MIKEL ARTETA first realised his football obsession was not normal ten years ago.
Three hours after his wife, Lorena, had given birth to their first child, Arteta was lying alongside her in the private hospital room.
While the ex-Miss Spain cuddled baby son, Gabriel, Arteta was stretched out on a treatment table receiving physio on a knee injury.
He said: “We laugh about it now but Lorena wanted to kill me at the time.
“She told me ‘surely you can miss one day of treatment’ but my feeling was that no, I couldn’t.
“It was so important for my knee and I’d already lost eight hours.
“I’d love to be able to put things more into perspective but it’s just the way I approach my job.”
And if that story does not alert Arsenal’s underperforming stars to the level of dedication which is going to be expected of them from now on, nothing will.
Pep Guardiola instantly recognised a kindred spirit when he asked Arteta to become his Manchester City assistant in 2016.
Two graduates of Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy spurred each other on with a single-minded pursuit of perfection during the most successful period of the club’s history.
But now Arteta, 37, has decided the time is right to strike out on his own and establish his football philosophy as a head coach.
And he could hardly have taken on a tougher opening challenge than a return to the club where he ended his playing career.
The Spanish midfielder never made any secret of his long-term ambitions during his five seasons at Arsenal, where he was regularly referred to as ‘coach’ by team-mates who would joke about his intense attitude to the game.
He virtually ran the dressing room during his final years as Arsene Wenger’s club captain and was not that impressed with the manager’s failure to address the team’s defensive problems.
Only three players — Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Calum Chambers — remain at the Emirates from Arteta’s playing days.
And it is Ozil who will most need to change his ways if he is going to survive the shake-up heading his way.
It was back in 2014 that Arteta first envisaged his move into management.
He added: “My philosophy will be clear. I will have everyone 120 per cent committed, that’s the first thing. If not, you don’t play for me.”
Arteta is well aware of exactly what Ozil can and cannot do. But if he does not show the basic commitment required, he is as good as finished.
The £350,000-a-week German did not exactly help himself with last Sunday’s hissy fit when he was subbed by interim boss Freddie Ljungberg after yet another anonymous display.
Arteta, watching like a hawk from the opposition dugout as City strolled to a 3-0 win at the Emirates, has noted Ozil’s petulance.
Nor will he be impressed by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brother publicly questioning his appointment on social media this week.
Now Arteta will seek to establish whether the club’s £60million top scorer shares the family indifference to his arrival.
And if he does not get the answers he wants, Aubameyang, too, could quickly find himself sidelined in favour of someone who does buy into the process.
The former Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Rangers and Everton midfielder knows there is no time to find his feet.
He is inheriting a team with one win in their last 12 games and currently behind the likes of Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and Wolves in the Premier League.
But with home games against Chelsea and Manchester United in the next two weeks, he has an immediate opportunity to start closing the seven-point gap on the fourth-placed Blues.
Arsenal’s board have acted swiftly to appoint a full-time boss because they are convinced it is still not too late to salvage their season.
Arteta’s target for 2020 will be to secure European qualification and hopefully win the FA Cup and Europa League.
His first game in charge will be at Bournemouth on Boxing Day but he will be studying his players at Goodison tomorrow lunchtime.
Arteta knows ex-Everton team-mate Duncan Ferguson will whip the crowd into a frenzy in what is likely to be his last match as temporary boss.
How Arsenal cope with that huge test of character will give the Spaniard huge insight into which players can be relied on going forward.
In the dying weeks of Unai Emery’s time at the club, too many senior stars went missing and used the growing uncertainty as a cover to shirk their responsibilities.
But there will be no hiding place with Arteta in charge.