A first look at Fabio Vieira: Clever vision and promising link-ups with Smith Rowe

As was the case with Marquinhos at the start of the month, Mikel Arteta made the trip to Meadow Park to watch another one of his summer signings’ first competitive minutes in Arsenal colours.

Fabio Vieira started for Arsenal’s 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 of Mehmet Ali’s development side to help first-team players gain fitness.

Lining up in the 4-3-3 system that Ali is becoming familiar with, Smith Rowe was used on the right of a midfield three, with Vieira played off the right wing following guidance from Arteta’s staff.

That is the position in which Vieira first broke into the Porto team during the 2019-20 season. The dynamics were slightly different, as his old team deployed a 4-4-2 formation rather than a 4-3-3, but he was still given freedom to roam and influence the game how he saw fit as a wide playmaker, instead of a playing as a more traditional touchline winger.

Fabio Vieira

Fabio Vieira in action against Swansea City’s under-21s (Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The Portugal Under-21 international played 45 minutes against Swansea as did Smith Rowe, and despite not having as an electrifying introduction as fellow summer recruit Marquinhos, who scored three times in the under-21s’ opening two games of the season, Vieira held his own.

“I thought he had some really good moments where it wasn’t easy to break Swansea down when they had 11 men on the pitch,” Ali said post-match.

“He had a really good blend of threatening in behind but also coming into clever pockets; coming deeper to get the ball to feet. I thought he mixed that up really well and that’s what we wanted from him: to get on the ball and cause problems. I felt he created a few good chances and had some opportunities to score as well.”

During Vieira’s first half of football in north London, there were a few common themes that arose.

The first was that the former Porto man appears very technically sound. Whether it was controlling aerial passes towards him or retaining possession in tight spaces, the 22-year-old was very comfortable on the ball.

It was also clear on multiple occasions that Vieira could very quickly see the picture in front him. Slid in by Smith Rowe, he quickly checked back onto his left foot, teasing his marker to slide past him and then lifting the ball to the back post expecting a runner to knock it in, albeit no Arsenal team-mate had made the required movement.

As was to be expected, he had a bigger impact on the game when he got onto the ball in the right half-space than when facing a defender in a one-v-one. Vieira still tried to get around his opposite number where possible but when he was forced onto his right foot, he couldn’t quite make that burst past a marker or had tame shots deflected behind for corners.

Early on, he clipped a lovely ball into the box for Smith Rowe to chase and cut across the six-yard box, which led to Arsenal having two shots blocked. Off the ball, he also drifted into those spaces to receive off Miguel Azeez — who performed well, looking sharper on and off the ball at the base of midfield — and also break into the final third.

Playing near Smith Rowe, the pair combined well in the first half. At times, they switched positions so that Vieira was on the inside and Smith Rowe was on the touchline, and at others, they would trade quick one-touch passes to work their way upfield, which was beneficial against a rigid defensive shape. The tidiness of their combinations was encouraging especially given how the first team have begun playing with more freedom within their structure, particularly by playing off instinct more in the final third since the arrival of Gabriel Jesus.

“The first-team staff will guide what they want from those players,” Ali added.

“You had Cedric at right-back, Emile (Smith Rowe) and Fabio (Vieira) in the first half. They’re top players, so the information we’re giving them is very limited. They’ve got a real licence to be fluid and play off each other because they do it every single day.”

Emile Smith Rowe, Cedric, Arsenal

Emile Smith Rowe congratulates Cedric (right) after the latter scores to make it 2-1 against Swansea (Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

There was a moment late in the first half where that fluidity was apparent, with Smith Rowe drifting further left to overload that side while Vieira moved more central. The England international lifted the ball to the onrushing Lino Sousa — who had another impressive performance — and cut back for Vieira, but with the ball on the bounce, the Portuguese midfielder could not control his volley well enough.

Interestingly, despite making his first appearance for Arsenal on the right, it would not be smart to pigeonhole Vieira to just that position. He grew into 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 (yet with a different profile) for the Granit Xhaka role as Arsenal’s left-sided No 8, saying: Granit has certain characteristics and we can develop other characteristics because he has the ability to do it.

When Fabio Vieira plays in that position, he’ll have a different role because his qualities are different and Martin (Odegaard) as well. The team has to adapt but the players as well have to have an eye for goal if they’re playing there, and the feeling that, ‘I want to score’.

Vieira’s Arsenal career will not be defined by a 45-minute cameo for the under-21s. It was not a groundbreaking introduction but it was a solid-enough first outing for the midfielder and something tangible to build on over the coming weeks as he gets closer to a first-team debut.

(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)


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