Patrick Vieira’s return to Arsenal is a timely reminder of Mikel Arteta’s problem in midfield

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Patrick Vieira goes for the ball with Scott Parker as Arsenal and Chelsea clash in 2004  (AFP via Getty Images)
Patrick Vieira goes for the ball with Scott Parker as Arsenal and Chelsea clash in 2004 (AFP via Getty Images)

In a way, it is fitting that Patrick Vieira returns to Arsenal tonight with Crystal Palace as Mikel Arteta tries to find the right balance in his midfield.

You could argue that Arsenal have been doing the same ever since Vieira left the club in 2005 and the obvious conclusion is that the Frenchman is one of a kind and irreplaceable.

“He was very dominant,” said Arteta. “He was physically really gifted, technically too, he had the right temper, he was brave and he could score goals. He could do a bit of everything and he was remarkable.

“There have been some really good midfielders and Patrick was Patrick. There’s not going to be another one like him.”

Countless Arsenal players over the years have been dubbed ‘the new Patrick Vieira’, but none have lived up to the billing. Thomas Partey is the latest to be handed that title and, while his style differs from the Frenchman, he has a similar role to play under Arteta.

The Spaniard has already challenged Partey to be “the boss” for Arsenal, but now it is about finding someone suitable to play alongside him. Granit Xhaka, as he showed during last month’s north London derby win, is the ideal partner but that cannot happen again until the end of this year due to a knee injury.

It leaves Arteta pondering his options and the draw at Brighton before the international break did not make things much clear. Albert Sambi Lokonga came in to replace Xhaka, but Brighton dominated Arsenal and should have claimed all three points.

Crystal Palace tonight provides Arteta with another opportunity to find a solution by possibly playing Partey in a midfield-three alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard.

The game is also a chance for Vieira to showcase his credentials as a manager. The Frenchman has been touted as a future boss of Arsenal one day and he has made a promising start to life at Crystal Palace.

Thomas Partey will be in the Arsenal midfield but Mikel Arteta must decide who to play alongside him (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Thomas Partey will be in the Arsenal midfield but Mikel Arteta must decide who to play alongside him (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Vieira will undoubtedly get an excellent reception tonight and his name has already been sung at Emirates Stadium this season, after Palace beat Tottenham in the lunchtime kick-off before Arsenal took on Norwich.

“He is an Arsenal legend and I hope he gets the reception he deserves for what he did for the club, not only as a player but also what he transmitted as a person,” Arteta said.

“He was a captain of the club in the most successful era in the last many years and it is great to have him back.

“He has already a couple of experiences [as a manager] and he knows the league really well. You can see the touch that he is trying to put in the team [at Palace] and the things he is trying to implement there.”

Vieira is relishing the chance to return to Arsenal tonight and his Palace side head there with confidence high.

Patrick Vieira is looking forward to be backing at Arsenal tonight (PA)
Patrick Vieira is looking forward to be backing at Arsenal tonight (PA)

Their start to the season was particularly punishing, with fixtures against many of last year’s top six, but they beat Tottenham and avoided defeat against Leicester and West Ham. A win against Arsenal would cap off a solid start by Vieira.

“I’m looking forward to it because spending nine years is a long period of time, and that period was successful,” said Vieira.

“I was really pleased to be a part of a generation of players who made history for this football club.

“Going back there will be emotional, yes, but the focus and concentration will be on how we can perform well and get that result we want. I think it’s just about controlling yourself as a manager, and controlling the emotion.”

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