Arsenal’s Fabio Vieira: a creative midfielder with the intelligence of “smart old men”

The last name is familiar, the talent – at least for now – a mystery. This will certainly not be the case for long. Fabio Vieiras has found a young footballer with the highest pedigree in Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta has played a key role in concluding this agreement. Although Arsenal’s wider recruitment team had been monitoring Vieira’s progress, the manager of the deal was ultimately convinced of the player.

The speed of the club’s movement to complete the transition even surprised some Arsenal employees. This did not prove difficult to negotiate: a fee of EUR 35 million plus EUR 5 million in add-ons was finally considered reasonable, especially as it fell slightly below the player’s buy-out clause. Privately, some close to Porto claim that Arsenal has made a bargain.

Vieira undoubtedly fits in with the profile of the recent Arsenal contract. Although he is only 22, he has an old head on his young shoulders. In some ways, he was considered one of the leaders of the new brave generation in Porto. Porto assistant coach Vitor Bruno said simply after saying “Fabio Vieira has the intelligence of wise old men.”

For many English scouts, Vieira appeared on the radar for the first time in the 2019 UEFA Youth League. In the final, the impressive Porto team met Chelsea. The Londoners included Tariq Lamptey, Marc Guehi and Conor Gallagher – the second final in a row when they met Barcelona last year. The Porto team consisted of goalkeeper Diogo Costa, now a Portuguese nationalist, and Fabio Silva, now of Wolves.

But 18-year-old Vieira, who was in the middle of the middle, caught the eye the most. After a scuffle in the guest’s penalty area 17 minutes into the game, the home team was awarded a penalty.

“This is a victory for the team, the structure and the club,” said Porto’s proud coach Mario Silva. “We were the first club in Portugal to achieve this.” Silva added that the names of Vieira and his teammates will be recorded in the “history of Portuguese football”.

And they were also added to the notebook of Europe’s best talent finders. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs rose to interest Vieira. He continued to impress the Porto B team and the breakthrough in the first team was not too far behind. She made her senior debut shortly after the age of 20, receiving some comedies when Porto finished the domestic double. Between 2020 and 2021, he became a permanent member of the Game Day team, even starting in high-profile Champions League games against Manchester City and Olympiacos.

Arsenal’s interest intensified after the European Championships at the age of 21 last summer. Out of talent, the Portuguese team reached the finals, almost losing to Germany. Shortly after the finish, Vieira was named a tournament player to comfort him. Previous winners are Juan Mata, Thiago and Andrea Pirlo. With the award, Vieira won as a potential star of the future.

Last season 2021–2022 was his breakthrough. He started as he intended to continue, collecting three assists against Moreirense in the first start of his season. When Luis Diaz left Liverpool in January, he became Porto’s main creative force. In the last 17 league games of his season, he scored 16 goals. He finished the season in 39 matches with seven goals and 16 assists.

Arsenal and manager Mikel Arteta watched. When the opportunity arose to sign a contract with Vieira this summer, they did not hesitate.

This is not a risk-free signing. As with the purchase of any young player, Arsenal is actually gambling to make Vieira realize its potential – and the € 35 million is a significant contribution. Although his confessions may suggest otherwise, his progress so far has not been entirely linear. He has been at the Porto Academy since the age of eight, but it was not always clear that he had been appointed a star. Through various age groups, he occasionally found himself in favor, waiting for his body to catch up with his talent.

He only gained international recognition when he reached the age of 18 – he had not been on Portuguese radar before. Last season was the first time Vieira played regular senior football. He is not one of those chosen miracles who make a breakthrough in his teens. Arsenal have called a player who is restricted to top football. Fabio Silva’s problems in Wolves are a good warning. Vieira has a great family tree, but is one season enough to determine a player’s quality?

Perhaps this quick decision was crucial in completing this transaction. Wait another year and Vieira could have appeared on the radar of clubs competing for the biggest prizes in European football – with a much higher price tag. Arsenal, still outside the Champions League, has had to move early.

So what has convinced Arsenal Vieira so much?

He has played in various roles in Porto this season. He has played predominantly as a third attacker, either as a midfielder, another assailant or a false nine.

The diversity of the positions he has held is partly due to his versatility and positional intelligence – he offers the coach a choice – but also to Porto’s willingness to change staff.

Porto played a large 4-4-2 game last season, although they mixed 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3.

Although Vieira can play as part of the two front or right wings, Arsenal mainly considers him 8th or 10th. His tendency to drift to the right halfway makes him a valuable alternative to Martin Odegaard, but it could be that Arteta foresees a way for them to play together.

Vieira is also able to operate in the left channel and it may be that Arteta believes that the former Porto man will be able to match Odegaard as the match manager for Thomas Partey.

Its tendency to hold different positions means that it is difficult for Vieira, acting in one role, to obtain data on the appropriate sample size. Theme smarterscouti pizza table however, playing as a midfielder midfielder offers an interesting look.

