Fabio on the Brain

Arteta gave an interesting answer when asked about Trossard and Martinelli after Everton: talk about Vieira.

It’s been an interesting year to interpret for Arsenal’s £34 million signing from Porto. Fabio Viera came to London off the back of a 7 goal, 16 assist season in 39 appearances with Porto but has failed to break into Arsenal’s side with much regularity.

Although it may say more about the batch of incomings Arsenal signed, if you were to label him as Arsenal’s most disappointing signing of this last summer, it would be understandable.

And yet, in many of glimpses we have gotten of Vieira, one thing has been clear: the guy produces output.

It’s no small factor. Finding players that can work hard and learn tactics is one thing. Finding a player that can help you do the hardest thing in the game — stick the ball in the net — is an entirely more difficult challenge. It’s a special gift. That’s why those players become stars that earn the huge contracts.

It’s this factor that makes Vieira’s 2 goals and 5 assists in all competitions so compelling. He has only played 1031 minutes in all competitions — 11.4 complete 90’s — meaning he produces some kind of end product every 147 minutes. Just for comparison, Saka produces every 127 minutes, Martinelli every 173 minutes, and Ødegaard every 151 minutes.

That of course doesn’t take into account that 4 of Vieira’s contributions have come in the Europa League and FA Cup, a less difficult competition than the Premier League, but if we isolate Vieira’s PL stats, he’s produced 1 goal and 2 assists in 313 minutes, roughly 1 G/A every 104 minutes. So, the production consistency is still there.

So why aren’t we seeing more of him?

In a weird way, I have viewed his growth in the league as a complete opposite of Ødegaard’s path, combined with how we saw Martinelli grown under Arteta — at least I optimistically hope so. But what do I mean by that?

Coming into his second full season this year, fairly or harshly, Ødegaard had his share of critics. Many saw his work rate, his effort, his game IQ, understanding of tactics, but as an attacking midfielder, it needed to turn into consistent production. That aspect of his game hadn’t yet clicked and it took time. I had labeled him in the preseason as my “breakout player of the year” founded on that simple fact: I believed, based on how he ended last season, that we would see that work translate and click.

Vieira seems to be progressing entirely flipped. We have seen his ability to find the ball and produce goals and assists, but there are questions around how effective he is during the time in between. Does he understand the tactics, can he physically contend, and, frankly, what position best suits this versatile attacker that he can actually win himself minutes within. Sound like anyone else?

One of his best friends within the team is clearly Gabriel Martinelli, a player whose time at Arsenal may give us clues to Fabio Vieira’s future. Martinelli walked into London and was lightning in a bottle. He produced goals, chances, worked hard, and then disappeared. During the dark days, people actually accused Arteta of hating the kid. The reality was, behind the scenes, Gabi was simply being refined into the more tactically astute and technically secure attacker that has produced Arsenal 14 goals and assists this season, while being one of Arsenal’s all-around best.

No player progresses the same, but if Vieira is on a trajectory like this, in pursuit of patient progress toward a refined, more all-around progressive and attacking threat — Arsenal fans would be in for a treat and the team will have a serious weapon on their hands.

And there’s reason to believe that Arteta is itching to start to see more of Vieira in action.

After Arenal’s win over Everton on Wednesday, Arteta was asked about Martinelli and Leandro Trossard’s chemistry. His response? To talk about Vieira first.

“I think relationships are built in teams and that chemistry comes naturally, and when you see [Gabi] play with Fabio more together, he has even more chemistry because they love each other so much, and they have that way of looking at each other and understanding what’s going to have.”

Later in the interview he was asked if Martinelli and Vieira’s chemistry would be utilized in the coming weeks and this response was simple: “Yes, for sure.”

What to make of Arteta’s response?

Objectively, the response is vague and could be taken so many ways. Who’s to say what’s right, but it feels like there are some clues to put together.

  1. Hot on the trigger to talk about Vieira in a question about Trossard and Martinelli
  2. A growing frequency in appearances for Viera, albeit not a huge uptick in minutes
  3. His minutes are coming in for Granit Xhaka more than off the wings
  4. We know they are friends, but Arteta putting Gabi and Vieira together could foreshadow more minutes on the left versus the right side as we saw earlier in the year.
  5. The vague but conclusive statement we will see more of Vieira and Martinelli chemistry used

Does this mean we will see Vieira start instead of Xhaka?

Probably the million-dollar question that many Arsenal fans are asking themselves.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog asking if the writing was on the wall for Xhaka as a starter. In that blog I gave a pretty concrete answer, and it’s one I stand by, although have maybe softened a tiny bit on.

In summary, I believe that Xhaka’s future should be looked at from two separate views: short term and long term.

In the short term, I believe Xhaka will retain his starting role for most Premier League matches. In part because Vieira is still developing and also because this team seems to still have a need for someone a little more two-way than Fabio has shown.

Long term, I do think the writing is there. His contract is coming up, I don’t think he wants to be on a team he isn’t getting minutes with. I think Arteta wants to evolve that left-eight role into a much more attacking profile. In the blog above I reference an Ilkay Gundogan profile as one Arteta may be intrigued by given the fit and Arteta’s time at City — not that they should sign Gündogan.

Where I have softened a bit is my conviction that Xhaka will play every Premier League match. I think there is a real chance that Arteta senses an opportunity to start Vieira in matches that Arsenal confidently believe they will dominate space and possession in.

Is Viera the left center midfielder of our dreams?

Right now? Probably not. At least we haven’t seen it. But we have seen glimpses of potential, and I would even argue, improvement from earlier this season.

There’s a really nice clip in the lead up to Martinelli’s goal versus Everton in which we see Vieira as a highly mobile left center midfielder.

Holding that wide left role with ease, allowing Arsenal’s flowing play to exchange and move as it wills; he has an ability to be in any position on left with comfort. This could be the next iteration of that position. And personally, I believe there is something to that.

Three things would happen:

  1. A reduction in the defensive responsibility put on the left midfielders with an uptick in attacking potency
  2. Mix it with an increase in defensive responsibility put on the shoulders of the holding midfielder behind them
  3. Wrap it with progressive touches and control coming from the holding midfielder and inverted fullback in early phases.

Back in August, Mikel was quoted saying the club wanted to add more firepower to the squad and this inside left role feels like the obvious place to do so. After all, three of the other four positions are occupied by starters that could be on their way to 20 g/a this season.

I would say, don’t find yourself leaping to conclusions around Viera and denying the ability for a 22-year-old to refine his game and evolve from the minutes we have seen. He already has the ability to create end product, it’s far from impossible to see the rest of his game being put together and clicking into place like Ødegaard and Martinelli’s did under Arteta’s tutelage. I have a hunch there will be a moment in the future we see Vieira have a similar breakthrough.

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