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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Where did it all start to go wrong for Arsene?
Cast your mind back to the Summer of 2005. We’d had a pretty average season (we had imploded after the Mike Riley-induced defeat at Old Trafford), rounded off by the most fortunate Cup Final victory in our history. As a result we all went off in to the Summer wilderness months with, at least, a bit of silverware to celebrate. The fact that the FA Cup had been won by the boot of our Captain, Patrick Vieira, was a delightful bonus and we were safe in the knowledge that, having committed himself to Arsenal the previous Summer, we could ignore any rumours that he would be leaving. The Summer months in the preceding four or five years had been constantly marred by the “will he, won’t he” stories concerning Vieira and Real Madrid. Since his new contract had been signed there were to be no overtures from the Spaniards this year.
In light of all that it came as something of a shock when it was reported that Arsenal were to sell their most important player, their Captain, to one of their major European rivals. Why were we doing this? What could possibly be the benefit to Arsenal of selling the Captain and inspiration of the Club? Over the past six years I feel we have got the answer to the second of those questions – nothing. Nobody has ever adequately answered the first question.
On the day that Vieira was sold by Arsenal I felt depressed. I just could not understand why, after all the years when we probably expected him to leave through his own desire, Arsenal had taken the decision to sell. I felt that a cloud seemed to envelop the whole Club and the depression hung over the entire final season at Highbury. It seemed that the players were in some kind of malaise throughout that year, even after Juventus had been beaten in the European Cup, with Fabregas dominating Vieira in midfield.
Arsene Wenger, it seems, could see how good Cesc Fabregas was going to be and decided that Vieira was surplus to requirements. My thoughts back then were that it would surely be better to have Vieira and Fabregas together at Arsenal, working in tandem – nothing in the intervening years has led me to change that view. I was also of the opinion that, if Wenger felt Vieira’s legs were going, then he could have been converted in to a very fine centre-half. Vieira was always particularly strong in the air, and we know how he could tackle, so he would have been the ideal answer to what has become something of a conundrum over the past few years. Failing that he could have switched Gilberto Silva to centre-back (where he had played with some success on the odd occasion) with Vieira taking on a more defensive role in the Arsenal midfield.
Since Patrick Vieira was sold by Arsenal we have not had a truly inspirational Captain in our side. The closest we had was when Gilberto replaced the injured Thierry Henry for large parts of the 06-07 season, though his was a Captaincy based on respect rather than following his deeds. In 2005 we lost our tough-tackling midfield general, and genuine hard-man. This element has never been replaced in the Arsenal team. The fact that Arsenal have been seen as a soft-touch over the past few years would not have happened had Patrick still been around. Opposition cloggers would not have been able to take liberties had Vieira still been here – I would even go so far as to say that the broken legs of Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey would probably not have happened had he been on the pitch, such was the fear he struck in to the opponents. Roy Keane backed down from very few people, but he didn’t want a bar of Vieira. Just watch the film of the tunnel incident from February 2005 for evidence – Keane’s “hold me back, boys” routine was fooling nobody.
The point I’m trying to make here is that selling Patrick Vieira is the biggest mistake Arsene Wenger has made as Arsenal Manager. It all started to go wrong from that day forwards. We have never been able to get over the loss of Vieira and, until we sign someone with his qualities both on the ball and as a leader, we will struggle to challenge genuinely for the major prizes.