Arsenal’s 16 Patrick Vieira replacements and how they fared

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Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka

Patrick Vieira was one of Arsenal‘s greatest ever players so it’s no surprise they’ve struggled to replace him since he left for Juventus in 2005.

Vieira won 10 major honours at Highbury, including three Premier League titles, and bestrode Arsenal’s midfield as a dominant box-to-box player. As the club have declined, many have pointed to Arsenal’s inability to replace him in the years since his departure

We’ve identified 16 players who were meant to replace Vieira and investigated how they fared.

Mathieu Flamini

Flamini’s first stint at Arsenal began in July 2004, when he arrived on a free transfer from Marseille one year before Vieira’s departure.

He struggled initially but enjoyed an excellent 2007-08 season alongside Cesc Fabregas as Arsenal came close to winning the title.

Arsenal were disappointed when Flamini rejected a new contract and signed for AC Milan that summer but the French midfielder rejoined the club five years later and played a crucial role in the club’s good form in the early parts of the 2013-14 campaign.

Abou Diaby

One word: injuries.

Diaby was a talented player, as he demonstrated on select occasions during his nine-year spell at the Emirates, and possessed many of the attributes needed to replace Vieira.

But his career was wrecked by injuries and Diaby only made 16 Premier League appearances in his final four years at Arsenal.

“I am frustrated and disappointed for Abou Diaby with all the injuries he suffered,” Vieira said in 2012.

“If he could have improved constantly, he would have reached an exceptional level. About his potential, he is better than me, better on a technical level, better dribbler, and better scorer too.”

Alex Song

Written off at the start of his Arsenal career and booed during one defeat at Fulham, Song became much improved after a loan spell at Charlton in 2007.

The Cameroon international blossomed into an unconventional deep-lying playmaker during the 2011-12 season and registered 14 assists – more than any other Arsenal player that year.

Such form earned him a move to Barcelona in 2012 but Song never reproduced that form in Spain.

Arsenal midfielder Alex Song

READ: Remembering the strange season Alex Song became Arsenal’s new Fabregas

Denilson

Never quite good enough but that didn’t stop Denilson from making over 150 appearances for Arsenal between 2006 and 2011.

And that fact speaks volumes about Arsenal’s slump after moving to the Emirates.

Lassana Diarra

You may remember him playing for Chelsea or Portsmouth but Diarra also spent six months at Arsenal back in 2007.

But the highly-rated youngster, who moved from Stamford Bridge in search of more first-team football, found opportunities hard to come by and left for Portsmouth after only half-a-season – where he won the FA Cup and ended up moving to Real Madrid.

“He was impatient,” said Wenger. “He put himself under a lot of pressure and that increased his impatience.”

Emmanuel Frimpong

Cult figure on social media perhaps but Frimpong never lived up to the hype on the pitch.

Making his debut at the start of the 2011-12 season, the Arsenal youth product showed promise as a rugged, combative defensive midfielder but couldn’t sustain his form. 

After scrapping with Samir Nasir following a defeat to Manchester City, Frimpong was loaned out to Wolves in January 2012 and never regained his spot in the Arsenal first team.

After further loan spells at Charlton and Fulham, Frimpong signed permanently for Barnsley in January 2014 and has enjoyed a nomadic career since.

Mikel Arteta

Arteta was remoulded as a deep-lying midfielder after his deadline day arrival from Everton in August 2011.

He didn’t possess Vieira’s box-to-box dynamism but Arteta’s experience and reading of the game meant he adapted to his new role well.

The midfielder won two FA Cups, captained the side between 2014 and 2016 and currently serves as the club’s manager.

READ: The 9 players Arsenal signed alongside Mikel Arteta in 2011 & how they fared

Francis Coquelin

Coquelin’s performance in the 2-0 win at Manchester City in January 2015 was the moment Arsenal fans thought Wenger had cracked it.

Disciplined, biting in the tackle and good at distributing the ball, the French midfielder became undroppable in the months after the City win as Arsenal thought they’d belatedly found their new Vieira.

Alas, injuries scuppered Coquelin’s time at the Emirates and he eventually left the club for Valencia in 2018.

Ismael Bennacer

He may have only played one appearance for Arsenal, as part of the fringe XI thrashed at Sheffield Wednesday in 2015, but Arsenal have come to regret letting Bennacer leave so easily.

Sold for just £900,000 in 2017, Bennacer now has a £45million release clause in his contract at AC Milan. He inspired Algeria to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 2019 and was apparently on the radar of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City after some fine performances in Italy.

Arsenal fans have been left wondering what might have been if the club had shown Bennacer more patience.

Mohamed Elneny

Signed in 2015, Elneny hasn’t exactly disgraced himself in north London. He just isn’t Patrick.

The Egypt international has made over 130 appearances for the Gunners, either side of a loan spell at Premier League retirement club Besiktas.

Granit Xhaka

He may have more loose screws than B&Q but Arsenal look worse whenever Xhaka isn’t in the team.

After signing in 2016, the Switzerland international has come to symbolise a club never far from pressing the self-destruct button.

But, despite seeming on the verge of leaving on multiple occasions, Xhaka remains an important player at the Emirates and, in many ways, epitomises this Arsenal team in the same way Vieira did back in his day.

Lucas Torreira

We’ll always have that goal against Spurs, if not a lot else since.

Matteo Guendouzi

Many Arsenal fans were happy to see the back of the disruptive Guendouzi, but the young midfielder is currently shining in an exciting Marseille side.

Whereas his future looked certain to be away from the Emirates, things are a little less certain now.

READ: Arsenal fans look away, Guendouzi and Saliba are shining at Marseille

Thomas Partey

“For me, he looks like a modern-day Vieira, and I know that’s a big statement, but he looks the real deal, this guy.”

Jamie O’Hara hasn’t quite mastered the art of putting his finger on the pulse but he captured the mood of Arsenal supporters when Partey signed from Atletico Madrid for £45million in 2020.

Injuries meant he didn’t quite live up to expectations last season but the Ghana international looks a solid bet to become an important player for Arsenal in the years to come

Albert Sambi Lokonga

It’s too early to offer considered judgement but Lokonga has looked like a smart and intelligent player during his early appearances for Arsenal.

Purchased from Anderlecht in the summer of 2021, the 21-year-old was given a baptism of fire as Mikel Arteta’s side lost their first three league matches without scoring.

But things have improved since and Lokonga forms part of a new spine that Arsenal fans hope will arrest their long-term decline.


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