Midfield is so often a numbers game. Although Patrick Vieira is remembered as an outstanding footballer, he would not have reached the heights he did at Arsenal without the support of his midfield partners.
Central midfield is an area in which balance and understanding are particularly important. For the vast majority of Vieira's time with Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger deployed a 4-4-2, meaning two players were charged with controlling the middle of the park.
Vieira was fortunate to play alongside some excellent players who enabled him to flourish and express his talent. In this piece, we count down the most effective partners of Vieira's time in north London.
5. David Platt
David Platt's Arsenal career is one that is not recalled as fondly as you might expect. After all, Platt was one of England's most successful players of the 1990s, starring at international level and proving to be an excellent export to the continent. However, he and Vieira were never a particularly natural partnership.
Bruce Rioch signed Platt a year before Vieira arrived. In truth, Platt never looked particularly settled at Arsenal. With Paul Merson granted the attacking-midfield role Platt craved, the former Sampdoria man was forced into a more conservative position alongside Ray Parlour or Martin Keown.
When Vieira broke into the team, he swiftly became the team's key midfielder. Platt was asked to play a simple passing game next to the Frenchman, which did not suit his attacking style.
Vieira and Platt did enjoy some good moments together. Both players scored in the memorable 3-2 victory over Manchester United in November 1997—it was Platt who headed home the winner with a brilliant looping effort. However, he was soon relegated to a bit-part role. Platt won the Premier League with Arsenal in 1997/98, but by the end of that season, he was very much Vieira's back-up rather than his partner.
4. Ray Parlour
Parlour was never Wenger's first-choice option to be Vieira's partner. However, as a consequence of injuries and squad rotation, he got plenty of game time alongside the Arsenal legend.
There was a natural contrast between the pair. Vieira was an incredibly graceful player to watch, strolling up the field with immaculate control and never seeming to break sweat. Parlour's midfield style was not quite as easy on the eye. He was one of the players who benefited most from Wenger's new fitness regime, and his stamina became his strong suit. Although he wasn't as technically gifted as some Arsenal players, he worked tirelessly to make up for his shortcomings.
One characteristic Parlour and Vieira shared was they were fundamentally team players. Both men were prepared to be selfless when required, and that meant that when used in tandem, they always gave the Arsenal side a strong foundation.
Parlour's best football under Wenger was played as a right-sided midfielder, but his versatility was a useful asset. Whenever he was picked alongside Vieira, he generally acquitted himself well.
Like Parlour, Brazilian Edu was never formally established as Vieira's regular partner. However, he could consider himself unlucky for that to be the case. For many Premier League teams of that era, he would have been an automatic pick.
Edu's early period with Arsenal was heavily interrupted by injuries and passport problems. Perhaps that influenced Wenger's decision to sign Dutchman Giovanni van Bronckhorst just a few months after his arrival. Like Edu, Van Bronckhorst was a cultured left-footed midfielder with the intelligence and passing ability to offer a natural complement to Vieira.
However, the former Rangers man would have injury problems of his own to contend with. In the second half of the 2001/02 season, Van Bronckhorst's absence opened the door for Edu to enjoy an outstanding spell as Vieira's partner.
He had many positive aspects to his game. As you would expect of a Brazilian, he was technically immaculate. Edu rarely gave the ball away cheaply, slotting perfectly into Arsenal's intricate passing game. However, unlike many of his South American predecessors in the Premier League, the former Corinthians man showed a real appetite for the physical elements of English football. He liked a tackle and was rarely outfought.
Vieira had two regular partners during his time with Arsenal, the rest only played alongside him fleetingly. Of that second group, Edu was the best.
2. Emmanuel Petit
The partnership between Emmanuel Petit and Vieira was the foundation on which Wenger built his double-winning team of 1997/98.
When Wenger arrived at Arsenal in September 1996, one of his first moves was to install Vieira as a permanent fixture in the first team. The Gunners were playing with a midfield three, and although Wenger slowly set about evolving to a 4-4-2, he didn't quite have the perfect partner for his midfield dynamo.
In the summer of 1997, he corrected that. Petit was recruited from Wenger's former club, AS Monaco, and he immediately struck up an incredible understanding with Vieira. When one broke forward, the other held. There was a telepathy about the manner in which they dominated Premier League midfields.
"In a very macho environment, it's difficult to show your feelings because you are partners and rivals in the same team.
"But our partnership worked wonders for years at Arsenal and it went beyond sport. We don't call each other every week but every time we do, it's like we'd gone our separate ways the day before."
Petit and Vieira were a special partnership. It would take something remarkable to top them—or perhaps something invincible.
1. Gilberto Silva
Vieira's most successful partnership is the one that enabled him to lead Arsenal through an entire Premier League season unbeaten.
Few Arsenal fans would have heard of Gilberto Silva prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup. However, his understated performances in Brazil's triumphant side convinced Wenger to bring him to England, and the midfielder clicked instantly with Vieira.
According to Gilberto, their bond was as strong off the field as on it. Speaking to Jason Burt of The Independent in May 2003, he said:
"I think me and Patrick have nearly the same style of play. When I go forward, he stays back. When he goes, I stay. Normally we stay together, play together. We spend a lot of time together, on the training ground and off the pitch, in restaurants. When I am with Patrick we talk about normal things, my life in Brazil, his life in France. When I was a child, when he was a child.
"He is a great player and a good person and all the time we are talking about football and our private lives like good friends, like we have known each other for a long time."
They played like they had known each other a long time, too.
Of all Vieira's partners, Gilberto was the one with the most naturally defensive game. That enabled Vieira to break forward and show a more creative dimension to his play. Next to the Brazilian, he played his best football—and Arsenal reaped the benefits.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base.