This edition of Arsenal’s greatest transfers seems to be the most fitting of the lot. A player who bridged the gap between the English core of the 90’s and the foreign contingent of the early 2000’s and is now in management. The reason this all seems fitting is kind of a numbers thing, this is part four of this series, he wore number 4 and as I’m writing this (June 23rd) he’s celebrating his 41st birthday as New York City FC manager. It’s Patrick Vieira, or as I’ve heard a few drunks call him after a game ‘Paddy Vera’.
After spending a couple of years with Cannes and then making only two appearances for AC Milan, we signed Patrick Vieira for just £3.5m, and it’s fair to say that wasn’t such a bad investment. In Vieira’s nine years at Highbury, he won 3 Premier Leagues, 4 F.A. Cups and 4 Community Shields scoring 33 times, as well as adding World Cup and Euro’s winner’s medals to his collection while at the club.
Coming into the Arsenal midfield standing at 6 ft 4 in, unlike many other foreign signings, Vieira was very well built to cope with the physical demands of the Premier League, which I guess was best seen in his well-documented rivalry with Roy Keane and his relentless box-to-box style.
After a solid first season in England helping Arsenal finish 3rd, Vieira’s investment came to full fruition in the 97/98 season, when he formed a great partnership with Emmanuel Petit in the Arsenal midfield to lead us to the league and cup double. He may not have scored many but with both his goals that season being screamers against Manchester United and Newcastle they were definitely worth the wait in exchange for his efforts in midfield.
After winning the World Cup in the summer of ’98, Vieira’s next three years at Arsenal would become very consistent but possibly a tad frustrating in terms of league position. After winning the double in ’98 the next three seasons would see him earn himself a place in the PFA team of the year (which he did six years on the spin) but would only see Arsenal finish 2nd each time. Vieira also won the PFA Player of the year award in 2000/01.
Despite being trophyless, this time period would create good memories to look back on for Vieira, including three North London Derby goals (one of which in an F.A. Cup semi-final), more rocket launchers of goals and one of many ermm… altercations with Roy Keane in 1999, which I don’t think many Arsenal fans would be opposed to still seeing from time to time. That 2000/01 season saw Patrick begin that transformation to the next level, which would see him awarded with captaincy a year later as he scored a career high-at-the-time nine goals as well as improving even more on the physical side.
After interest from Manchester United in the summer of 2001, it was clear that Vieira made the right choice of staying in London as we went on to win our next double. After featuring 54 times for us that season it was clear that a Vieira in his mid-twenties was reaching the top of his game-dominating midfield battles across the country. The best description for that campaign was by Monsieur Vieira himself, just one word, ‘Fantastic’ or should it be ‘Fantastique’?
The next season would see Vieira take on the Arsenal captaincy as Tony Adams retired and who better to do so. However, his first season as captain didn’t quite go to plan. After playing so many games the previous year injuries began to catch up as he’d miss the last month of action which saw Arsenal concede the title to United but still pick up an F.A. Cup triumph.
But unlike 2002/03, 2003/04 would see Vieira become even more influential as he led Arsenal to Invincible status on the pitch. However, one of the pivotal points in that run, despite it being only a month into the season, saw Vieira sent off. That’s right, the Van Nistelrooy incident. After Van Nistelrooy jumped all over him, Vieira was very silly in kicking out at the Dutchman but the reaction was definitely over the top which was probably the reason for Patrick receiving his marching orders. Thankfully we held on for the draw, much to the delight of Martin Keown and co.
The scoring pretty much took care of itself with such firepower up front but all three of Vieira’s goals that year would prove to be crucial as he equalised away at Chelsea after an inch perfect ball from Dennis Bergkamp, put us ahead in the game that saw us clinch the title at White Hart Lane and then confirm the unbeaten season by scoring the winner on the final day of the season against Leicester. Whether it was commanding the midfield, stealing the ball to start attacks or galloping forward himself, his presence was certainly known that year.
Sadly though, after reaching the pinnacle of sport by going a season unbeaten, Vieira would only spend one more year at Arsenal. Like the 2002/03 season, the 2004/05 season would see us finish 2nd and win an F.A. Cup, and if anything, that F.A. Cup final was the perfect goodbye to a club great. After finishing extra goalless against great rivals in Manchester United it was time for a penalty shoot-out, down at the United end unfortunately. After Lauren, Freddie Ljungberg, Robin van Persie, and Ashley Cole had all slotted their penalties, it was time for one more. Up stepped Patrick Vieira, who, with his last kick off a ball for Arsenal, tucked his penalty past Roy Carroll in the United goal before running to Jens Lehmann who had saved a Paul Scholes penalty, and that was it, the Cup was ours.
Who would’ve thought we’d have to wait nine years for another one, buy hey, that’s all in the past now. Looking back at Vieira it’s amazing what he brought to the team in leadership, technique, physicality, and class all in one player, which we haven’t had since his departure. Doesn’t that just show how much him signing for us meant, so thanks for the nine years, 406 games and all the memories Monsieur Vieiera. Anyway hope you enjoyed, I’ll be back next week.