Vieira: How Wenger played his great gamble and won

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The Independent Online

"Arsène knows." There has been a banner that says so at most Arsenal games since Arsène Wenger won the Double in 1998.

"Arsène knows." There has been a banner that says so at most Arsenal games since Arsène Wenger won the Double in 1998. But Wenger lost some of his cool by taking the ultimate gamble after last Sunday's Community Shield defeat of Manchester United by going on television to give Patrick Vieira a week to decide between Arsenal or Real Madrid. Was Wenger, as usual, holding a few aces up his sleeve? Did Arsène know? No. This time he was bluffing.

"Yes, it was my biggest gamble," he admitted, "but we didn't think there was any other way of dealing with the situation. I was surprised and relieved that Patrick decided to stay." Arsenal believe Vieira was tapped up when he was with France during Euro 2004. It was around then that he told Wenger and the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein that he had grown out of the Highbury family and wanted a new challenge as a galactico in Madrid. They tried to dissuade him before deciding the greatest show of love is knowing when to let go and bravely allowed Vieira to choose between the remaining three years of his contract at Arsenal or Madrid.

If Vieira would go, what was there to stop Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell following suit? Dein thinks they will all stay now: Campbell will sign a new deal inside two weeks; Kolo Touré signed up until 2009 on Friday; Pires is onside; Wenger is committed too, and Arsenal will move into their spectacular 60,000 capacity stadium in two years' time with a team to match.

Mindful of his role at the forefront of sorting out the Football Association's recent scandals, Dein also revealed how he was dining at Wenger's house, about an hour from completing the transfer to Madrid on Thursday night, when Vieira invited himself round for a final chat.

"It is clearly the time of the year for flirtation," Dein laughed before explaining how he will complain to Fifa that he believes Vieira's head had been turned by people he refused to name, but believed to be a sponsor, an agent and a player in Spain.

Wenger and he had eaten "late on Thursday night", Dein said: "It was literally just prior to signing off an agreement with Madrid when Patrick came in and his first words were 'I cannot leave Arsenal'. It was very emotional and dramatic. It had obviously been running through his mind for some time, but he came to the decision himself.

"There was no money involved, no contract extension, nothing like that, and we would never have gone down that route," Dein added.

"Patrick had started this back at the beginning of June when he told Arsène and me that he wanted to leave and go to Madrid. We tried very hard to dissuade him, but his mind was made up and these things have to run their course. We have experience in these situations and what you never do is to rush the decision."

Dein intends to take a complaint to Fifa and personally question the "three men" he holds responsible for undermining his club. Being reluctant sellers, however, Arsenal needed time to get Madrid up to the £24m fee they felt represented value for their best player. That time also allowed doubt to grow in Vieira's mind. "It was eight weeks of torture. I've felt like the fire brigade on Guy Fawkes' Night for the past few weeks," Dein admitted.

By Thursday they had agreed a fee and believed Vieira's personal terms were sorted to the extent that Wenger thought "Le Grand Sausage" was leaving home.

Dein insists: "I'd like to think we are a tight family unit and I think he couldn't leave the family. Stories about Patrick falling out with team-mates were all part of the nonsense too.

"The board were unanimous that we didn't need to sell him, but likewise we were not going to go against Arsène Wenger. If he felt selling Patrick was the right thing to do, we wouldn't stand in his way after what he had given us for eight years."

Le Boss was not prepared for Thursday's U-turn and forced Vieira to prove he was staying for the right reasons. Wenger added: "I had some concerns. I said he must be convinced that this decision will have a positive effect on him. It is not only the club's future at stake, but also his career. He told me that he feels he can develop the rest of his career at Arsenal. I think he feels that the club is moving on and there is no stagnation.

"I hope that this won't come up again next season, but this year we got closer than ever. What I expect from Patrick now is for him to roll his sleeves up and get on with his job. But I know Patrick and I know he is only happy when he is winning, and personally I have no doubt about his commitment."

All smiles now, of course, as Arsenal go to Everton today seeking their 41st consecutive game unbeaten in the top flight, one short of Nottingham Forest's record, with Vieira nursing a thigh injury for two more weeks and Campbell out with an Achilles problem. Henry, Pires and Freddie Ljungberg could play a part despite carrying assorted knocks. What will Arsenal do if the players are not passed fit? Arsène knows.

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