Arsenal has had some special midfield players in the Premier League and we look at the cream of the crop.
Arsenal supporters might not be too delighted with the team’s performances or results at the moment, although the Gunners are still among the best teams in England and they won their 13th FA Cup in May 2017 to become the most successful club in that competition.
In this article, we look at some of the best midfield players to don the red and white during the Premier League era, with the supporters being royally treated to a high caliber in this position over the years.
- Mesut Ozil
We start with a modern day player and Ozil has largely shone for Arsenal since arriving in 2013 from Real Madrid, with the German helping the Gunners win three FA Cups, while he was also the Premier League’s top assist provider during the 2015-16 campaign. That was an exemplary campaign for the German maestro as he provided assist after assist with each passing game, while playing some mesmerizing football.
The 29-year-old generally operates as an advanced playmaker who is comfortable playing on either flank or in a central position, with his trickery making him one of the most skillful players to ever wear an Arsenal shirt.
- Paul Merson
Younger football fans might only be familiar with Merson through his work with Sky Sports, although this was a player who made a grand total of 327 appearances for the Gunners and he managed to score 78 times between 1985-1997. Merson could play in a variety of roles across the midfield area, with the Londoner originally playing in a right-wing position although George Graham started to play him in a more advanced and central position as his career continued.
- Cesc Fabregas
While it rankles with Arsenal supporters to see the Spaniard now operating for Chelsea, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Fabregas was a real breakthrough star with the Gunners, making his debut at the tender age of seventeen (sparking the chant “he’s only seventeen, he’s better than Roy Keane”). The departure of Patrick Vieira saw Fabregas given the number four shirt and he quickly became the team’s midfield general. The lad had everything in his locker and controlled countless games as a box-to-box midfielder.
Fabregas became Arsenal captain during the 2008 / 09 season and should really have won more silverware with the club than a solitary FA Cup in 2005.
- Robert Pires
Pires spent six happy seasons at Arsenal and was part of the Invincibles team that went unbeaten in the Premier League during the 2003 / 04 campaign. The Frenchman was a fast attacking player who was especially noted for his link-up play with Thierry Henry, often forming a telepathic understanding.
Between 2002 to 2004, Pires was included in the PFA Team of the Year, with the midfielder having the knack of scoring spectacular goals as well as brilliant technical skill to beat opponents.
- Patrick Vieira
Vieira can lay claim to being the best ever Premier League player of all time. Between 1996-2005, he made 279 appearances for the Gunners and was the driving force behind them winning multiple trophies during this time.
Like Pires, the Frenchman was instrumental in Arsenal going unbeaten during 2003-4, with the team captain proving to be combative in midfield where he was able to win the ball back and distribute accordingly to more skilful team-mates.
Vieira had a long loping gait and one of the Premier League’s most iconic images is the player roving forward with the ball at his feet after dispossessing the opposing team.
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Arsenal’s official website recently reported that ex-Gunner great, Patrick Vieira, is among an elite set of footballers that is set to be inducted into National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame due to his outstanding contributions to the beautiful game. The former Gunners captain joins the likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Alan Ball and Cliff Bastin on the honour roll.
As expected, the Frenchman has expressed his delight at the decision to induct him into the Hall of Fame,
“I am extremely honoured and proud that I have been selected to join the National Football Museum Hall of Fame. It is a huge privilege to be inducted and join my former team-mates Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Tony Adams on the illustrious list.”
Being recognized for his outstanding contributions to the English game is an amazing feat and in his honor, Gooner Daily has decided to relive those moments that endeared Patrick Vieira to the hearts of Arsenal fans all over the globe.
Here’s an overview of the talismanic tenacious midfielder’s career revealing the good times, the bad times and certainly the ugly times.
August 14, 1996 – Patrick Vieira Signs for Arsenal for £3.5 million from AC Milan
After making a name for himself in Cannes, Vieira signed for AC Milan in 1996 but he saw himself rotting in the Reserves and he managed to make just two Serie A appearances for the Italian giants.
He expressed his desire to leave the club and he was odds on to make a move to AFC Ajax Amsterdam but personal terms were not reached, so he opted to join Arsenal a couple of days later, alongside fellow Frenchman, Remi Garde, in a £3.5 million move. Vieira later revealed he signed for Arsenal because his compatriot Arsène Wenger was going to be the club’s next manager,
“I am delighted to be joining Arsenal at the same time as Mr Wenger becomes their coach. Being able to speak French to him will make life a lot easier for me.”
