Today Arsenal take on Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup semi-final. With only the in-form Championship side standing between them and a place in the final to face either Hull City or Sheffield United, bookmakers and many an Arsenal fan are confident Arsène Wenger’s side will lift the trophy in May.
Winning the FA Cup this season which lift a huge weight off of Wenger’s shoulders and bring relief to fans who have gone 9 years without their team lifting any silverware.
And lifting a piece of silverware this season would also mean Arsène Wenger will have won his first trophy without Patrick Vieira. Yes, without Patrick Vieira.
There are still at least 180 minutes between Arsenal and success though. And their midfield, not only missing Patrick Vieira for its ninth successive season, has a large number of injuries in it too.
Patrick Vieira – one of the Premier League’s greats. Since joining the Gunners around the same time as Arsène Wenger back in 1996, the 107-time French international lifted 7 major honours at Arsenal and 4 Community Shields.
He successfully replaced Tony Adams as captain. He won both the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with his country. He was also a talismanic man in the centre of that midfield as part of the 2003-04 Invincibles.
The numbers back up just how important Patrick Vieira was to Arsène Wenger and Arsenal.
The table below shows Arsenal’s Premier League seasons under Arsène Wenger (it also includes the first eight games of the 1996-97 season before Wenger arrived. Vieira made his debut in the sixth game of that season):
After the 1996-97 season which was both Arsène Wenger and a 20-year old Patrick Vieira’s first in English football, the £3.5 million signing from AC Milan finished in the top two with the Gunners in each of his eight seasons at Highbury.
Since Vieira left for Juventus in 2005, Arsenal have not once finished in the top two places in the following eight seasons. 2013-14 is set to be their ninth straight. Coincidence?
Last month I wrote a piece on Nemanja Matić and the importance of a great holding midfielder. Virtually every Premier League winning side has had one. Roy Keane, Vieira, Claude Makélélé. Although Liverpool are in a position to defy that rule this season.
Following the sale of Vieira, Arsenal’s win percentage without him has lowered whilst the number of defeats has increased.
The Gunners had a 62% winning record in the Premier League Patrick Vieira’s final eight seasons with the club. In the eight seasons after he left, only 55%.
Here’s a look at how Vieira compares to the holding midfielders Wenger has tried to replace him with over the years:
*I have excluded Francis Coquelin, Lassana Diarra, Craig Eastmond and Kim Källström who have only played a handful of games for the club.
Gilberto Silva, who was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism during his time at Arsenal is the only player who can match up to Patrick Vieira in the win department.