Mikel Arteta was delighted Arsenal put on a show for Arsene Wenger as the club’s legendary manager returned to Emirates Stadium for the first time since he departed in May 2018.
Irked by the way his exit was handled and aware his presence could be a distraction for his successors, the Frenchman has, up to now, been reticent to watch the Gunners in person.
In fairness, as Fifa’s Chief of Global Football, the 73-year-old has also been pretty busy in the build-up to the World Cup but with that out of the way, he finally took up an invitation to sit with his family in the directors’ box.
It wasn’t until Wenger’s face was flashed up on the big screen in the aftermath of Gabriel Martinelli’s goal that the crowd became aware of his presence. At that point, his name was sung with gusto and the chants continued in the closing stages as Arteta’s players, who were kept in the dark about the visit, rounded off the evening with a 3-1 victory.
“The players didn’t know,” revealed Arteta in his post-game press conference.
“We wanted to keep it quiet and allow that space for Arsene. Stan and Josh [Kroenke] are here as well and it was a really special day.
“Thank you so much to him for coming. Hopefully, walking through the building he’s going to feel everything that everybody thinks of him, the legacy he left here.”
Arteta also confirmed that he and the players were due to catch up with Wenger in the dressing room.
“Obviously, it’s great winning, my mood is going to be much better to speak to him and be around the team. He picked the right moment, Boxing Day is a really special day, it’s a beautiful place to play football and I thought the performance today was at a level that he deserves. Hopefully, he will like it.
“I’ve been involved in the process [of getting Wenger to visit] but it’s about him, the timing that he needed to make that step and hopefully he’s going to leave here and be willing to spend more time with us and be around us because he’s such an influence, for me personally in my career and the way I see the game but as well for this football club.
On the pitch, the Gunners produced a swashbuckling second half to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points.
There was considerable frustration at the break after VAR not only ruled out a goal but also overturned a penalty while also confirming a spot-kick that Said Benrahma despatched past Aaron Ramsdale. But Arsenal were not to be denied the three points as Saka equalised before fellow attackers Martinelli and Nketiah killed the game.
Nketiah’s goal was particularly poignant. All the talk before kick-off was whether the England under-21 international could replace the threat and work rate of the injured Gabriel Jesus. He answered those questions emphatically, spinning in the box before rifling home on the angle. Afterwards, he paid tribute to Wenger; the manager who handed him his debut.
“It’s good to have him [Wenger] back,” said Eddie. “Obviously, he coached me and gave me my debut so hopefully, he’s happy and proud of us all.”
While Wenger will have been pleased to see one of his academy kids doing the business, Arteta was even more so. Reflecting on his striker’s contribution, he said: “It was a great goal but I think overall his performance was incredible.
“The way he understood the pressing, his intensity, the way he counter-attacked certain spaces, the composure he showed. And then he stayed patient. And in the box he produced a moment of real quality to win us the game.”
The boss also reserved praise for Martin Odegaard who was voted man of the match following his brace of assists.
“He was great. Since back in Dubai when we were there, he’s been exceptional. That’s what you want from your leaders, with the important players to have that presence on the pitch. With and without the ball I think he was really good today.”
Didn’t Arsene leave in 2018?
Oh don’t be a spoilsport. Arsene never left in spirit.
Oops, updated…you know what I meant.
One Arsene Wenger
There’s only One Arsene Wenger
One Arseeene Weeenger
There’s only one Arsene Wenger.
49 49 undefeated
They way I giggled when Arsene came up on the screen was indescribable.
What a performance today.
We are top of the league still, picking up where we left off.
Good day all around, real football is back, seeing Wenger looking well and smiling at the emirates just topped it off.
5 points dropped from 40, and we shouldn’t have lost to Utd.
Surely this has to be our year.
I see the end of year VAR review panel has now ‘officially’ come out and stated that Martinelli’s Manure opener should have stood… and what a difference it would have made to that entire match.
“as Fifa’s Chief of Global Football”
Reads a bit like an ex girlfriend you have tons of respect and admiration for who for some inexplicable reason shacks up with a two faced slime of a low life scumbag who is way beneath her. Why arsene, why?
I’m pretty sure he’s sitting with his ex-wife Annie Brosterhous. Am I right? Be nice if they were on good terms.
As I’m no longer on Twitter, I didn’t know the best way to try and get a question on the pod: So… Just in case, here it is:
If no one else has done it, can you please describe the beauty of the build up to the Nketia goal at least thirty seconds before Ben White even touches it. Thanks, Richard Katz
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What a homecoming for Arsene. Got to see our captain’s stupefying talent. We look lethal in attack largely thanks to him. Jaw still on the floor, he is a freak of nature.
Where’s the man’s statue?!
they need to name the stadium after him
Or Hale End – Arsene Wenger Academy of Excellence or whatever
Eddie was VERY good tonight. His holdup play and work rate were the best I’ve seen from him. I’ve always thought he was a decent but somewhat limited player. Tonight he showed me a new level that I did not know he had.
I was in London between Mar 2022 and Oct 2022. I saw ALL Arsenal home games except the win over Villa during that period.
I leave London and Wenger visits the Emirates! I am a bit frustrated at myself but the win was fantastic!
Oh I wished to have sung ‘One Arsene Wenger’ with the Emirates faithful.
Eddie still has a long way to go but his improvement is encouraging. A couple of years ago you wouldn’t have found him doing as much off the ball. But he has definitely levels up and got more physical. For much of the game I was feeling he was inexperienced enough to handle the defenders and the way he always dribbles by retreating back towards hood own half is frustrating when you know he has pace and probably enough skill to turn. But that will come with time. For now solid performance will do for me. Well done eddie
Love Wenger n his brand of football despite the limited budget for 22 years. Invincible team nver to be repeated by anyone!! Finally his former captain is continuing his legacy.
Thrilled to see Wenger in the stands on a day the boys produced an assured performance that made the Hammers look ordinary. Proud to be a Gunner. Those who are thinking of Arsenal collapsing have another thing coming.
How fantastic for The GREAT Arsene Wenger to return to the club he loves so much and be rewardedin all those ways, great result, great fan reaction. Welcome home Arsene, now will you please come visit Meadow Park ? 😊🙏
I wonder, if asked again, whether Wenger would say Arteta was one of his best signings? He helped steady the ship when he joined, fell in love with arsenal and is now leading us to better times after a post-wenger rocky patch!!!
Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, the best trolley dash of all time.
Thank you for the boxing day present Arsenal. Make no mistake, the team on the pitch are Wenger’s boys. His blood runs through Arteta’s veins, all the way through Hale End. Merci Arsenal, Merci Arsene.
Gave me goose bumps when I saw Arsene in the emirates again and the fans started singing only one Arsene Wenger,
So happy to see Arsene Wenger in the box. Eddie delivered on the night. Wish him more successes. Saka’s lovely touches. Ummmmm Delicious!!!
Nice to see him back at The Emirates but he was right to stay away as he did because he clearly didn’t want to be a distraction to Arteta and his staff’s work in rebuilding the team. Now that Arteta is fully settled in, the team is moving along nicely, and AW has a high profile job elsewhere, I think it’s a good time to return as a guest of the club.