Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said he's unsure whether his assistant, Mikel Arteta, would bring improvement at Arsenal amid rumours he's set to take over as manager at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners are 10th in the Premier League after 17 matches and are currently led by interim coach Freddie Ljungberg and his assistant, fellow Arsenal alumnus Per Mertesacker.
Guardiola, 48, spoke at a press conference and referred to the evolution Arsene Wenger brought about after he took charge of Arsenal in 1996, casting some doubt as to whether Arteta could have the same effect:
"I think Arsenal (are) always one of the best teams of the last 20 years. When Arsene (Wenger) took over the team, he raised the club to another level, and now they are struggling a little bit the last years.
"When the club takes a decision to replace the manager or buy players it's always to rise to be better. Whether it's going to happen or not, I don't know.
"You know my opinion about Mikel. He's a professional human being and a person, I don't have doubts about that."
Guardiola described Arteta as an "incredible person" and said his assistant will be part of the squad that travels to Oxford United on Wednesday for their Carabao Cup quarter-final clash, via Reuters:
Arteta, 37, retired at Arsenal in June 2016 and was appointed as one of Guardiola's assistants a month later.
City's chief suggested to reporters on Tuesday, however, that a parting of ways could be imminent:
Guardiola continued to say Arteta "knows we (City) are delighted to work with him" and that the club would like to extend that partnership, but he also acknowledged his staff have their own dreams to pursue:
"I said many times, it's the same with the players, if they have other desires or wishes whatever, what can we do? We are not going to tell him, 'stay, stay stay,' if he doesn't want to stay.
"He knows exactly what we think about him, at the club, after that, we cannot do more. I think the club has done everything and we cannot do any more. If he stays I'd be happy, incredible, because we all work together really well. Hopefully he can feel the same as me or with us.
"If he decides to move I'll wish him all the best, for him, his family and for his professional future. I will beat him! That's a joke. The best of luck."
Arteta made 150 appearances for Arsenal before hanging up his boots. Speculation of a return intensified after Arsenal director Vinai Venkatesham was pictured leaving Arteta's Manchester home in the early hours of Monday morning after City won 3-0 away to the Gunners on Sunday, per the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel.
Wenger, 70, managed Arsenal for 22 years before he stepped down from the helm, and the Frenchman recently gave his view on Arteta's prospects in north London should his former player take over, via AP's Rob Harris:
Despite some scrutiny over the seemingly secret manner in which Arsenal approached their target, Guardiola added: "Mikel was clear with me and that's all. Perhaps there is a problem with the chairmen and the CEOs—they have to talk to each other.”
Wednesday's League Cup quarter-final at the Kassam Stadium could be Arteta's last game as part of City's coaching setup, while Arsenal's next fixture is a visit to Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.