These pizza tables broadly illustrate the style of play – and they refer to a midfielder who has a tendency to play progressive passes and who works hard for the ball. He strikes very well both for the defense and for the recovery of the ball and the cuts. It was once considered a weak part of the Vieira game, but Porto’s coach Sergio Conceicao paid special attention to honing the midfielders’ defensive instincts.

“I improved a lot of defensive positions,” Vieira admitted last season. “It was something that needed to be adjusted. I’m a much more committed and much more comprehensive player on the defensive level.

“Today, he has other qualities he didn’t have before,” agreed assistant Vitor Bruno. “We’re proud of how he bets on the game.”

It is his ability to create gates that makes Vieira so valuable, however. There is a certain risk involved: his tendency to look for a killer ball can lead to circulation. He is still a player who is more defined by self-expression than by economy. Arteta has shown that he expects his elegant players to be team players in the first place. Vieira can learn from this.

Asked about his ability to collect effective feeds, Vieira replied: “It’s something that is part of my qualities, of who I am as a player. I really like to give the last feed, notice my teammates and put them in front of the goal.”

This was clear in the Moreirense game, where Vieira made three assists. First, he showed good awareness and the speed of defensive work to repel the long pass from the opponent’s goalkeeper, which fell into the middle.

He carried the ball in front, then played a perfectly timed ball to Diaz, who ran through the goal.

The second successful feed was somewhat similar. Again, Vieira’s anticipation of the rebound went to Mehdi Taremi who left the field unmarked in front of the keeper. He has shown that he can be effective during the transition period.

Vieira invaded opposition territory, delaying the pass before dissecting the retreating Moreirense defenders from the outside of the left foot. Again, the beneficiary was Diaz. Arsenal’s left-wing striker Gabriel Martinelli could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Vieira’s arrival.

To get the last help, Vieira made a wise run between midfielder and midfielder. Emile Smith Rowe is already doing this effectively for Arsenal – another direct runner is a welcome addition.

Vieira saw most attack opportunities on the wings.

This willingness to feed and shoot with two legs is one of Vieira’s most attractive features. Arteta has shown that he prefers to recruit two-legged players such as Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares, and Vieira seems to be second.

In last season’s Champions League, he scored a goal with a right foot against Liverpool. Once again, it came from the collection of an open ball – this time the defender Joe Gomezi nodded, falling into a dangerous space pocket on the edge of the area.

Vieira held the ball, and looked to the right. When it did not arrive on time, he returned to the field.

He triblased the corner of the square and then hit a well-weighed center box that drove Tarem home. It was a gentle demonstration of technique, especially with his weaker leg.

His left leg is especially eye-catching. It allows him to play passing balls. This example of another Champions League draw against Lyon showed that he sent the defense to retreat to a wide man who overlapped with the passing of the sliding rule.

It will be interesting to see if Arteta feels comfortable in Vieira as one of her midfield trio. As a teenager, Vieira played regularly in the deeper central roles and it was not uncommon in his Porto B days to see him falling deeply to pick up the ball from the goalkeeper. Many have assumed that Vieira has arrived as an alternative to Odegaard, but his ability to play a penetrating pass deeply means he could also be a potential substitute for Granit Xhaka as the team’s “left eight” – the left midfielder.

On the offensive side, however, he brings these precious goal bets. Vieira is a strong finisher with both legs. His instincts around the fine box are also good. In this match against Boavista, he hung back to make room for the edge of the area.

When the retreat came, Vieira made a striking end in the far corner. It was an intuitive run and a finish.

He may also threaten playgrounds, as evidenced by Portugal’s extraordinary strike against Cyprus under the age of 21.

Vieira faces significant challenges: the Premier League is much more intense than the Primeira League. He has played for one of his most dominant sides – Arsenal’s competitive landscape is more demanding. Vieira is also a small, light player. Does he cope with physicality? Does he adjust to life away from home? Does he find a common place in Arteta XI? It took a while before he made an impact in Porto. Even last season, he grew as the campaign progressed. The probability is the same as in England.

But it’s also a deal that will allow Arsenal fans to dream a little. Vieira, like Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, plays a particularly beautiful football brand. He sets goals for himself and his teammates. He is capable of moments of great imagination. This is evident throughout his football development.

Perhaps there is no better example of this than the gate of Portugal under the age of 21 against Iceland. When the bouncing ball fell just behind him, he stretched out the heel and whipped the ball over his head.

Watching it fall, he hit the ball with a shot that rolled under the goalkeeper and into the net.

It was a sign of a player too good for this level, who will soon be getting better. Looking back on his last few appearances last season in Portugal, the same feeling came from time to time. In such a young case, it is worth noting.

Now he has taken another step towards Arsenal. The Premier League is waiting for a bright young star to arrive.

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