In a couple of hours time, it will be 19 years to the day since Arsenal signed arguably the greatest all-round midfielder these shores have ever seen – the one-man midfield that was Patrick Vieira.
The Frenchman’s reported desire to leave the club on a couple of occasions at the start of the new millennium obviously plays a role in this, but I think on the whole, Paddy’s influence on our success in his time with the club perhaps isn’t quite afforded the acclaim it deserves. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s the impression I often get and certainly in comparison to the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.
Anyway, as we approach the anniversary of his arrival, Arsene Wenger has been speaking about the vital role he played in Vieira’s capture, despite not being manager of the club at the time. Speaking to Arsenal Player, he said:
I knew him very well because he played his first game with Cannes against Monaco in a post-season friendly. He played against one of my players who was quite tough and he dominated him physically. He was 17 years old at the time and I said after the game that this player would make a big career. I wasn’t wrong there. I had a big hand in [signing him], yes. I did it from Nagoya. I think he trusted me because when I called him on the phone, he was in Amsterdam to sign for Ajax. He was in Holland, he was there to sign but I knew his agents. I spoke to Patrick and said, ‘Please, stop. Come to Arsenal.’ They were waiting at a hotel to go to the headquarters of the club to sign and I could just stop it. The next morning, he flew from Amsterdam to London. My whole history could have changed [without convincing him to join Arsenal]. That’s the coincidence and the luck in life. I just had the right luck to intervene at the right moment.
Of all the successful signings Arsene’s made in his tenure at the club, Vieira for me, remains the pick. Not only was he a complete midfielder of the highest calibre, he was a leader’s leader whose qualities we haven’t come close to adequately replacing since his departure.
But one man who is certainly making a good fist of replicating Vieira’s authority in the middle of the park at the moment is his compatriot Francis Coquelin. Of course Coquelin doesn’t have the height or rangy ball carrying capabilities of Paddy in his prime, yet he does share a certain tenacity and ball-winning prowess.
Unfortunately last Sunday, Coquelin, like may of his colleagues in fairness, seemed to forget their lines and contrived to let West Ham win at Emirates Stadium with relative ease. But the midfielder says the squad have heard the alarm bells loud and clear and are determined to use the loss as a spring board for future success, starting at Selhurst Park on Sunday:
It’s been a wake-up call for everyone. Considering the recent results we had before that, going really well in pre-season, it’s disappointing and it was not an Arsenal performance. However, in bad things, good things can come out too. It’s good that it happened in the first game so that now we can pull ourselves together with 37 games left. We’ve got time to put things right and that needs to start on Sunday. Everybody realises that we need to put more in. When you look at different teams I think a lot of them are ready. You look at Manchester City when they played against West Brom, I think they played really good football. We need to pull ourselves together and it’s going to be a real test on Sunday because Crystal Palace have a really good squad. We know the quality we have and we need to respond straight away. We’ve been working really hard in training and we need to put all of the training effort into the game.
And speaking of our next game, the manager has revealed the latest team news, which sees Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin declared fit and ready to play, with Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck all still on the treatment table.