PETIT'S BIG CUP FINAL ROLE
By Rupert Webster
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Petit returned to England last summer after unsuccessful stint with Barcelona, and is looking to pick up his first domestic trophy since winning the FA Cup with Arsenal in 1998.
However, many fans feel that the French international is not the player he was under Arsene Wenger and his influence on the game is waning. In his last campaign at Highbury, Petit was an inspiring presence in midfield, scoring three goals and setting up seven further strikes for team-mates as well as contributing well defensively.
This season, Petit has managed to score only once, while his left-footed deliveries have also been less effective, as he has set up just three goals throughout the entire campaign.
Petit himself has been surprised at how long it has taken to find his feet at Stamford Bridge, but is adamant that he has been edging towards his best form over the past three months - just in time for the Cup Final and France's World Cup bid.
It is true that Petit's on-field output has increased significantly of late. The last three months have seen the midfielder get forward with more regularity, firing in an average of 1.0 shots per game - twice the figure he managed during his opening six months as a Chelsea player - and that helped him score his first goal in a Blues shirt against Derby County in March.
Other areas of Petit's game that have improved as his familiarity with his new environment has increased have been his distribution and defensive output. In his first six months at the Bridge, Petit managed just one assist, but since then he has managed twice that figure in only half the time.
Over the same period, Petit has also made 35 defensive clearances - the Frenchman made only 18 in the first six months of the campaign - while he has gone from making 4.1 tackles per game to 4.7 in recent weeks.
Having come through a tricky period at the start of his Chelsea career, Petit is confident that he can end the 2001-02 campaign in the best possible fashion in Cardiff. And while there can be no tougher test than facing Arsenal, Petit knows Wenger's side better than anybody and on his current form, he could be the ideal player to bring about their downfall.