Patrick Vieira hands Arsenal reminder of potential as doubts linger over Mikel Arteta

The Gunners may have picked the wrong former midfielder with experience at Manchester City to lead their rebuild

Vithushan Ehantharajah
Emirates Stadium
Tuesday 19 October 2021 14:23
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<p>Top Gunners: Vieira and Arteta greet each other before kick-off </p>

Top Gunners: Vieira and Arteta greet each other before kick-off

So – did Arsenal pick the wrong former midfielder who spent a bit of time at Manchester City?

It’s a thought that came to mind after Monday night’s 2-2 draw between Arsenal and Crystal Palace. One where Palace bossed the middle hour of this Premier League fixture against more vaunted opponents and came out nursing what felt like a defeat after Alexandre Lacazette’s 95th-minute equaliser. And though the reasons visiting manager Patrick Vieira’s name was sung and Mikel Arteta’s wasn’t, it is a thought that will get some traction over the next few days.

However earnest, there is a knee-jerk element to it. If only because it benefits from the cloud of malaise that lingers over the current Arsenal manager even at a time of progress. This, after all, being a fifth game unbeaten (11 points in five) since the defeat against Manchester City that had Arsenal bottom of the table. The three victories from that 5-0 pummelling at the Etihad, culminating in a 3-1 demolition of rivals Tottenham Hotspur, were held up as a corner turned by the club and, more importantly, Arteta.

Not to mention it discounts the reservations about Vieira held when he was considered to replace Unai Emery. There were legitimate questions of his managerial credentials given his struggles at Nice. Indeed, Vieira’s playing career was the biggest plus going for him. In a way, the hierarchy deserves credit for not getting swept up by those three Premier League titles, numerous highlight reels and the immeasurable emotional pull that Vieira the player had on those with Arsenal interests, be they business or personal. Even if in selecting Arteta, they did put their faith in a less-decorated novice.

There is, however, a conversation to be had. It is coming up to two years in charge and we are still none the wiser on exactly what Arteta is trying to achieve with his side. For many, however, this prolonged stasis of middle of the road, mid-table living is reflective of his limits as a manager.

Monday was all too familiar for Arsenal under Arteta. A bright start, then the ceremonial ceding possession and ground for no good reason. A series of events that coincided with Palace finding their feet and Arsenal letting them reclaim territory for no good reason. Nevertheless, what the visitors showed to get back into the contest with Christian Benteke’s equaliser and then a deserved lead through Odsonne Edouard was in keeping with the encouraging signs under Vieira already after just nine games in charge.

Both Palace goals came about through intelligent and energetic pressing, first from Jordan Ayew, then the indomitable Conor Gallagher. That high pressure administered on Arsenal’s defence and midfield was particularly evident at the end of the first half, where regaining the ball saw Palace finish the opening period with more possession overall (56.7 per cent), out-passing their opponents 289 to 221 despite their slow start.

Vieira celebrates his side’s second goal

“I was really pleased with the attitude we showed on the field,” said Vieira after the match. “It was challenging the first 15 minutes but we managed and controlled the game quite well.”

Arteta, meanwhile, bemoaned a lack of composure and poor game management from his side: “We started to defend something after scoring the goal and that’s what I don’t really like. We started to play not forward and keep the ball in the wrong areas and put ourselves in trouble.”

While we can question how much more Arteta can squeeze from his side, it is probably worth tempering any suggestions that Vieira was the one that got away. Even if the Frenchman was given the keys to the Emirates back in December 2019 instead, he would have had to contend with the same issues that have blighted the Spaniard. Who’s to know how much better he would have handled the fractured boardroom above him, a bloated squad in need to shaking up or Mesut Ozil?

What we do know is the situation Vieira has at Selhurst Park is altogether more favourable. In Steve Parish he has a chairman who is in touch with the football side of operations. The necessary squad refresh was already being actioned when he arrived in the summer. And, to be frank, the ambitions, both of the team and what is expected of him, are lower and, thus, easier to manage. Lest we forget, Palace have just one win in eight Premier League games.

Lacazette wheels away to celebrate after his stoppage-time equaliser

All told, there was something quaint about seeing two disciples of Arsene Wenger going toe-to-toe on Monday night. Wenger, like Sir Alex Ferguson, has not exactly bred an army of world-beating managers. But right now, with a moral victory if not an authentic one, Vieira's stock as a Wenger-a-like is that little bit higher. He even pulled out an old Arsene classic – claiming he “did not see” when James McArthur volleyed the right calf of Bukayo Saka, which somehow did not lead to a red card on the field or in the VAR booth.

For now, Vieira’s main focus will be getting a second win on the board, and no doubt stopping this knack of conceding with virtually the last kick of games that cost them two points against Brighton and again here. Victory over Arsenal would have taken Palace ahead of them, into 13th, on goal difference. Should Vieira finish ahead of his former club at the end of the season, it might not be long before north London becomes home again.

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