His Dominant Performances in Midfield…
Alongside fellow Frenchman, Emmanuel Petit, Vieira forged a formidable partnership that helped the Gunners in their bid to win trophies. Arsenal can attribute some of its successes in the double winning campaigns to the hardwork of its midfield engine room, even though the strikers played their roles.
Following Petit’s departure, Vieira played with several partners but his combination with Gilberto Silva in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield with a combo made somewhere in Orion’s Belt.
As a player, Vieira has many good technical attributes which include a good first touch, wonderful heading ability, good passing range, excellent tackling abilities, an aggressive character and his anticipation skills are second to none. He’s also a very composed player, his decision making is top-notch, he knows how to position himself well and he’s a force to be reckoned with in the air.
Vieira’s frame and towering spirit gave him a mighty presence in midfield. His technique was unrivaled and he was so good at marking, his opponents checked for his presence even after the game was over.
Rising Through the Ranks…
Vieira was a heavily sought-after player with the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid fighting hard for his signature but he pledged his allegiance to Arsenal times without number. In the summer of 2001, the club decided to elevate the Frenchman to the role of vice-captain to ensure he would succeed Tony Adams as captain. Success finally came for Vieira in the 2001–02 season; Arsenal regained the league from Manchester United and beat Chelsea in the 2002 FA Cup Final to complete a second double.
After so many years of undying service, Adams finally retired at the end of the 2001/02 campaign and the mantle of leading the club was passed on to Vieira, a role has relished for the best part of five seasons.
The Goals, All 34 of Them…
As a holding midfielder, Vieira’s business was at the center of the pitch but there were those odd moments he drifted forward to devastating effect, from his first ever goal against Derby County on December 8, 1996 till his final kick of the ball that won Arsenal the 2005 FA Cup.
The Trophies, And He Won a Whole Lot…
In his time under Wenger, Vieira lifted the Community Shield four times (1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004), the FA Cup four times (1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005) and the Premier League three times (1998, 2002 and 2004).
The Bad and Ugly…
His Disciplinary Records…
In a game against Coventry City on 16 January 1998, Vieira received his first red card for using “foul and abusive language” at referee, Stephen Lodge.Vieira was again dismissed a month later, this time in a Football League Cup semi-final against Chelsea. In the 1999/00 season, in a game against West Ham United, Vieira was sent off for a second booking, after fouling striker Paolo Di Canio. He crowned up his horrifying moment by spitting at Neil Ruddock, who walked into him and was dragged off the pitch by officials. Vieira was subsequently charged, banned for six matches and fined a record £45,000 by The FA.
As the seasons progressed, Vieira’s disciplinary problems continued as he was sent off on the opening day against Sunderland and for the second time in 72 hours at home to Liverpool.
When the Gunners played against Manchester United in September 2003, Vieira was brandished a red card and was banned for one match. The FA later imposed a fine of £20,000 “for improper conduct in failing to leave the field of play following his sending-off”. There was no love lost and nobody took prisoners when Arsenal faced Manchester United. There was also the prospect of watching Vieira and Roy Keane busting up with each other.
According to Thomas Swan of Hub Pages, Vieira has the highest amount of red cards (along with Everton’s Duncan Ferguson) in the Premier League, making him and the Evertonian the roughest players to grace the English game. While Vieira averaged one red card every 38 games, Ferguson bettered that record with a red card every 34 games.
Even a volatile player like Vinnie Jones of the Crazy Gang amassed six red cards while playing for Wimbledon and he has brought that attitude to the silver screen as he usually acts like an antagonist in most of his movies. Luckily for Vieira, Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole has seven red cards to his name and he’s odds on to take the nasty record away from the Frenchman in the not too distant future.
After a group stage match against Lazio in October 2000, Vieira claimed he was the target of racial abuse from Siniša Mihajlović, to which UEFA subsequently launched an investigation into. Mihajlović later admitted he made reference to Vieira’s colour, but added that he was provoked. The player was then handed a two-match ban for “unsporting actions”.
Unfortunately, racism remains a scourge in the game and the sooner it gets eradicated, the better for everyone involved.
With a total of 406 appearances and 34 goals to his name, Vieira was regarded as a fiery character that gave his all to the team so his performances and influence on the pitch rubbed off on his teammates to strive to play better when the chips are down. He was a charismatic leader and was the kind of player that was never going to lay down and play dead for everyone.
Despite his poor disciplinary record, his teammates were always ready to go all the way for him because he protected them on the pitch like the true leader he was.
It was an honor watching Vieira for nine trophy-laden years.
It’s good to know that he would be inducted into the hall of fame soon.
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