From falling in love with Petit’s ponytail, to life-long obsession with Arsenal

Alfian Tahir was only 11 when he picked Arsenal as his football club.

It was not because the London team was champion, but because he thought Emmanuel Petit, who signed for the club in 1997, was just “too cool”.

“My other classmates supported Liverpool, Manchester United, and Blackburn, at that time,” recalled the journalist.

“I was the only one at my school to have ‘Arsenal’ stamped on my eraser and pencil case.

“I was reading ‘Match!’ magazine. It had an article about Petit. I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is cool with his long ponytail’. That was when I decided to start supporting Arsenal.

“From Petit, I was introduced to the other players, like Ian Wright, Ray Parlour, and Tony Adams.”

Alfian said he tried to copy Petit’s hairstyle, but never managed to “get it as long as his”.

He said watching Petit help the club win the league, and FA Cup double in 1998, was one of his greatest joys in supporting the Gunners.

“The Invincibles of 2003-2004 is the highlight. To win the league title without losing a game is unheard of in the modern game,” said Alfian, who believes Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta can be better than Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

“But winning the double in 1998 was also one of my favourite moments. It was when I had no Astro to watch the games. I relied 100 per cent on football magazines.

“The 1998 season was magnificent because Arsenal was 12 points behind United, but still won the league.”

Alfian and his wife Nurdyana Ezzaty Amin in their favourite Arsenal outfits.

Sadly, for Alfian, 2004 was the last time the club won the English Premier League.

That is why he trusts Arteta to turn things around for the Gunners. He believes the Spaniard has a squad to finish in the top three this season.

“There has been a tremendous improvement in the current squad. We have a top-class striker (Gabriel Jesus), young and talented wingers (Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Emile Smith Rowe), a young Rio Ferdinand in William Saliba, and an outstanding goalkeeper (Aaron Ramsdale),” said Alfian.

“We have yet to see the best of Fabio Viera and Marquinhos. We saw how good Oleksandr Zinchenko was against Palace, and how composed Saliba was.

“This squad is the best after ‘The Invincibles’. If Arteta can get one more signing (Youri Tielemans), it can be a great season.

“We have a good captain (Martin Odegaard) and solid defenders in Ben White, Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

“Our midfield is strong, too. Granit Xhaka, at his best, is formidable. I hope he stops his reckless mistakes.”

Alfian is also excited about Jesus. The Brazilian striker promises lots of goals.

“He fits Arteta’s style. They know each other from their time at Manchester City.

“Jesus is tenacious – pressing opponents and chasing the ball, which is good for the team. Arteta described him perfectly when he said Jesus ‘creates chaos’.

“If he can stay fit, he could be the league’s top scorer, along with City’s Erling Haaland.

“With Jesus, this team is almost complete. Winning the league may be impossible this season, but winning the Europa League can be an achievement.”

Next on Alfian’s bucket list is to watch the team play at the Emirates Stadium.

“I have yet to go to Arsenal’s stadium, but I had the pleasure of watching the team when they visited Malaysia in 1999.

“I was at Bukit Jalil stadium. Arsenal won 2-0. Petit scored one of the goals. I was ecstatic!”

FIXTURES (Malaysian time)
Tottenham vs Wolves (7.30pm)
Everton vs Nottingham Forest (10pm)
Leicester vs Southampton (10pm)
Fulham vs Brentford (10pm)
Crystal Palace vs Aston Villa (10pm)

Bournemouth vs Arsenal (12.30am)
West Ham vs Brighton (9pm)
Leeds vs Chelsea (9pm)
Newcastle vs Manchester City (11.30pm)

Manchester United vs Liverpool (3am)

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