Patrick Vieira returns to Arsenal with the Gunners’ still trying to replace the Crystal Palace manager’s presence with Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini and even Mikel Arteta trying and failing
Who would have thought Patrick Vieira’s final penalty for Arsenal in the 2005 FA Cup Final would be followed by a decline in the club’s history?
There is still a void in the Gunners’ midfielder 16 years on with no one able to match the Frenchman’s towering and commanding presence.
The potential replacements couldn’t match his strength, tenacity and intelligence on the ball, including current manager, Mikel Arteta, who played for the club between 2011 and 2016.
The former Arsenal midfielder will be visiting the Emirates for the first time as manager on Monday night.
Vieira arrived at Highbury in 1996 and became the first signing that revolutionised the club under fellow Frenchman Arsene Wenger.
Wenger spotted his talent while he was playing for Cannes, followed by a short stint at AC Milan.
From the moment he wore the Arsenal shirt, Vieira’s ability and determination to thrive in England’s top-flight won the supporters over and formed a formidable partnership with compatriot, Emmanuel Petit.
And, the pair complemented each other’s abilities that laid the foundations for one of the most effective midfield partnerships since the formation of the Premier League.
It later paid dividends and helped the north-London outfit win the league and FA Cup double in the 1997/98 campaign.
The Senegal-born midfielder’s disciplinary problems became apparent. Vieira’s temperament and behavior swiftly improved, whilst balancing his competitive edge.
Although, the World Cup winner was renowned for managing the tempo of the midfield as his key traits. Simply immense and imperious, a midfield rivalry constructed that we could never have thought of, and has lived long over the years.
There wasn’t a better rivalry at the time, other than Manchester United’s Roy Keane and Vieira.
Both sides dominated the league consistently, but their rivalry never faded away. One thing was for certain, the two stars shared the hatred of losing and kept locking horns in the battle of midfield.
Multiple stand-out performances kept on coming, including another double. Then following the retirement of club legend Tony Adams, he inherited the captain’s armband.
He didn’t disappoint and was the engine for further success. Most notably, he captained the team in Arsenal’s 2003/04 invincibles campaign and was instrumental in the team’s success saw him notching some important goals – nobody would forget his dominant midfield display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before notching the equaliser.
The most memorable goal outweighing the rest is the opening goal at Tottenham that helped clinch the title at the White Hart Lane.
However, he stayed for another season at the club and ended his glittering career in north-London on a high.
He scored the winning spot-kick against Manchester United in the FA Cup Final and brought an end to the Keane v Vieira rivalry.
talkSPORT.com reflect back on the profile of midfielders that the club tried to replace the combative midfielder and over the years, which still remains an Achilles’ heel.
Mathieu Flamini (2004-2008/2013-2016)
Appearances: 246 Goals: 13
Flamini arrived at the club after the Invincibles campaign, and was widely regarded for his work ethic and tenacity to play across multiple positions.
The former Marseille midfielder couldn’t live up to expectation to be a regular starter at the club, and later became an established midfield player in the 2007/08 season, alongside Spaniard Cesc Fabregas.
Wenger’s side were left short for the title with 83 points, four points behind eventual champions Manchester United.
He received plaudits for his contribution in his final campaign and joined AC Milan on a free transfer later in the summer.
Flamini rejoined the club in 2013 and fell behind the pecking order – to be mainly used as a squad player.
Abou Diaby (2006-2015)
Appearances: 180 Goals: 19
Diaby joined the Gunners’ as a promising talent in January 2006, and Wenger did highlight he had ‘aspects of Patrick Vieira in his game,’ especially when he shrugs off challenges to marshal the team forward.
His Arsenal career did not come into fruition by enduring a number of injuries that have limited his game time.
There were some memorable performances, most notably in Arsenal’s last victory at Anfield nine years ago – a stellar display earned him a man of the match performance.
In spite of that, further knockbacks came back to haunt him. If he weren’t injury-prone, he could have been a better all-round player than Vieira.
Alex Song (2006-2012)
Appearances: 204 Goals: 10
The Cameroon international never got his Arsenal career going from the start.
He was largely a fringe player that didn’t spark the attention of fans with his early performances.
Song needed game time, so he went on loan to Charlton in 2007.
After returning, he gradually grew in confidence and became an important figure in the team due to high-profile departures of Cesc Fabregas, Kolo Toure and Emmaunel Adebayor to direct rivals.
He took on the role of deep-lying midfielder in his final season, and formed a partnership with Robin van Persie to claim the last Champions League spot.
Mikel Arteta (2011-2016)
Appearances: 150 Goals: 16
The current manager was one of many deadline day signings in the 2011 summer transfer window. Arriving at his peak, he still applied his knowledge and experience to the team when they needed the most.
After Song’s departure to Barcelona, Arteta took the defensive midfielder position – he lacked the pace and physicality for the position.
He was one of the leaders in the team that was a good reader of the game, with his passing distribution and positional play.
A few injuries and the emergence of Francis Coquein limited his game time, before breaking into management.
Francis Coquelin (2008-2018)
Appearances: 160 Goals: 0
The academy graduate didn’t sparkle anything special in his initial stages at the club. Like with many young players, going on loan to Charlton was the best option to restore his confidence.
He featured in Arsenal’s 8-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson pointed out Coquelin’s performance as he was ‘out of his depth’.
Out of nowhere, the club endured an injury crisis in the middle of the 2014/15 season.
They brought back the Frenchman and he produced a solid display in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Man City at the Etihad that silenced critics.
The 30-year-old performances dipped due to Santi Cazorla’s injuries and the reshape of the midfielder due to Grantit Xhaka’s arrival has cost his place in the team.
Lucas Torreira (2018- present/on loan at Fiorentina)
Appearances: 89 Goals: 4
In the post-Wenger era, Unai Emery was appointed as new head coach and brought in a defensive midfielder that the club have been craving for such a long time.
Torreira had impressed in the 2018 World Cup for Uruguay and was quickly snapped up.
He made an impressive start to life at the Emirates and simply loved making last-ditch tackles that brought a smile to the Arsenal fans.
The Uruguay international produced some solid displays and won aerial battles with Liverpool’s Fabinho and Sadio Mane.
Torreira shone in the biggest stage against Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby and registered his first goal for the club in an all-round performance.
The second-half of the campaign saw Emery playing Torreira in an advanced midfield position which he was not accustomed to.
It was the same story for the following season and never rekindled his early form, even under head coach Arteta.
Thomas Partey finally the answer?
The buzz and excitement of Thomas Partey was extraordinary and nobody could have expected the move to happen.
Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown witnessed his full Arsenal debut and delivered a memorable line – “He looks like Patrick Vieira to me.”
A few memorable performances drained away and the former Atletico Madrid man sustained an injury-hit season.
The latter hit again at the beginning of the season and without him, Arsenal were winless.
Partey returned to action in September and built a run of consistent performances – notching an excellent pass in the build up to Aubameyang’s goal vs Norwich.
Solid displays against Burnley and Tottenham reminded the fans about what he can bring to this team going forward.
He’s got big boots to fill in the Arsenal midfield. If he can replicate some of his performances on a consistent basis, then it might bring an end to Arsenal’s problems for now.