The ears of Mikel Arteta and his technical director Edu Gaspar will have undoubtedly been burning in what was turning out to be a difficult week for the Arsenal faithful to stomach.
Fresh from the disappointment of not qualifying for the Champions League, the Gunners fans have seen talks surrounding some of their key targets fail to switch gears, with Arsenal seemingly taking a tentative approach to strengthening a side desperate to go one better than their current 5th-place-finish.
The wait has been compounded by their closest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, moving quickly in the market with two new first-team signings in Ivan Perisic and Fraser Forster, but it’s the imminent signing of Brighton’s Yves Bissouma, so often associated with a move to the Emirates Stadium, that’s caused a bit of a stir amongst ‘Gooners’.
Arsenal have moved exceptionally quickly, however, to dampen any kind of ill-feeling felt towards the new season with the surprise move for FC Porto’s Fábio Vieira, costing the club’s coffers a fee in the region of £30 million, excluding add-ons.
The transfer leaves plenty for the imagination to reflect on and within those thoughts, in time, fans and onlookers alike may soon realise just how key this piece to the puzzle is for Arteta’s vision.
The journey so far
Ear-marked at a young age as one of the crown jewels of Porto’s academy, Vieira’s rise to the top was a unique one, not least because of the historical context attached to his club and the opportunities afforded to youngsters coming through the ranks.
Unlike their fierce rivals Sporting and Benfica, the Dragons, as they’re typically referred to on Portuguese shores, aren’t recognised for their catalogue of youth products, preferring to dabble in the market for rare South American finds instead.
That soon changed, however, and at the forefront of that shift was Arsenal’s latest summer muse, Vieira.
In 2019, against a Chelsea Under-19s side containing the likes of Conor Gallagher, Tariq Lamptey and Marc Guéhi, it was Vieira who starred alongside Diogo Costa and Fábio Silva in a historic 3-1 in the UEFA Youth League final, bagging the opener from central midfield.
A first at youth level for Porto, the media were forced to take note of the latest crop enticing the ‘Dragão’ faithful, but their own head coach, Sérgio Conceição, remained detached from the hype.
Favouring experience and physicality in his high-tempo approach, the Porto boss offered little room for the flair that the frail Vieira, among others, possessed, yet somehow, the 22-year-old never ceded hope.
The debut finally came in June 2020, followed by a cheeky first goal a month later against Belenenses SAD, passing a free-kick in from a crossing position and placing his fearlessness and vision for the game on show.
Slowly but surely, Conceição’s heart was conquered, and by the time Luis Díaz was Liverpool-bound, it was the young Portuguese midfielder, alongside another Arsenal target Vitinha, who took on the burden of creativity.
Vieira led by example with 11 goal contributions in his final 12 league games, adding to an already glittering campaign that consisted of 14 league assists.
Six of those were a hat-trick of assists, with the young star also rearing his head against bitter rivals Sporting and Benfica, treating them to a goal each as Porto raced through a championship-winning season.
For his difficult-to-please manager, however, it wasn’t really ever about the numbers being tallied, but more the adherence to dig in and fight for his team - the sort of tenacity that’s made Vieira one of the few, among a very talented crop of youngsters, to crack the first team at Porto.
Where he fits in
Arteta will have undoubtedly picked up on Vieira’s willingness to run the hard yards and get stuck in from the front, complementing a youthful Arsenal interface keen to put in practice what their manager feeds through.
From his flamboyant style, right down to his more gritty facets, Vieira comes across as a match made in heaven for the modern-day Arsenal, although much of his success could ride on his relationship with current chief creator Martin Ødegaard.
Operating from the right-hand side of midfield, both Vieira and Ødegaard tend to finish up in very similar areas, with their own traits well-suited to half-space environments.
There is a prospect for the two to clash just as easily as there is the possibility to form a unique partnership as two like-for-like technicians who speak the same language, in footballing terms.
The beauty of it may lie in Vieira’s versatility, however, with the Portuguese midfielder, much like many of his teammates and in-house competitors, capable of excelling in multiple positions.
Key to Arsenal's evolution
Vieira offers Arteta comfort and unpredictability, enriching the weapons at the Spaniard’s disposal and ensuring an upkeep in quality whenever the likes of Bukayo Sako and Ødegaard require a breather.
He’s both an alternative to Arsenal’s key faces, as well as a supplement, with plenty of scope to become a protagonist himself.
Fans of the Gunners will recall the difficulties faced far too often last season as the club failed to win from losing positions on countless occasions.
Funnelling the inspiration almost exclusively through Ødegaard and Saka, it felt un-Arsenal like to not have more technicians to throw at the problem to relieve the burden carried by the former, in particular.
In Vieira, the dynamic could change. The former Porto man is menacing on the turn, always looking to receive the ball at his feet and keen to carry the ball in central areas before scanning for the final pass that he so craves.
The urge to deliver can, at times, leave the midfielder forcing play with clips over the backline, not too dissimilar to those made by Cesc Fàbregas when executed well, but it’s a facet to his game that Vieira must learn to tame.
And he surely will. With a good head on his shoulders, Vieira impresses not only for the quality he demonstrates with the ball at his feet but also as someone who leads by example.
The Under-21 international is a tactical sponge, keen to learn and never fazed by the mistakes made along the way - qualities that will serve him well under Arteta’s stewardship.
With some refinements and adaptations, Vieira could easily slot into Arsenal’s left-sided role in the centre of the park, collaborating with Ødegaard to form a menacing pivot of modern number tens.
The transition would represent the next phase in Arteta’s tactical revolution, taking the Gunners a lot closer to the blueprint donned at Manchester City.
Surrounded by quality of the highest order, there will be few who’ll deny that it’s in the engine room, via Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, that the bread is won.
In Ødegaard and Vieira, with Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu capable of covering as inverted full-backs, Arsenal could easily do the same and more avenues to suffocate their opposition with quick, crisp and probing possession-play, whilst occupying space expertly.
Master that and many of those defeats clocked last season - an alarming 13 of them - are quickly turned into precious results for the Gunners in their quest to re-establish themselves as a top-four side.
Adaptation is key and patience must be had for it to run its course effectively, but in good time it should become apparent why one of the most exciting names coming out of Portugal is being dubbed as Arsenal’s response to Bruno Fernandes and De Bruyne.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
Topics: Mikel Arteta, Martin Odegaard, Arsenal, Transfers