In last week’s instalment, we covered two of the key components to Arsenal’s 1997/98 double winning side, Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka. In part two, we will be looking at another two important cogs that formed that team, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira.
The French duo formed a formidable partnership in central midfield during their time together in north London – some would claim the best ever. The pair were also vital for France in their successful quest to lift the World Cup on home turf in 1998.
Unfortunately, the deadly combination was to be relatively short-lived at club level – 3 years all together – with Petit signing for Barcelona at the same time as Overmars in the summer of 2000.
Gooners were hugely disappointed to lose Petit and Vieira when they made their separate departures, and we will examine how they arguably fared worse off during the rest of the careers in comparison to their time at Highbury.
Now Petit didn’t technically move away for a particularly huge fee (£7m), but signing for Barcelona is no small feat, and hence he deserves a place in this series.
Petit’s time in Catalonia would be limited to just one season, during which time he was plagued by injuries. Along with this, the Frenchman was moved from his usual defensive midfield position into defence and found it difficult to solidify a starting berth.
Petit even alleged in his 2008 autobiography that then-manager Lorenzo Serra Ferrer didn’t even know what position he played in when he linked up with the Barcelona squad. He only managed 23 league appearances for the club, scoring a single goal.
After a disappointing spell in Spain, a return to England beckoned, with bitter rivals Manchester United and Spurs registering an interest in signing the midfielder before his eventual move to Chelsea.
During his first season he again failed to make a huge impact, and played against the Gunners in the 2002 FA Cup final, which Arsenal won to secure their second double under Arsene Wenger. In his second season he formed a decent partnership with Frank Lampard, as the Blues managed to make it into the Champions League places. He also managed to bag a goal in another meeting against the Gunners during the course of that season. This year was to be the best it got for Petit post-Arsenal, but he still never reached the heights he had done under Wenger.
Injuries struck again in his third campaign, which was to be the last of his career. It was the first year that Roman Abramovic had taken ownership at Stamford Bridge, and Petit later disclosed that he felt poorly treated by the Russian and the club as a whole, leaving him feeling ‘disgusted’.
Despite playing for some top teams after leaving Arsenal, it’s relatively safe to say that Petit didn’t play at the same level again.
Vieira was obviously part of numerous title winning sides during his hugely successful nine years with Arsenal, not solely the 97/98 squad. He was to depart five years after Petit, securing silverware with his final touch in red and white as he dispatched the winning penalty past Roy Carroll in the 2005 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.
Vieira moved to Juventus later that summer in a deal that amounted to just under £14m – a reasonable fee at the time but probably not enough for a player of his calibre. He later revealed that his preference had been to stay, but decided the time was right to leave as it appeared Arsenal were willing to listen to offers for him due to the emergence of a young Cesc Fabregas. This, in his opinion, made his position with the club untenable.
The Frenchman’s first and only season in Tuscany was decent enough, helping the team to retain the ‘Scudetto’, but this would later be stripped after the infamous match-fixing scandal. In an interesting turn of events, Juventus would meet his old side in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with the first leg played at Highbury.
Vieira was dispossessed by Robert Pires in the build up to Arsenal’s first goal in a famous 2-0 win, with Fabregas of all people being the man to finish off the attack. Vieira got booked during the game and as a result was suspended for the second leg which ended 0-0, and Arsenal would go on to reach the final before losing 2-1 to Barcelona.
As well as having his first Serie A title stripped away from him, Vieira’s Juventus were relegated to the Italian second division, prompting the midfielder to state his desire to leave to continue playing at the highest level.
Although he was linked with a return to Arsenal, Vieira ended up signing for Inter Milan for around £6.5m, less than half what Juventus had paid for him just one year earlier. He would spend three and a half seasons at the San Siro and although they won the league title every year he was there, he was not a regular starter and only made 67 appearances during that time. His managers Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho often preferred alternatives such as Olivier Dacourt, Sulley Muntari, Thiago Motta, Dejan Stankovic and Esteban Cambiasso.
Injuries didn’t help his situation, but the former Gunners captain was a shadow of his former exceptional self. In January 2010, after managing just eight league starts that season, Mourinho announced that he had played his last game for the club. Vieira made his return to England with Manchester City on an initial six-month deal, with a option in his contract for an extra year which was exercised at the end of that season.
The 2010/11 campaign would prove to be Vieira’s last as a professional footballer, and was utilised by Roberto Mancini mostly as a squad player, putting in some decent performances in the FA Cup. He went out on a high note, with his final appearance would come as a substitute in the FA Cup final against Stoke, which City won 1-0.
In the case of Vieira, there is a faction that believe that he departed Arsenal at the correct time. Cesc Fabregas outshone the Gunners legend on his return Highbury less than a year after he had left, and for some it justified Wenger’s decision to sell. The years that followed at Inter where his influence was very limited in comparison to his Arsenal days, also back-up this assertion. Either way, he will always be revered by the Gunners faithful.