When the Celtic manager was coach at Ipswich he had such an admiration for Arsene Wenger’s teams and their style that he would regularly jump aboard the nearest service from Suffolk to Highbury to watch the Gunners play against the great and good of European football.

Now the continent’s premier club competition has given him the ideal platform to see how his new-look Celtic side measures up.

“For two or three years on the bounce they were in the group stage and beyond,” Mowbray said. “So I had maybe five or six games a season watching Arsenal in the Champions League. It was just for my own education. I am a guy who likes to soak up football really. Whenever I can watch and learn, that is what I try to do.”

Even now, the names still trip off the tongue. “Bergkamp, Vieira, Petit, Henry drifting left, Pires and Ljungberg driving in off the sides, Tony Adams, they were a great team,” Mowbray gushes.

“The ease with which they could dispatch some of Europe’s biggest clubs was inspiring really. We need to take that mentality into this game. We are playing 11 guys in red shirts on Tuesday night. We can’t get over-hyped by Arsenal, what it stands for and the history.”

The intervening years have done little to dampen the enthusiasm of the mutual appreciation society between Mowbray and the mercurial Frenchman. When the pair locked horns last season -- Arsenal beating Mowbray’s West Brom 1-0 at the Emirates then 3-0 at the Hawthorns -- Wenger said nice things about the style of football employed by Mowbray’s side. The Celtic manager last night reciprocated by claiming those who criticise Wenger’s four trophyless years should be careful what they wish for.

“I am not sure there are many people who know Arsene well,” Mowbray said. “He is a very private man but we have spoken many times. The bottom line is that he is a very impressive individual. I sometimes hear Arsenal fans saying the end of his time is coming because we want to win now, but I think clubs like Arsenal should be very careful what they wish for.”

In any case imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If Mowbray is to be successful at Celtic Park, it will be achieved very much via the Wenger prototype. Mowbray purrs about the London club’s ability to “move quickly to the point of weakness”, how the only backwards passes the players employ are merely a precursor to another one forward, and how Wenger has stamped his “identity” on the club. Crucial to that is sticking to your principles when a bigger, stronger side such as Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn.

“They become targets for criticism on days they lose some goals from set- pieces, free-kicks and direct football but he doesn’t waver,” Mowbray said. “He keeps playing and doing what he believes in and invariably those teams that can beat him on any given day he still finishes 20 points ahead of them because of the quality of his footballers.

“I try to give my teams an identity and bring a philosophy of play. I believe the only true way to go forward and have a consistency of performance is to sell the players a product they buy into and believe. You can’t continually give them mixed messages; tell them one thing and completely throw it out and start again the next week.”

The only problem is that rather than admiring Arsenal’s standard of play, this time the new Celtic boss has to come up with a way of beating them. And that means declining the invitation to take them on at their own game; keeping it tight enough to avoid that dreaded away goal, but still being positive when they have the ball.

Tuesday night’s qualifier will be an exercise in tightrope walking.

“I don’t think we can take them on in an open, expansive match,” Mowbray said. “But no-one said that is what we need to do. I watched Manchester United play Barcelona last year and from the kick-off they understood that they couldn’t play their normal game. Every team changes their tactics, that doesn’t mean they change their philosophy.”

Celtic’s cause is at least helped by injuries to the likes of Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott and the fact that early season appears to find many of their strikers in decent form. Georgios Samaras is one in question, the Greek international striker having scored the clinching goal against Dynamo Moscow in the previous round.

Samaras is another paid-up member of the Arsenal fan club, not least because he knows Robin van Persie well from their time as two of the most highly rated young players in the Dutch league at Heerenveen and Feyenoord respectively. Having said all that, he believes the tie is 50/50 and wonders how the Highbury club will deal with the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to Manchester City.

“Arsenal are one of the biggest teams, not just in Europe but in the world,” Samaras said. “You can write many pages about Arsenal but we must be strong enough mentally and physically to take our chances.

“I know Arsenal will miss Adebayor and Toure. I want to see how they are going to cope, who they are going to play at the back and up front.

“I know Van Persie really well. I’m two years younger than him. I was playing for Heerenveen when he won the Uefa Cup with Feyenoord. He’d have been 19 and I was 17 but he had the talent even then. He has played at the top level for many years. The talent helps you until you are 19, 20 but then you need something else. He had that.”

Samaras -- who paid tribute to the “calmer” approach Mowbray exhibited in defeat to Moscow than his predecessor Gordon Strachan -- is a changed man from the figure who struggled for great spells last season. Not least because for most of that time he was playing in discomfort after the first knee surgery of his life. Suffice to say such nuances were lost on the wider public.

“Last year was the first time that I had an operation,” Samaras said. “For two or three months I wasn’t feeling like myself. I worked really hard over the summer to put the strength back into my leg.

“I feel well in my body and I hope I stay healthy to help my team reach its targets. People on the outside never know what happens through the week. They see only the game -- that is normal. I really don’t bother about the criticism because I know better than anyone how I have played.”

Although Marc-Antoine Fortune and Scott McDonald may start -- or just one of the above -- Samaras showed in Moscow he can make an impact in just 10 minutes on the field. Then there will be the vociferous sell-out crowd, light years away from the Emirates, which has been compared to a library.

And big-name Arsenal players don’t always shine at Celtic Park. Just ask Mowbray’s one time team-mate Martin Hayes.