Remembering Arsenal’s Senegalese Powerhouse and Highbury Hero

This week’s trip down memory lane takes us back to 1996 when a young French colossus made a stunning debut changing the game for The Arsenal, when coming on as a substitute to dominate the midfield, which he continued to do for nine fantastically successful years. One of the first names on my team sheet when I select my best all time Arsenal side. The latest Highbury Hero is none other than Patrick Vieira.

Paddy was a phenomenal midfield powerhouse for The Arsenal. The saying “But could he do it on a cold wet Tuesday at Stoke” could never be applied to Vieira as he most certainly could! He thrived in the testing competitiveness and physicality of the Premiership giving as good as he got.

Standing at a towering 6 foot 4 inches he was such a formidable player. He was brilliant at sticking out one of his long telescopic legs to wrap his foot round the ball to take it off an opposing player. He was effective in the air and had great control. Paddy could delicately flick the ball over an opposition players head then power away from them and he was also an astute passer of the ball, with an excellent range with great vision and although he wasn’t a prolific scorer Patrick got his fair share of goals and some of them were spectacular as he had a powerful shot as part of his armoury. A lot of his goals tended to come in important matches as well.

A lot of people make the mistake of calling him a defensive midfielder but he was really more of a box to box player, who would come back and sit in front of the back four to give more protection to the defence if they were under the cosh. His long stride and powerful running took him gracefully up and down the pitch. He was so strong I remember once we played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and about four Chelsea players tried to stop him driving at their defence and they just seemed to literally bounce off him one after another, as he majestically powered his way past them.

He was so competitive with a massive winning mentality that sometimes spilled over on the pitch and led to disciplinary problems. He ended up getting sent off 10 times for Arsenal. Although the opposition used to bait him and the referees seemed to be gunning for him as well. But it was part of his make up and he wouldn’t have been the warrior and leader that he was if you tried to take that edge out of his game.

Patrick was born in Dakar, Senegal on 23rd June 1976 and moved to France when he was eight years old. He started his career at Cannes, making his debut at 17 and was captain at 19, by the time he left for AC Milan in the summer of 1995. However he only made two appearances for the Italian giants and spent most of the time on the bench.

Before Arsene Wenger officially joined Arsenal as manager the first thing he told David Dein and the Board to do was sign Patrick. He arrived at Arsenal in August 1996, when Arsenal paid just £3.5 million for his services. I remember him making his debut at Highbury against Sheffield Wednesday, on 16th September 1996, coming on as a substitute for Ray Parlour in the second half. We were 1-0 down at half time and ended up winning 4-1, with Wrighty scoring a hat-trick, but it was Paddy who transformed the game. We couldn’t believe how good he was and he stayed in the side for the rest of the season.

The 1997-98 season was Patrick’s first full season, he was the heartbeat of the side, forming a great midfield partnership with fellow French international Emmanuel Petit. Paddy played a big part in hunting down Manchester United’s 12 point lead and securing the Double that season, with memorable goals against Manchester United and Newcastle United at Highbury along the way.

Our superb French midfield duo

Our superb French midfield duo

The following season Arsenal came within a whisker of winning consecutive Doubles as the intense bitter rivalry with Manchester United continued. At the heart of the fight for supremacy was the midfield battles between Paddy and Roy Keane. We finished just a single point behind United and were a Dennis Bergkamp penalty away from knocking them out of an epic semi-final replay at Villa Park. As United went on to win the treble.

Vieira and Keane clash

Vieira and Keane clash

1999-00 was a disappointing season for both Arsenal and Vieira. Arsenal finished up runners-up to Manchester United 18 points behind them. It was also the season Paddy was sent off against West Ham United at Upton Park, after a second yellow for fouling Paolo Di Canio. He then Infamously spat at Neil Ruddock, who’d provoked Paddy by running over and barging into him, then Paddy had to be practically dragged from the pitch, for which he received a six game ban and a record £45,000 fine. Patrick also missed a spot kick, hitting the post in the penalty shoot out that we lost against Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.

At the start of the 2000-01 season Vieira was sent off in the first game of the season against Sunderland away, then in the very next game at Highbury against Liverpool, Paddy again got his marching orders. I was genuinely concerned at the time that he may be driven out the English game by a combination of our opponents, referees and the media.

But Paddy was such a strong character he rose above it. Going on to score the equaliser in the FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford against Tottenham, before we were robbed by Liverpool and the referee in the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff where we lost 2-1, after being ahead with a great goal from Freddie Ljungberg. How we lost I’ll never know as we absolutely murdered Liverpool that day.

Paddy holds off two Liverpool players

Paddy holds off two Liverpool players

There were strong rumours in May 2001 that Alex Ferguson and Manchester United were trying to lure Paddy away to Old Trafford. But Arsenal stood firm, made Paddy vice-captain and better times were on the way.

Patrick was again outstanding as Arsenal won the Double for the third time in their history beating Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup Final in Cardiff, with superb goals from “It’s only Ray Parlour” and Freddie Ljungberg. Symbolically Tony Adams and Patrick lifted the trophy together. It was TA’s final game for The Arsenal and he was handing over the captain’s armband to Paddy.

Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira lift the FA Cup together in 2002

Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira lift the FA Cup together in 2002

On the Wednesday Vieira led us into battle against Manchester United at Old Trafford and revenge was sweet as Arsenal played United off the park to win the title and complete the Double with a Wiltord goal. United tried to kick Arsenal out the game, but it didn’t work and regaining the Title from United at their own ground has gone down as one of the great nights in Arsenal’s history.

Paddy celebrates winning the Title and clinching the Double with Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell

Paddy celebrates winning the Title and clinching the Double with Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell

There was more transfer speculation again about Patrick in the summer of 2002, this time from Real Madrid but Patrick signed a four year contract to stay with The Arsenal. We failed to retain our Title as Paddy got injured and missed the run-in where we dropped two points against Bolton Wanderers away, we missed Vieira’s physical presence as Bolton kicked us out the game, then we lost at home to Leeds United. Paddy also missed the FA Cup Final, which Arsenal won 1-0 against Southampton in Cardiff, when Robert Pires got the winner.

Patrick then went on to captain the Invincibles to the Title in 2003-04. And this was also the season when Paddy got sent off in an incident with Ruud Van Nistelrooy, which led to Martin Keown and several other Arsenal players, believing that Van Nistelrooy got Vieira sent off, had a pop at Van Nistelrooy, as the players were leaving the pitch after the United striker had missed a last minute penalty.

The Van Nistelrooy incident

Vieira scored some crucial goals that season, against Chelsea away, the first goal against Tottenham when we won the League at White Hart Lane for a second time and the winner against Leicester City at Highbury to ensure we went the whole league season unbeaten.

Arsenal clinch the Title for a second time at White Hart Lane

It seemed that Vieira was finally on his way to Real Madrid in the summer of 2004. But Paddy did a u-turn and stayed at Arsenal saying “I’m staying at the club, I’m proud to be captain of the club and I’m looking forward to achieving my ambitions”. This was to be Patrick’s last season with The Arsenal. But controversy was never far away as Paddy was involved in yet another infamous incident in February 2005, when he had a bust up with Roy Keane in the tunnel at Highbury before they’d even got on the pitch!

The bust up with Roy Keane in the tunnel at Highbury

Patrick went out with style when his final kick of a ball in an Arsenal shirt in his final game for the club was the winning penalty against old rivals Manchester United to win the FA Cup in a penalty shoot out in Cardiff. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.

Paddy wins the FA Cup for The Arsenal in 2005

Patrick was finally sold by Arsenal in the summer of 2005. Ironically this time it was the club that wanted to sell Paddy. He joined Juventus for £13.75 million and they won the Scudetto in his first season but the club were stripped of the title due to match fixing.

While at Juventus Paddy returned to Highbury to play against his old club in the Champions League quarter-final. Arsenal won 2-0 on the night with goals from Paddy’s successor Cesc Fabregas and Thierry Henry and a 0-0 in Turin was enough to knock them out the tournament. Nine hard physical seasons in the Premiership had taken its toll on Paddy and I was shocked when Robert Pires of all people went in on a fifty fifty tackle with Vieira and came away with the ball! It seemed us Arsenal fans had seen the best of Paddy and Arsene had made the right decision to sell him.

Vieira in the black and white stripes of Juventus with Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas

Vieira in the black and white stripes of Juventus with Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas

Juventus were deducted 17 points for match-fixing and the “Old Lady” demoted to Serie B. Vieira joined Inter Milan for less than half the fee Juventus had paid Arsenal and Paddy went on to win three successive scudettos at Inter in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Paddy in the black and blue colours of Inter Milan

Paddy in the black and blue colours of Inter Milan

He returned to England to join Manchester City in January 2010 and link up again with Roberto Mancini, the manager that had signed him for Inter Milan. His final swan song before hanging up his boots was when he came on as a substitute for Manchester City against Stoke City in the 2011 FA Cup Final when Paddy added yet another FA Cup Winners medal to his collection. Patrick is presently the head coach of New York City FC.

Patrick playing for Manchester City

Patrick playing for Manchester City

Patrick also had a long and highly successful international career with France. He won 107 caps for them scoring 6 goals. He won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euros in 2000. He made his debut against Holland in 1997 and played his last match for France in 2009 against Nigeria.

Paddy on international duty for France

Paddy on international duty for France

Paddy played 406 times for The Arsenal and scored 33 goals. Though he flirted with leaving Arsenal he stayed for nine years and we had him for the peak years of his career. Along with Dennis Bergkamp Paddy played a part in all Arsene Wenger’s triumphs in the first half of his managerial reign. He was a magnificent player and captain for The Arsenal and if I could bring back any player at their peak to play for the current Arsenal side it would a toss up between Paddy and Tony Adams.

A great compilation of Patrick Vieira

Thanks for the wonderful memories Paddy. “Vieira whoooh Vieira whoooh he comes from Senegal he played for Arsenal Vieira whoooh Vieira whoooh”.

As always thanks for reading. Another Highbury Hero will be coming your way again soon.

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One Response to Remembering Arsenal’s Senegalese Powerhouse and Highbury Hero

  1. Victor Thompson April 21, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks again Gary for reviving wonderful memories. I am glad that you mentioned Petit. I cannot think of Paddy without Petit`s name being conjoined with him. As a pairing, I think they were the best half back partnership we ever had. One notable effect they had was that Keane was never as influential for Utd. when they played.

    Along with Tony Adams they were a fearsome opposition for any team and we shall probably never see their like again.

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