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Mikel Arteta named Rafael Nadal as his number one idol and joked he hopes the tennis great chooses to attend an Arsenal game over Tottenham.
The Arsenal manager was asked to name the person – sports star or otherwise – he admires most in wake of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola revealing Hollywood A-lister Julia Roberts was one of his idols.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of Thursday’s Europa League last-16 second leg against Sporting CP, Arteta said: “Off the top of my head, Nadal is someone I’ve admired for a long, long time.
“His mentality, what he’s won, the way he’s done it, the way he’s bounced back – he’s top of my list for sure.”
Guardiola, who named Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as his other idols, quipped he felt upset that Roberts decided to visit City’s fierce rivals Manchester United when she visited the city seven years ago.
Asked if he hoped Real Madrid supporter Nadal would opt for Arsenal over fellow north London side Tottenham, Arteta said: “I hope so.”
Arteta had every right to be in high spirits when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, with his side five points clear of City at the top of the Premier League after easing to a 3-0 win over Fulham on Sunday.
Arsenal’s focus now switches to the Europa League and the visit of Sporting, who they are locked at 2-2 with after last week’s entertaining first leg in Portugal.
Rather than seeing the match as a distraction ahead of facing Crystal Palace in their final league match before the international break, Arteta is relishing playing in front of a large home crowd in a European competition.
“We haven’t had a big European night for three years,” he said. “Hopefully it will be a really good atmosphere and we can enjoy it.
“We know Sporting are a good team and they’ll provide a challenge.”
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 14, 2023
Much like ahead of the first leg, Arteta was unwilling to give much away in terms of team selection, but he did provide a positive update on Gabriel Jesus after the striker’s return from a four-month lay-off against Fulham.
“It was great to see him back. You can feel the happiness of everyone around him – we missed him and now he’s back,” Arteta said.
“We have to manage his minutes, his involvement. He’s feeling good and every day he’s training he says his sensations are better so that’s really positive.
“As for the team, we’re looking to do the same as we did in Lisbon but we know we’re going to have to do better than we did last week.”