By Tony Attwood
The first Arsène Wenger signings were made on this day: Remi Garde (on a free transfer) who was signed to be Mr Wenger’s eyes and ears in the changing room, and Patrick Vieira who came as a total unknown for £3.5m. Mr Wenger was still in Japan ending his contract and both players arrived carrying injuries.
Tony Adams did not particularly help the reputation of English football by making the comment about Wenger, having not met him, “He’s French – what does he know about English football?” and we all waited while Pat Rice was stand-in manager.
But Mr Wenger did know Arsenal, and he knew Milan where Vieira played, and he knew Patrick. And he knew Milan were making one hell of a mistake by leaving Patrick to rot in the reserves. So he ordered the club to buy Patrick Vieira which the board dutifully did.
Of course, we’d never heard of him, and a reserve player for that price didn’t sound groundbreaking. We were, frankly, hoping for a bit more.
Worse, as noted above Patrick was injured when he came to us, so we didn’t see him. Which meant we had a manager in Japan, and the signing of an unknown player who was injured.
Anyway, with a team of Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Jensen, Bould, Linighan, Platt, Wright, Parlour, Harston and Merson we knocked Sheff W around to win 4-1 (a Wright hat trick).
Then for his first appearance for Arsenal, on came Patrick as a sub for Platt. And indeed I think as a lot of us watched this man mountain come in, we sat there with mouths open. He took control of the centre, he ran the defence.
That was the impact Patrick made. It was extraordinary from the start. Completely different from Thierry Henry who did not make that great an impact at the beginning of his time with us – Patrick just walked in and took over.
Overall he won three League trophies and four FA Cups. After leaving us he made the awful error of going to Juve, who were relegated for their part in “irregularities”. Patrick played 107 times for France and won the World Cup and Euro 2000 with them. And we had bought him for £3.5m.
Perhaps most of all we remember that Patrick was the captain of the Invincibles – the greatest Arsenal team ever. And to round off my personal tribute, I remember also of course the final game of that amazing season. We had won the league, and just needed a draw against relegated Leicester to become unbeaten. Sir Alex Ferguson had made comments to the fact that he remembered being in a Rangers side unbeaten all season who had lost the last game. As if there was a comparison. Always somehow missing the point, even when it was utterly obvious!
And, of course, we went one-nil down at half time. I was shaking – literally shaking – through the half time. Couldn’t even have a drink. I just sat there thinking, this can’t happen. And then, if I recall it right, Henry got the penalty and Patrick scored to give us the winner.
And we stayed in the ground for hours after the game.
One last memory. 28 March 2006 – he played against us in the Champs League. That was the moment Robert Pires tackled him, and got the ball – and from that moment we went on to score. Sorry Patrick – but if you must leave Arsenal, these things happen.
Patrick played 407 times for Arsenal and scored 34 times. I don’t kid myself that ex-players would ever read my ramblings – but still, it feels good to pay my compliments to one of the Masters.
Now of course he is manager of Crystal Palace. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.