Premier League • England

Huge Arsenal transfer miss confirmed by player in eye-opening interview; star makes big Prem admission

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, Ruben Neves

Mikel Arteta tried to sign Ruben Neves for Arsenal

Ruben Neves has revealed he was close to joining Arsenal and Barcelona before he ended up at Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, while the star has also spoken about a potential return to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Neves was on Wolves’ books between 2017 and 2023. In that time, he scored 30 goals in 253 appearances and helped the West Midlands side achieve promotion from the Championship before going on to qualify for the Europa League.

The central midfielder’s classy performances were crucial to Wolves disrupting the top seven and he was named captain of the club in August 2022 when previous skipper Conor Coady left for Everton.

As Neves had established himself as one of the Premier League’s most reliable midfielders while at Wolves, he was repeatedly linked with a move to one of their top-flight competitors.

The Portugal star emerged as a prime midfield target for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal, while he was also tipped to sign for Barca.

However, neither Arsenal or Barca managed to finalise Neves’ signing, which forced him to consider a surprise move to the Middle East. Al-Hilal paid Wolves £47million to land him last summer.

DON’T MISS: Arsenal devastated as Man Utd backed to land vital Gunners man in transformative deal

During an in-depth interview with Portuguese outlet O Jogo, Neves said: “I was close to three clubs and finally it didn’t happen, which saddened me and helped me make the decision to go to Al-Hilal.

“I didn’t want to name names, but Barcelona was one of the hottest and it wasn’t a lie. It almost happened, as happened with Arsenal. Then there was another club outside of England.

Ruben Neves ‘hardened’ by failed Arsenal, Barcelona transfers

“These were events that accumulated and then, with this golden opportunity [Saudi Arabia], I had no doubts in accepting it. I was already hardened by transfers that do not happen.”

Neves also spoke about the quality of the Saudi top flight, which has been criticised in the past 12 months.

“Playing in Saudi Arabia doesn’t make me feel any different compared to my colleagues in Europe,” the 26-year-old added.

“My physical ability is great. I’m on track to one day be able to return to Europe and play at the highest level. But, to be honest, I don’t plan to go back soon. Following this path, Saudi Arabia could have one of the most important leagues in the world within two years.

“There is no secret: the quality of the players who arrive is very high. If each team goes for eight foreigners of that level, this almost becomes a PlayStation championship, in which we can choose the players as we wish. I think that I will be here in two years and, who knows, even a little longer.”

Attention then turned to Wolves, where Neves was regarded as a hero before his departure.

The player admitted he would love to go back to Molineux, though this would be a one-time visit rather than a permanent return.

Star has ‘enormous affection’ for Wolves

“I think I did a good job at Wolverhampton. It was six very good and happy years. I have enormous affection for the club, which is the one I have followed most since I came here, along with Porto,” he said.

“I had a lot of affection for the players, for the people who work there, for the city… I often tell my wife that, if I have a longer break, I want to go back there to feel the stadium and the people. I was very loved.”

Neves was then quizzed about which Wolves stars he is still in contact with.

“Pedro Neto is one of the people I talk to the most,” he replied. “I have a lot of contact with him. Him, Nelson Semedo, Jose Sa… They’re friends we don’t lose.

“I follow almost every Wolves game and I’m very happy with what they’ve been doing. They’re all in great shape, which is good for them, for the club and for Portugal.”

READ MORE: Why Arsenal should do everything to sign Ajax ace and confirmed target Jorrel Hato