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Monday, November 29, 2021

Mikel Arteta opens talks with Arsene Wenger about return to Arsenal

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has spoken with Arsene Wenger about a possible return to the club, with the Spaniard hoping to bring his former coach “much closer” to his old team.

Wenger has not returned to the Emirates Stadium since the end of his 22-year spell as manager in 2018, and has previously indicated that he would not be keen on going back to north London.

Arteta has been in contact with Wenger in recent weeks, though, and declared on Thursday that he believes the 72-year-old to be a “great help” on a personal level as he continues the rebuilding process at the Emirates.

Wenger, who is now working as Fifa’s chief of global football development, spoke with Arteta at the recent premiere of Arsene Wenger: Invincible, a new documentary about the Frenchman’s career.

“Well, there has been communication,” said Arteta, when asked whether a formal offer had been made to Wenger. “I saw him and I talked to him when we went to see the film.

“It was incredibly pleasant to see him and chat to him, and hopefully we can bring him close. Because I think he will have a great time just seeing the environment that he can create around him and around this place.

“Because of the respect and admiration that everybody at the club has for what he has done, and as well for what he represents as a person.”

Asked about what sort of role Wenger could take at the club, Arteta said: “I cannot tell you now, but what I can say is that I would like him to be much closer personally to me.

“Because I think it would be a great help – and it would be a great help for the club. Things take time, and I think he has to dictate those timings. What I can say is from my side, and I can talk, I think, on behalf of everybody, is that we would be delighted to have him much closer.”

It was Wenger who signed Arteta for Arsenal as a player in 2011 and later appointed the Spaniard as the club captain. Arteta has previously credited Wenger with starting “the fire” that made him want to become a manager after his playing career had finished.

In recent weeks Arteta has installed a large picture of Wenger at the entrance to the club’s training ground, which many players have taken to high-fiving upon their arrival at London Colney.

Analysis: Experience would be invaluable but return will not impact Arteta’s coaching

As a former captain of Arsenal, and a player who was recruited and trusted by Arsene Wenger, Mikel Arteta needs no reminding of the Frenchman’s impact at the club. Wenger’s influence stretched far beyond first-team matters during his 22 years as Arsenal manager, and he was such a fundamental part of the entire operation that employees have likened the months after his departure to a period of mourning.

Now busy in his role as Fifa’s chief of global football development, Wenger has still not returned to the Emirates Stadium since he left the club in 2018. Arteta, though, has been increasingly keen to make his former manager “more present” within Arsenal’s walls, and has even installed a giant picture of Wenger at the entrance to the club’s training ground.

In that sense, it seems only natural that Arteta’s next step would be to try to bring back the man himself. The exact nature of a possible role is undefined, but Arteta made it perfectly clear on Thursday that he feels he would benefit from having Wenger “much closer” to him on a personal level.

Such a development would require a softening of Wenger’s stance. “Would I return to the Emirates Stadium? I always said to myself that I would be leaving Arsenal completely,” he said last year. “That is the decision I made.”

From the club’s perspective, it is easy to see the appeal of Wenger being more accessible, even if it is just as an occasional sounding board rather than anything more formal. Arteta is the Premier League’s youngest manager, after all, and his team is also the youngest in the division. Their inexperience certainly counted against them on Saturday, when they were thrashed by Liverpool and Arteta found himself in an unfortunate touchline clash with Jurgen Klopp.

Off the field, too, there is an inexperience within the executive team. Technical director Edu (another of Wenger’s former Arsenal players) is in his first major role at a European club. Per Mertesacker (again, a former Arsenal player) is learning on the job in his position as academy manager. Even the chief executive, the highly-rated Vinai Venkatesham, has limited experience at the helm of a football club, having been promoted from within in the post-Wenger years.

As the man who has seen it all at Arsenal — and built most of it — there are few opinions more valuable than Wenger’s when it comes to the overall direction of the club. From Arteta’s perspective, especially, there is plenty of information to be mined from Wenger’s past when it comes to transforming the internal culture of the club.

These aspects of management are intensely important to the Spaniard, who has been desperately trying to rekindle some of the unity that had been lost in north London in recent years. Arteta certainly takes far more interest in the wider feeling at the club than his predecessor, Unai Emery, who was focused entirely on first-team matters.

One of the reasons for Emery’s reign being so jarring to many club employees was that he was always narrow in his focus, and it is relevant that Arteta’s approach behind the scenes is far more Wenger-esque. This is partly why he was promoted from “head coach” to “manager” last year. Clearly, Wenger could offer useful guidance on the requirements of leading in this manner, of taking so much responsibility upon one pair of shoulders.

What is less clear is whether Arteta would want any guidance on team matters, such as player selection or tactics. One suspects, strongly, that the answer is a resounding “no”. Arteta is a man of enormous self-belief, particularly when it comes to decisions on the training ground, and his conviction in his own methods appears to be unshakeable.

Many of Arteta’s ultra-modern views of the game, from a tactical and technical standpoint, also contrast sharply with Wenger’s approach on the training pitches. In that area, Arteta is far more similar to his other mentor, Pep Guardiola.

If Wenger is to return, supporters should not expect him to have any significant impact on Arteta’s coaching of the first-team players. On a wider scale, though, there can be no doubt that Wenger’s knowledge, experience and standing within the game means he still has plenty to offer in north London.

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