As was the case with Marquinhos earlier this month, Mikel Arteta made the trip to Meadow Park to witness another of his summer recruits’ first minutes of competition in Arsenal colours.
Fabio Vieira started for Arsenal Under-21s in their 2-1 Premier League Cup win over Swansea City alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Cedric, with the club continuing to use the development squad from Mehmet Ali to help first-team players get fit.
Lining up in the 4-3-3 system Ali is familiar with, Smith Rowe was used on the right of a midfield three and Vieira played on the right wing taking advice from Arteta’s staff.
This is the position Vieira broke into the Porto squad in the 2019-20 season. The dynamic was slightly different, as his former team deployed a 4-4-2 formation rather than a 4-3-3 formation, but he still had the freedom to roam and influence the game however he saw fit. as a wide playmaker instead of playing as a more traditional sideline winger.
The Portugal Under-21 international played 45 minutes against Swansea, as did Smith Rowe, and although he didn’t have an electrifying introduction as a summer signing, Marquinhos, who scored three times in the first two games of the season for the under-21s, Vieira held his own.
“I think he had a really good time. It wasn’t easy to break Swansea down when they had 11 men on the pitch,” Ali said after the game.
“He had a really good mix of threats behind but also smart pockets; come deeper to bring the ball to the feet. I think he mixed things up very well and that’s what we expected of him: take the ball and cause problems. I felt he created some good chances and he also had chances to score.
During the first half of Vieira’s football in north London, a few common themes emerged.
The first was that the former Porto man looks very strong technically. From controlling aerial passes to him to keeping the ball in tight spaces, the 22-year-old was very comfortable with the ball.
It was also repeatedly clear that Vieira could very quickly see the photo in front of him. Slipped by Smith Rowe, he quickly got back on his left foot, teasing his marker to slide past him, then raised the ball to the back post waiting for a runner to hit it, although no Arsenal team-mate made the required movement. .
Predictably, he had a bigger impact on the game when winning the ball in the right half space than when facing a defender in a one-on-one. Vieira always tried to get around his counterpart whenever possible, but when forced onto his right foot he didn’t quite manage to blow up a marker or deflect tame shots to the side. back for corners.
Early on he cut a nice ball into the box for Smith Rowe to chase and cut through the box from six yards which led to Arsenal blocking two shots. Off the ball he also drifted into those spaces to receive from Miguel Azeez – who performed well, looking sharper on and off the ball at the base of midfield – and also entering the final third.
Playing close to Smith Rowe, the pair combined well in the first half. Sometimes they would switch positions so Vieira was on the inside and Smith Rowe was on the touchline, and at other times they would trade quick one-touch passes to work their way up which was beneficial against a stiff defensive form. The cleanliness of their combinations was encouraging as the first team began to play with more freedom within their structure, including playing more instinct in the final third since the arrival of Gabriel Jesus.
“The first-team staff will guide what they expect from these players,” Ali added.
“You had Cedric at right-back, Emile (Smith Rowe) and Fabio (Vieira) in the first half. They are high level players, so the information we give them is very limited. They have real license to be fluid and play against each other because they do it every day.
There was a moment late in the first half when that fluidity was apparent, with Smith Rowe drifting further left to overload that side as Vieira moved more centrally. The England international lifted the ball to Lino Sousa – who had another impressive performance – and cut for Vieira but, with the ball on the rebound, the Portuguese midfielder couldn’t control his volley well enough.
Interestingly, despite his first appearance for Arsenal on the right, it wouldn’t be smart to rank Vieira in that position. He’s become a No.10 at Porto and as recently as after the weekend’s 4-2 win over Leicester City, Arteta mentioned him as an option (albeit with a different profile) for the role of Granit Xhaka in as Arsenal’s left-side No.8, saying: “Granit has certain characteristics and we can develop other characteristics because it has the ability to do so.
“When Fabio Vieira plays in this position, he will have a different role because his qualities are different and so is Martin (Odegaard). The team must adapt, but the players must also have an eye on the goal if they play there and the feeling that “I want to score”.”
Vieira’s career at Arsenal won’t be defined by a 45-minute appearance for the Under-21s. It wasn’t a game-changing introduction, but it was a pretty solid first outing for the midfielder and something tangible to build on over the coming weeks as he nears his first-team debut .
(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)