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comment Mikel Arteta’s vision for Arsenal is finally taking shape – can he buck trend of players failing at their old clubs?

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Mikel Arteta has weathered the storm at Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has weathered the storm at Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has weathered the storm at Arsenal

Recently, it has been a bad time for successful players seeking to become established managers at the clubs where they made their name.

When Frank Lampard returned to Chelsea, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over at Manchester United and Andrea Pirlo assumed the management position at Juventus, their boards hoped they would follow the template of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.

Guardiola’s success started a trend with more clubs believing the answer to their problems lay in their legends suite. Would so many high-profile ex-players be getting those plum jobs so soon into their coaching career but for Pep? Unfortunately for them, the bar set at the Nou Camp was so high, it has been virtually impossible to match Guardiola.

Only Zinedine Zidane, who never gets anywhere near enough credit for transforming an underperforming Real Madrid side into three-time Champions League winners, has been successful at that elite level.

Elsewhere, there is an expectation Steven Gerrard will eventually return to Liverpool, and if Patrick Vieira succeeds at Crystal Palace and beyond, you can imagine the clamour of Arsenal fans to see a romantic homecoming.

Xavi Hernández, one of my favourite footballers of the last 30 years, has just returned to the Nou Camp in the belief he will revive the club. I really hope he does, but it is wrong that he will be expected to be amazing immediately.

Xavi has turned down the opportunity before because he was waiting for the right time. Others felt they had no choice but to grasp a brilliant offer when it was put to them, but they took on the responsibility too soon.

A lot of this is rooted in sentiment more than logic. There is no reason why a playing legend is more qualified to become a coach at their former club than anyone else. Fans and owners can be influenced by happy memories, clinging to a glorious past in a broadly irrational belief the presence of a club hero will lead to an equally successful future.

Whenever such reunions are announced, we hear a lot of PR about the ex-player ‘knowing the club’, as if that will make them more qualified to manage a squad of 22 vastly different skill-sets and personalities.

Knowing the club obviously helps a bit. Every new coach needs to understand the style of football demanded by the fans, and have a sense of the history and culture of the area they are working in, but that should not require much homework for anyone with no previous attachment to their new place of work.

They should make it a priority to ‘know the club’ before they apply for the job, and be fully immersed within a matter of days. If they don’t, they’re probably in the wrong business.

Some of the greatest, most successful managers – whether Bill Shankly at Liverpool, Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, or Arsène Wenger at Arsenal – had no prior connection to the clubs they transformed.

So the benefits of being an ex-player going back to manage your old club are generally overplayed, and – as many high-profile examples demonstrate – nostalgia will not get you far if results and performances are not up to scratch.

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Mikel Arteta knows that as much as any current Premier League coach.

There will be those who will argue Arteta should be included in the group alongside Lampard, Pirlo and Solskjaer as a notable ex-player struggling to prove he is an elite coach at the club he played for.

There have been occasions when he has seemed under intense pressure and a couple of games from losing the faith, if not of his board, certainly the Arsenal fans.

But I have never seen Arteta in quite the same way as those others. Yes, he is a former Arsenal player, but with respect not a legend in the same way as the other three were to Chelsea, United and Juventus.

To me, when Arteta was offered the Arsenal job his connection to the club was secondary to him being mentored by Guardiola at Manchester City.

First and foremost, he is seen as a modern coach who understands how the game is evolving rather than someone steeped in the Arsenal tradition.

That is more important than any emotional attachment to a former player because Arteta is constantly being judged solely on the quality of his work as opposed to Solskjaer who – and I mean this with the greatest respect – has been given more time than others would have been given results and performances because he is loved so much by the supporters.

That puts Arteta in a more credible and secure position as we have started to see an upturn in results and performances, Arsenal winning eight of their last ten Premier League games.

There is a remarkable statistic that he actually won more of his first 100 fixtures (54) than Wenger did (51). We should treat this with caution, of course. Wenger did not play so many Europa League games in his first three seasons.

Nevertheless, those wins for Arteta still include an FA Cup and notable victories against high-class teams like Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool, and he inherited a much weaker squad than his predecessors. To collect a major trophy and win the Community Shield in such a transitional period is an achievement.

More encouraging is the side’s development, Arteta’s vision gradually starting to be realised.

A year ago, Arsenal had just 13 points from 11 games, sitting in 15th after six defeats.

Victory at Anfield today would take them above Liverpool and make them genuine top four contenders.

They may be already given Manchester United’s enduring problems. Fourth spot looks up for grabs this season.

Facing Liverpool is a good barometer of where Arsenal are at, especially when compared to earlier in the season when they took heavy beatings against Chelsea and Manchester City. It is telling that only three players in Arsenal’s line-up for their other defeat – the first game of the season at Brentford – were in the starting XI for their last game, the 1-0 win over Watford.

Having no European football has enabled Arteta to spend more time on the training pitch and lay stronger foundations.

Whatever the result this weekend, it already looks like a different Arsenal to a year ago, the young players like Emile Smith Rowe coming to the fore.

There was a moment during the middle of last season when it felt it still had to get worse before it got better for Arteta as he tried to shift poor signings on big contracts.

Now, the worst might be over and they may be emerging towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

If the improvement continues, Arteta may become the newest flag-bearer for ex-players succeeding at their old clubs.

Executives should be wary, though. It is the quality of the coaching that matters, not whether the man in charge previously wore the badge.

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