Fabio Vieira: How the “special talent” can improve Arsenal in possession? – scout report
After a turbulent 2021/22 season, Arsenal are back in the European competitions, although they didn’t achieve their main goal to return to the Champions League. With their growing ambitions and their contribution to the Europa League next term, bringing in new players is a necessity if they want to stay competitive enough both in the Premier League and in Europe.
The team lack squad depth in certain positions, and while the centre-forward is the most urgent one, especially after Alexandre Lacazette’s departure to Lyon, there are quite a few other areas that need improvement as well.
While many players are rumoured to have agreed terms with the Londoners, the club have only confirmed a couple of new signings – the 19-year-old Marquinhos and the 22-year-old Fábio Vieira. They are rumoured to be in discussions with Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus, Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans and Ajax‘s Lisandro Martínez.
We will focus our scout report on Vieira who just arrived after an impressive season with Porto, where he provided 16 assists and scored seven goals in 39 games.
Vieira is a creative attacking midfielder who most frequently strolls in the central areas in a 4-2-3-1 formation, although he can also occupy the right half-space as a right central midfielder or even forward in a 4-4-2. The 22-year-old provides many options up front through his versatility and constantly tries to threaten the goal both directly and indirectly.
He is crucial in possession as his tactical and spatial awareness help the team in the final phases of their attacks, resulting in him exploiting spaces and creating chances for his teammates. His positioning is key for his efficient performance as he can move between the lines and provide passing options, so the team are able to transition smoothly.
His spatial awareness allows him to receive the ball in quality positions and quickly scan the advanced areas for potential through balls to his fellow attacking players. His ability to identify free spaces, combined with his high awareness of the opposing players’ and his teammates’ positioning make him a very valuable addition in the final third. He is able to break through defences through his strong decision making which allows him to find the best solutions in attack.
He increases the efficiency in the advanced areas as his exploitation of the half-spaces allows the wide players more freedom of movement and predisposes higher levels of creativity. His dribbling and ability to hold on to the ball allow the team to retain possession and allow his teammates more time to move into quality positions.
Vieira is not only beneficial due to his creative passing. He also provides a direct threat through his shooting abilities. The 22-year-old had averaged 3 shots per 90 last season and while he particularly enjoys shooting from distance, he has been more efficient from close range thanks to his quality positioning. This doesn’t make his efforts from outside of the box unnecessary, as he often creates opportunities against low blocks and well-structured defences.
He can also provide a threat from attacking set-pieces and was often trusted with taking the penalty shots at Porto. What makes him that versatile is the fact that he comfortably plays with both feet. While he is naturally left-footed, a few of his goals have been scored with his right foot.
Out of possession
Vieira’s role out of possession shouldn’t be underestimated as well. While most of his actions are focused on providing attacking opportunities, his defensive awareness helps the team off the ball too.
He averaged 4.46 recoveries per 90 last season (71.6% in the opposition half) and was often able to break the links between the opposing defence and midfield and block their build-up play. His contribution to pressing was more so a requirement for him to fit Porto’s high press intensity, but his commitment to gaining back possession and quickly transforming that into goalscoring chances is highly valued.
His positional awareness helps in blocking the passing lanes and troubling the oppositions’ attacking efforts. He is more beneficial through his positioning and tactical intelligence, rather than his involvement in direct duels, which he does rarely compared to the other players in his position.
How can he help Arsenal?
There are many ways in which a player like Vieira can increase Arsenal’s efficiency in attack. The Gunners struggled in the final phases of their attacks in the absence of a natural forward who can convert their chances into goals. Despite the presence of creative players like Martin Ødegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, the team often had difficulties in breaking through defences and exploiting spaces.
Currently, Arsenal’s only centre-forward option is Eddie Nketiah who they managed to keep after long negotiations and while Nketiah has his strengths, the team desperately need an experienced player who can take responsibility in front of the goal and be a leader for the Londoners.
Their next move might determine whether Vieira can be used to his full potential as his partnership with the forward could be crucial for Arsenal in attack. Although as mentioned the Portuguese can provide a direct threat, he is much more efficient in a number 10 role where he can complement the forward’s movement through his positioning and passing.
The best-case scenario for the team would be signing a player who moves around and drops back to pick up the ball but also has the ability to make runs off the ball and quickly exploit spaces. That will allow the team to take advantage of Vieira’s efforts on the ball and could create an irreplaceable partnership where he not only supplies with quality balls but is also able to make positional interchanges and increase the versatility up front.
The 22-year-old could also complement the movement of the wide players. His through balls and space exploitation could be beneficial for both Bukayo Saka’s and Gabriel Martinelli’s movement. Vieira could successfully progress the ball out to them, where they can use their speed and technical abilities to bypass opposing players. This will allow them not only to provide a direct threat by cutting inside but will also give Vieira the chance to move off the ball and increase the pressure in front of the goal.
He can contribute with lay-offs and initiate one-touch pass combinations with his teammates, which can draw defenders out of position.
His strong positioning and ability to open passing lanes could also increase Granit Xhaka’s and Thomas Partey’s efficiency in midfield. He will be the passing link between midfield and attack, which would help Xhaka and Partey to split their responsibilities better and get caught out of position less frequently. This will improve the connection between the lines and minimise any gaps that may occur.
Comparison to Ødegaard
Vieira was quick to note his similarities with Ødegaard in his first interview for Arsenal’s official website. The two players do indeed have similar styles of play and traits, which might make the fight for a starting spot fiercer. That could actually be a positive turn of events for Mikel Arteta’s side, who often struggle with their motivation and consistency.
But let’s take a look at the simple data similarities and differences between both players.
Their number in possession above, confirm the similarities in their performance, although they also underline the higher efficiency of Vieira’s actions in certain areas. While Ødegaard excels in pass frequency and pass accuracy, the new signing is more active in his contribution to the final third action.
Vieira’s high number of through passes and dribbles per 90 underline his creativity, while the number of his passes to the penalty area and his crosses show his versatility and ability to increase the team’s efficiency up front in different ways.
He has also been more active in front of the goal, having a higher number of shooting attempts, although this is more so a result of his change of position, as he has players as a CF on multiple occasions for Porto.
Overall, when it comes to their actions on the ball, the new signing seems like a better fit for the possession-based and creative style of play that Arteta wants to implement.
Things don’t look much different defensively, with them both having similar numbers of defensive actions per 90. However, the table above shows Vieira’s higher frequency of lost balls and fouls committed per 90, which indicates that he might be the riskier option against more attack-minded teams.
As our analysis shows, Arsenal have secured a versatile player who can increase their efficiency in attack immediately. This won’t happen without the presence of a quality forward, though. It is yet unclear what are Arteta’s plans in terms of starting spot in attacking midfield, considering the presence of Ødegaard, but it is clear that the new signing can fit their team well and have an impact in possession. As the manager described him in an interview for the club’s website, the 22-year-old is a “special talent” and will bring “high quality” to the team.