Mikel Arteta called Rafael Nadal his number one idol and joked that he hoped the tennis great would decide to attend an Arsenal game rather than Tottenham.
The Arsenal manager has been asked to name the person – sports star or otherwise – whom he most admires after Manchester City boss Josep Guardiola revealed Hollywood star Julia Roberts was one of his idols.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Europa League round of 16 second leg against Sporting on Thursday, Arteta said: “Suddenly it occurs to me that Nadal is someone I have admired for a very, very long time.
“His mentality, how he won, how he did it, how he bounced back – he’s definitely at the top of my list.”
Guardiola, who has named Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as his other idols, joked that he was upset that Roberts chose to visit City’s fierce rivals Manchester United when she visited the city seven years ago.
Asked if he hopes Real Madrid supporter Nadal will choose Arsenal over north London Tottenham, Arteta replied: “I hope so.”
Arteta had every right to be in high spirits when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday: his side were five points clear of City at the top of the Premier League after beating Fulham 3-0 on Sunday.
Arsenal’s attention is now turning to the Europa League and the visit to Sporting, with whom they locked a 2-2 draw after an interesting first leg last week in Portugal.
Rather than see this match as a distraction ahead of the league final against Crystal Palace before the international break, Arteta is enjoying playing in front of a big home crowd in a European tournament.
“We haven’t had a big European night in three years,” he said. “Hopefully it will be a really good atmosphere and we can enjoy it.
“We know that Sporting are a good team and they will challenge.”
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As in the run-up to the first leg, Arteta was reluctant to reveal much about team selection, but he provided positive information on Gabriel Jesus following the striker’s return after a four-month break against Fulham.
“It was great to see him again. You can feel the joy of everyone around him – we missed him and now he’s back,” Arteta said.
“We have to manage his protocols, his participation. He feels good and every day he trains he says he feels better, so that’s very positive.
“As a team, we want to do the same as we did in Lisbon, but we know that we will have to work better than last week.”