself.
The current players, he says, have to take their share of the blame with the team lacking leaders, he believes, of the sort that populated almost every area of the pitch through the title winning season of 1997/98.
“I think Arsenal has been missing something for ages, it’s mental. They’ve got great players and the way they play, for me, is one of the best in Europe. But playing well on the pitch doesn’t mean you’re going to win the title.
You can play badly as well but you win the game. One thing that’s wrong with Arsenal is that you can see a lot of the players give up on the pitch.
“Mentally, I think they need to improve a lot. When you look at the title they won it was because they had great leaders in the team. They have great players but they are missing leaders and personality. If you want to win things, then you need to suffer.” Magicians They might do a bit of that this evening at Barcelona as it happens but Petit does not believe it will be nearly enough against side he feels has been a cut above their rivals for several seasons now.
“Barcelona are living in their own world for the last four-five years, it’s just like Spain. What they are doing is unbelievable, they have this magician with Messi but they have more magicians in the team now.
“The gap between Arsenal and Barcelona is huge, in terms of performances, titles, the way they are every time they come on the pitch. I have seen so many teams trying to disturb them physically and mentally but the last team I saw play very tough and well, tactically and physically, was Inter when they won with Mourinho. But there is no team better than Barcelona.” Something special Inevitably, he feels, the road forward for Arsenal involves spending enough to start competing for more of the very best players.
“If you want to win the Premier League, and have a target to win the Champions League, you need to bring something [special] to the team.”