MIKEL Arteta admitted it was a wrench for him to leave Goodison and insisted: “I’ll always have Everton in my heart.”
The Spanish midfielder sealed a last-minute £10m switch to Arsenal on Wednesday night leaving much anger and disappointment on Merseyside.
But Arteta, 29, said he still has mixed emotions about the move, which will see him play in the Champions League at the Emirates, and said Everton have become his family.
The Basque, who spent six seasons at Goodison, said: “A part of me is very happy to go to a great club like Arsenal, but the other part has been hard.
“The last 24 hours, saying goodbye to everyone at Everton and seeing some of the reactions of people I have shared some very good moments with.
“Leaving is a very big thing for me – this was my family and I have seen with those reactions people have with me it was a proper family – starting with the people in the reception, the kit men, the masseurs, everyone. It’s not on the football side it’s on the personal side.
“I got on with everyone so well.
“I want to thank my team mates, every one of them, because they have been absolutely brilliant with me all these years.”
Arteta also had special mention for the supporters who afforded him iconic status, and are still dismayed at his decision to leave, a sadness worsened by the club’s financial plight that made his sale necessary.
“The fans too because I would not have expected to feel that much love from them,” he said. “I know some of them will feel I have not been loyal or whatever, but what I can say is that I have got Everton in my heart, and I’m not going to earn more money, I just think it’s the right time to move.
“Some will get upset but I what I can say is I have given everything I have for Everton. Everything. I could play better or worse but I always gave my best and I made my decision for the best of the club and just thanks a million for their love and support and how they have been with me and my family.”
Arteta, who will wear the number eight shirt at Arsenal, believes David Moyes’ side will still thrive without his creativity.
He said: “I think they have got an unbelievable dressing room, a great manager and they always seem to do something to get in the top half of the table somehow.
“The characters we have got are unbelievable and I am sure Moyes will find a way to get the best out of them, and hopefully they can perform really well.”
Everton sources said they were furious at the late timing of the 29-year-old’s request to leave, which meant David Moyes had no time for use some of the fee to sign a replacement.
But Arteta, who said Arsenal made their interest in him known a few days before his dramatic exit, claimed the deal was the “best option” for himself and Everton.
He said: “We knew a few days before they had interest in me and then everything happened last day and last minute.
“It’s true I met the manager and had five minutes with him and said it’s a great opportunity for me to play in the Champions League and I think the club is in a situation where they need to sell someone.
“The gaffer was fine. He said to me ‘Miky I don’t want to lose you and appreciate everything you have done for me. I cannot stop you going’.
It is understood Arteta took a £20,000 pay-cut to agree to a £55,000-a- week deal with the Gunners, and he insisted chairman Bill Kenwright – who agreed the fee with Arsenal earlier on Wednesday – should not be blamed.
He said: “What they should know is that I know the chairman really well. Realistically he does not want to sell anyone.
“He is a big, big fan and is putting his life into it and was devastated for me to leave. He said ‘Mikel I don’t want to sell you’.
“But they have to in these moments and they don’t want to put the club and the team in a situation where in two or three years they could be in bits.
“It’s part of football. It’s sad and I know the chairman is taking the worst part of it and I really feel sorry for him, but at the same time I know he is trying his best to get the club in the best position he can.
“I don’t want (people) blaming the manager or the chairman. They (Arsenal) put an offer in that was the best option for everyone and I’m 100% sure. I know some will disagree but I’m 100% sure it was the best for everyone with the situation at the minute.”