Mikel Arteta has opened up on his friendship with Mauricio Pochettino before the pair go head-to-head at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, with the Arsenal manager describing his Chelsea counterpart as “really inspirational”, “really supportive” and akin to an older brother who was fundamental to him having a career in football.
Arteta and Pochettino played together at Paris Saint-Germain during the former’s 18-month loan there from Barcelona B in 2001. Arteta was a teenager and experiencing life outside Spain for the first time. By his own admission he was “all over the place” and needed someone to provide him with guidance and support. Step forward Pochettino, who arrived in Paris at the same time but was far more experienced and took it upon himself to look after the raw kid from Catalonia.
“I could not speak the language, it was my first professional club, and I needed someone to be close to me,” Arteta said. “He [Pochettino] was always giving me advice, giving me confidence, coaching me and talking to me. He was really inspirational, really supportive. He took me under his arm like a little child, a little brother. Every time I was doing something he was controlling me – ‘What did you do last night?’ He really looked after me.
“I was in a hotel with him for two or three months. That period was key in my career to be able to make it. I don’t think that without him I would have had the time that I had in Paris and the start of my professional career. He was critical and has been one of the most influential people in my career.”
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Such was the bond Arteta and Pochettino formed that they remained in touch long after, with Pochettino seeking Arteta’s advice about moving to England to take charge at Southampton in 2013. It is rumoured that he tried to hire the Spaniard as one of his coaches at Tottenham three years later, after Arteta’s retirement from playing.
Arteta neither confirmed nor denied that was the case – he eventually began his coaching career at Manchester City alongside another friend, Pep Guardiola – and sought to look forward to his reunion with Pochettino. “It [will be] beautiful,” Arteta said. “It is something that also happened with Pep and I think it’s great that after all those years, football puts you in the situation when you face each other. Now we are both managing great clubs in the best league in the world. It does not get much better than that.”
Arteta was keen to stress that once the first whistle blows it will be a case of business rather than pleasure – “I will go for him and he’s going to do the same” – with Arsenal looking to build on their 1-0 victory over Manchester City before the international break with what would be a fourth successive win against Chelsea.
Bukayo Saka and William Saliba could play against opponents who have won their previous three games, having withdrawn from international duty for England and France respectively due to injury. One player who almost certainly will not feature is Aaron Ramsdale. The goalkeeper has lost his place to David Raya, something Ramsdale has admitted is a cause of hurt and suffering for him.
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“It’s not easy for any player when he’s not playing as much as he would like do,” said Arteta when asked about the 25-year-old’s comments. “The only thing to do is to work harder, to show the passion you have for the game, to contribute to the team in a different way, and when you get the opportunity do your best and try to help the team win.”
Kai Havertz could be handed a start on his return to Chelsea having made a decisive impact in the win against City, playing the pass that led to Gabriel Martinelli’s crucial strike. The German has struggled since his £65m summer move across London and Arteta believes that could be a turning point. “I hope so,” he said. “I can see the confidence is shifting and he’s in a much better place now.”