A huge game against Monaco in the Champions League is now upon us.
We have stuttered our way to third in the Premier League over the last few weeks but it means we can fully focus on this game rather than be a few points behind and chasing fourth. By hook or by crook we have built some breathing space, and isn’t it lovely to see Chelsea wobbling…
Anyway, with the game tomorrow I wanted to write about a player who played for both Arsenal and Monaco. The link between the two clubs has been quite apparent with Arsene Wenger winning the French title with the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Mark Hateley. Did you know it was Wenger who sold Jurgen Klinsmann to Tottenham Hotspur? Also they had Thierry Henry in his early days.
However, the player I wanted to focus on was Emmanuel Petit. What a classy player he was for Arsenal.
Petit signed his first professional with Monaco and Wenger from a small club called ES Arques-la-Bataille – it was 1988 he was 18 at the time. He soon made his debut for the club and went on to represent Monaco in the 1989 French Cup Final. He became a regular for the club playing Centre or Left midfield and in his last season Petit captained the side to the French title.
Now when he signed for Arsenal in 1997, I was certain that the club had signed a left back. I was 15 at the time and anyone around the same age then will know that I was addicted to my PC and more importantly Championship manager… what a great game…. not that my GCSE results would agree.
Anyway, I remember looking at Petit and thinking ‘Oh my god’… I have never seen a player look so strange and different to what we were used to in the Premier League those days. Here was a stocky, tall, blonde haired pony tailed player (who I thought was a left back). There was no way I could imagine the impact he made in what became one of the most formidable centre midfield partnerships in Arsenal and Premier League history.
A funny story which you may not be aware of is that on the day Petit signed for Arsenal he had a meeting with Alan Sugar at his office at Amstrad to talk about the possibility to sign for Spurs. After the meeting Sugar and Spurs paid for a taxi, but that taxi did not arrive at the airport. It took Petit directly to David Dein’s house where Wenger met him and he signed him for Arsenal for £2.5m.
Petit was partnered with Patrick Vieira and together in Wenger’s first full season they went onto win the Premier League and topped it off with a win against Newcastle United at Wembley in the FA Cup. He was the linchpin of the midfield and together with Vieira they literally had it all when it came to a range of ability.
With the likes of Ian Wright, Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour this was an Arsenal side that was beginning the ‘Wenger Years’ in formidable fashion. Especially with the defence that he’d inherited of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.
1998 was a good year for Petit as not only winning the double for Arsenal he won £17,000 on a fruit machine in Monte Carlo. He gave all his winnings to charity.
Petit only played 118 times for Arsenal which is relatively low if you think Manuel Almunia made 175 appearances. In that time, Petit scored 11 goals.
He moved on to play for Barcelona and later when he realised his career was over he signed for Chelsea.
I remember him most for a sliding tackle and his partnership with Vieira. A true box to box midfielder who was a vital figure for Arsenal in winning the title that season. A game I can remember is a trip with the Junior Gunners to Derby County’s ground Pride Park where Petit scored the only goal of the game with a stunner.
He is a player I look back with admiration and I would have liked him to stay with the club for longer.