Exclusive | Emmanuel Petit: ‘Even though Arsenal have had a great season, I’m sorry but in 10 years’ time no one will remember them.’

Get French Football News sat down again with the former France international Emmanuel Petit to look back at Arsenal’s end to the season and look ahead to Euro 2024 and France’s prospects of winning the tournament this summer in Germany.

Last time we spoke you said that you were very impressed with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, but that they can’t yet be compared with your Arsenal until they begin to win trophies. They’ve just missed out on the Premier League title but to City – who are almost a separate case. So can those comparisons nevertheless be made?

Yes, City are almost a separate case, but they’re also the example to follow in terms of the expectations they put on themselves – not only in England but also for 99% of teams in the world – except maybe Real Madrid, who also have that culture. But I’m very pleased with Arteta’s work, very happy with the season, despite losing the title on the last day – we experienced that in 1999, losing the title on the last day having won the double the year before. So right now I can’t compare generations for the reason I gave – if you’re going to do so, then you need to compare everything that is comparable – that is to say, will this Arsenal team be remembered in 10 years’ time? There are often “beautiful losers and this Arsenal are good losers but I’d rather they were good winners. The proof is that City have just won their fourth title in four seasons – it’s historic – we’ll remember them as probably the best team the Premier League has ever had. So in 20, 30, 50 years, people will remember them for that. But for this year, even though Arsenal have had a great season, I’m sorry but in 10 years’ time no one will remember them.

There have been some great losers who are well remembered – Brazil and France in 1982, for example.

Yes, there are great losers and there is still great romance in football. But history remembers only the winners, unfortunately.

Speaking of potential winners, I wanted to move on to L’Équipe de France. Firstly, as a box-to-box midfielder yourself – N’Golo Kanté was the surprise pick in les Bleus’ squad. What are your thoughts?

It’s a huge surprise. But it’s a huge, beautiful surprise! I have never heard a single person say anything bad about Kante. Whether they’re supporters, journalists or players. Everyone loves Kante. It’s a very welcome surprise but in terms of his experience, his personality, his character – when you live together for at least one month, you see nothing of the outside [world], you only go from the team bus to the stadium – it’s important to have that type of player who spreads that kind of humanity and humility within the group.

But my question is even if he has had a full season with his club – I think he’s played more than 45 matches this season – I have no doubts about his physical level because I know that Kante, even at 60% of his physical potential, would be above the level of most players – but where I have my doubts is in terms of his cerebral connections. Because I was actually watching him playing in a club match as Deschamps was announcing his list – and I’m sorry, I don’t want to be too negative about the Saudi league – but it moves at 2 km per hour, there is no intensity, you receive the ball and you have 10 seconds to look around, lift your head, even put your foot on the ball and no one attacks you. Playing in the Euros – there it’s 2,000 km per hour, you’ve got a second to think, when you receive the ball you need to already know what you’re going to do with it, or else you’ll lose it. It all happens very quickly here [points to his head]. So that’s my only question – will his brain have reconnected to the speed and intensity of European football?

I have no worries at all in terms of motivation – we all know very well what we can expect from Kanté – we all know exactly what he’ll give you. In fact the other reason that Deschamps is taking him – and there’s no guarantee that he will start each match – is because he knows that, even with the status that Kanté has in the France team and in France, if he tells him “listen, N’Golo, you’ll be on the bench”, we all know that N’Golo won’t cause any problems – unlike some other players. I’m really happy to see him there. – I love the guy. I’d have loved to play alongside him, I think we’d have got on really well because I think that we have similar values in lots of areas. So it’s a shame that we’re not from the same generation.

And what do you think of France’s chances of winning the Euros?

I think that we have a quality team. I think that we are the reference, along with Spain, over the last two decades – with Spain we’re the team who have won the most trophies and reached the most finals, whether in the Euros or the World Cup. But there are teams who will be very hard to beat. England of course. But I am particularly worried about Germany. The Germans at home – and especially when one feels like they’re not really among the favourites – that’s when they’re particularly dangerous. And I think that they’re not among the favourites – even within their own national press – but we know their ego, their pride, and they’re at home which can serve as a 12th man – I’m worried about them. And yes, France are among the favourites but it won’t be an easy path and, from experience, I know that at a Euros the level is higher than at a World Cup. I know that France reached the final against Argentina in the World Cup and it came down to a few details. But these Euros are likely to be at a slightly higher level.

There are injuries and others aren’t in their best form. Maybe it’s not happening at the best time for France?

There are also some who will be coming out of long seasons with more than 60 matches played. But at least our supposed [mimes inverted commas] best player Kylian Mbappé has been rested for most of the season! [Laughs] My real concern for France is in midfield. My big question mark surrounds Antoine Griezmann. Kanté of course drew everyone’s attention but for me, the big question is what do we do if Antoine Griezmann gets injured – as was the case for France’s last matches, where we saw a ghostlike France who did nothing in either match. He is the only player who has the keys to the game, who links the midfield and the attack and is often decisive.

For a very long time, he managed to avoid injuries but recently less so, and my question is what do we do if he gets injured? What’s the Plan B? We have only fast players in attack, we have centre-forwards in Marcus Thuram and Olivier Giroud who are both the same profile – physical, focal points and link-up players – and on the wings, we just have sprinters – sprinters and dribblers. In midfield, we have hard workers but if Griezmann doesn’t play, who takes the keys to the truck? That’s my thinking and maybe that’s why Deschamps took Kanté – because he has that ability to link up box-to-box if he is given a little more liberty. But it’s not Aurélien Tchouaméni who’ll do that, it’s not Eduardo Camavinga who’ll do that. Adrien Rabiot maybe could add something on the offensive side but that’s my concern.

Emmanuel Petit was speaking to Get French Football News exclusively on behalf of BoyleSports, who offer the latest Euro 2024 betting.

GFFN | Jeremy Smith

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