By James McNicholas

“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.”
William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar; Act I Scene II

It was September 1996. Arsenal were trailing 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday, and midfield dynamo Ray Parlour was struggling with injury. In his stead, caretaker manager Pat Rice turned to a gangly twenty-year old debutant. Before full-time, I had a new favourite Arsenal player.

Patrick Vieira was unlike anyone I’d seen before in an Arsenal shirt. He was tall with a lean build, yet capable of surprising bursts of power. Most strikingly, he was hugely technically accomplished.

His impact at Arsenal was immediate. I remember one of his early starts at Ewood Park when he took Blackburn apart, playing a one-two with Paul Merson and slipping in Ian Wright with a nonchalant swing of his right foot. In the course of that move, Vieira travelled fully 50 yards in a matter of seconds. Arsenal had a player who could defend, attack, and crucially manage the moment of footballing alchemy which allowed him to transition instantaneously between the two.

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This article appeared on Gunnerblog in February 2013

Arsène Wenger had some idea what he was getting. Prior to taking the reigns at Arsenal, he insisted the club went ahead and bought Vieira from AC Milan, where his career was in danger of stagnation. Wenger had witnessed Vieira’s emergence in the French league, where another of his key qualities had become evident: he was a born leader. Vieira captained Cannes while still in his teens.

It was in summer 1997 that Vieira’s Arsenal career really took off. Arsène brought in Emmanuel Petit from Monaco, and that pair dove-tailed beautifully. I have not seen a better midfield partnership anywhere in football. Both were such complete footballers, able to defend and attack in equal measure. Arsène’s later switch to using three central midfielders is the ultimate compliment to the Vieira-Petit axis: without them, he had to add another player to match their influence.

Throughout that period, there were many stars: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and more. Vieira was the constant. He was the beating heart of the side from the moment he first pulled on the shirt

That season brought the first silverware of Vieira’s time at the club, as the club captured a historic double. They would be the first trophies of many. Vieira’s time at the club is synonymous with glory. He was the figurehead of the first half of Arsène Wenger’s reign.

Between his debut in 1996 and his final appearance in 2005 he was a key figure in lifting three Premier League trophies and four FA Cups. Throughout that period, there were many stars: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell and more. Vieira was the constant. He was the beating heart of the side from the moment he first pulled on the shirt.

And he had so much heart. Vieira was a fighter - sometimes literally. His disciplinary problems became infamous, but they showed an inherent battling spirit. It has become de riguer to lament the modern Arsenal’s lack of leadership and fight on the pitch, but in his day Vieira was a true general.

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Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 21 Feb 2013