Guardiola too old to play for Arsenal after Barcelona - Wenger
Arsene Wenger says he turned down the chance to sign Pep Guardiola because he was past the prime of his career as a player, and downplayed the Spaniard's impact on modern football ahead of their meeting in Sunday's Carabao Cup final.
Wenger and Guardiola will go head to head at Wembley as Arsenal face Manchester City for the first of two back-to-back games between the clubs. They were originally meant to play each other in the league on Sunday, a game that has now been rescheduled for Thursday at the Emirates.
And it easily could have been a case of master against pupil had things turned out differently nearly two decades ago.
Wenger revealed recently that Guardiola visited his house looking for a move to Arsenal after he left Barcelona back in 2001. But the midfielder had already reached 30 by then and Wenger said his age was a factor in turning him down.
"He was over the top of his career already, and I had top-class players in these positions," Wenger said, but added that he admired Guardiola as a player. "Yes. It was the quality of his decision making, the quality of his distribution, and he played a very quick passing game, which is always our DNA."
Wenger also hailed Guardiola as "a great manager," but said he didn't agree with the notion that the Spaniard has changed the game and raised the bar in modern football.
"No, because you look at Barcelona, they are still the best team in Europe," Wenger said. "You have to accept that the modern game has changed, because there is a regrouping of the best players in a short number of clubs.
"And we as managers maybe we impart our philosophy, but I think this game belongs to the players. Because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before, because you have a regrouping of the best players in a very small number of [teams]."
Guardiola won three straight league titles and two Champions League at Barcelona, then led Bayern Munich to three straight Bundesliga crowns. Now he looks set to secure his first Premier League title in his second season at City, who are also among the Champions League favourites.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are down in sixth place in the Premier League and go into Sunday's final as big underdogs. But the Gunners have won their last six cup games at Wembley, including a semifinal victory over Guardiola's side in last year's FA Cup semifinals.
And Wenger said that record shows that his team have the ability to be at their best in these types of games.
He said: "What it means is that you have enough belief to think you can do it. And that on the day we managed to turn up with the right spirit, the right mentality, the right belief. Because the final is always - of course everybody says you have to be motivated.
"Yes, but it's as well to find the right balance between focus, motivation and [being] relaxed enough to play your game. So that will be the target again, to have the belief but as well to find that right balance.
"The pressure is immense always. But at the end of the day you have to be cool. We have to believe in our quality. And the history, and the fact that we have done it before, shows that why [can we] not win again?"
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.