Comparing existing players and managers to their predecessors is a natural starting point for any supporter trying to gauge the qualities and potential of what’s in front of them.
At Arsenal, Patrick Vieira’s name inevitably comes up when the club signs a new midfielder, centre-backs are measured up for Tony Adams-esque leadership qualities and strikers are burdened by the achievements of incredible poachers and hitmen from the archives.
It’s a game of real-life Top Trumps where those who’ve had a chance to secure legend status start with an unfair points advantage while new faces either play catch-up, starting from nothing or try to live up to expectations built elsewhere.
Basically, it’s pretty unfair. But according to Mikel Arteta, it’s something you just have to face up to when you join a big club.
“When you get that comparison, you have to accept it straight away,” he said of Arsenal midfielders being compared to Patrick Vieira, captain of the ‘Invincibles’ and World Cup winner.
“If you don’t win three or four Premier League titles, you are always going to be worse than the previous one because he’s already done it and you have just started.
“For three or four years, prepare yourself that you are not going to be as good with every comparison because it’s impossible to achieve it in three weeks.
“Then just focus on what you are as a player, what you’re asked to do by your manager and be yourself and don’t try to be anyone else.”
While Vieira achieved so much so quickly as an Arsenal player that he was never really burdened with comparisons with other players, as a fledgling manager his challenge, like Arteta’s, is to step out of the shadow cast by Arsene Wenger.
“You have no choice [but to accept it],” said Arteta. “You have the choice to say, ‘No, I won’t take that job because they are going to compare me’ but if you love what you do and feel capable of achieving what you think you can achieve for that club and what they are demanding you to do overall, then it’s your decision to take it on.
“I think we were all guided and in a way, as well, feel in a different way about the game because we had Arsene as a manager. He started the fire in us to become a coach, and not just me or probably Patrick, but many others, in his way of treating everybody at the club with how he felt about the game.”
So far, Arteta has been impressed with the way Vieira has tackled his new challenge at Selhurst Park. Sacked by Nice in December 2020, the 47-year-old was a surprise appointment by the Eagles in the summer following the departure of Roy Hodgson. Like his peer in the Gunners dugout, Vieira took on a multi-faceted challenge, including the rebuild of an ageing squad with an artisanal style of football.
“He’s proposing a different style of play, very different compared to what Roy [Hodgson] used to do,” said Arteta.
“They are much more dominant, they play in a different formation, we can see some young players stepping up and really having a contribution and he’s establishing the team that he wants. Then, it’s like anybody, you need the results to back that up.”
While Vieira and Arteta were simultaneously on the books of City Football Group – the holding company that owns Manchester City and nine other clubs around the world – it turns out their paths haven’t crossed very often. Vieira left his role in charge of Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad for the head coach role at New York FC in 2016, just as Arteta became Pep Guardiola’s assistant.
“People talked really highly of him,” said Arteta when asked if he’d built much of a relationship with Vieira.
“I met him a couple of times but I haven’t spent a lot of time with him to tell you more information, but everything I heard about Patrick, whether here or at City, has always been very, very positive.”
For his part, Vieira appears similarly impressed by Arteta. He even went so far as to compare him with Didier Deschamps, who captained France to World Cup success in 1998 before doing the same as coach in 2018.
“He is somebody who understood that, when he was playing, going into a managerial area was something he wanted to,” Vieira said of Arteta.
“The way he was playing on the field, talking a lot with his players, he reminds me of Didier Deschamps of the French national team.
“When he was playing you knew Didier was going to be a manager. Arteta is in the same mindset.”
Vieira also said he’s been impressed by the way Arteta has managed to turn things around at Arsenal this season after a rocky start.
“He did everything in the right way. I think when he was under pressure he did really well as he’s always been calm and composed.
“You get criticised because you don’t win the first couple of games, then you’re the manager of the month because you win a couple of games. This is the industry we’re in.
“What is important is he is doing really well, he can focus on what he can control like how the team play, keeping going and trying to change things around.”