Former Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal striker Nicolas Anelka expects a close encounter when two of his former clubs meet at Parc des Princes in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The ex-France international, now 37 and most recently player-coach for Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League, started his professional career with PSG in 1996 before moving to Arsenal the following year.
Anelka remained at Highbury until 1999, when he joined Real Madrid. One year after transferring to Santiago Bernabeu, he returned to Paris and stayed until 2002 — his final spell with “his club.”
“It will be a very tough match for PSG but also for Arsenal,” Anelka told the French club’s official website. “The English play well on the ball — Arsene Wenger’s DNA is still plain to see in their play. They always make it out of the group stage. It will be these two sides fighting it out for top spot.
“They are a physical team but with a French touch. That’s when we will see whether Paris are tough enough — but I know that Paris are tough and that they’ll qualify.”
Anelka fondly remembers his time with PSG and Arsenal but expects the French champions to win the first of two group stage meetings.
“I love both clubs, as I had some great years with Arsenal too,” the man from Le Chesnay in the Parisian suburbs added. “They are two clubs that made a strong mark on my career. So may the better club win.
“I have no preference because they are both huge clubs and they both look to play good football. It will be an exceptional match because neither Arsenal nor PSG are sides who sit back and defend. Nonetheless, I think Paris will win the first leg as they will be playing at home.
“They will need to really switch on after their recent results. Arsenal are a huge team but the advantage goes to PSG when they are playing at home.”
PSG have been chasing Champions League success for the past few seasons. Anelka, one of their most celebrated youth academy graduates, won the coveted trophy once, with Real Madrid in 2000 — scoring two of Los Blancos’ three goals to edge Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
“There is no secret recipe,” Anelka said. “It just has to be your year. Last season Paris could have won it — I really saw them making it to the final but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. You can’t predict what will happen in the Champions League.
“Paris have the potential and the team to win the competition. We just have to see whether their experience and some luck allow them to go all the way.”
Tuesday’s clash will be the third time PSG and Arsenal have met in Europe, with the last being a two-legged 1993-94 Cup Winners’ Cup semifinal — won 2-1 on aggregate by the Gunners.