Monday, 6 September 2010

Player Profile: Emmanuel Petit

When Arsene Wenger signed Emmanuel Petit in the summer of 97, few could have predicted the impact he'd have in his first season at Arsenal. With his blonde locks and 'exotic' name, he didn't seem like the sort of character to anchor the midfield of a double-winning side. Indeed, before joining Arsenal he'd played mostly as a centre back for Monaco, but in an inspired move, Wenger - having managed Petit before - saw the potential in him to perform in that role.

Wenger's reasoning for making the switch was simple; he'd wanted a left-footed partner for the right-footed Vieira, a cultured player capable of bringing some composure to midfield, with the ability to hit long accurate passes into the more attacking players. The fact that Petit had been a defender previously was an added bonus as he was able to apply his positional awareness to the role and form a solid barrier in front of the defence, along with Vieira.

Petit took his time to register his first goal in Arsenal colours, but when he finally did in April, like London buses two came along at once. First he netted in a 5-0 demolition of Wimbledon, finishing off an excellent team move, then 10 days later he hit a powerful drive from outside the area to give Arsenal a crucial 1-0 win over Derby.

But that was just the icing on the cake, throughout the season he'd been a calming influence in the centre of midfield with his tidy passing and tackling. He was often the architect of quick counter attacks with long balls hit over the top for Marc Overmars and co to run onto, and his set piece delivery helped settle several games. To crown off his magnificent debut season, he set up the opening goal of the FA Cup final against Newcastle, playing a delightful chipped ball over the top of the defence for Overmars to run onto. Arsenal went on to win 2-0 and Petit had secured a league and cup double in his first season at the club.

Petit experienced disappointment in his next 2 seasons as Arsenal failed to win any major silverware, and along with Overmars departed for Barcelona in the summer of 2000. He is still held in high regard by many Arsenal fans and it's difficult to feel any ill-feeling to a player who gave his best on the pitch and helped rejuvenate the club into the major European force that they are now. Merci Emmanuel.