Arsenal’s Fabio Vieira is Slowly Moving in the Right Direction

Mikel Arteta was hopeful that this would be Fabio Vieira’s breakout game.

A foot injury plagued the Portuguese playmaker’s start to life as a Gooner after he joined the club in a surprise €35m move from Porto in June, and his acclimatization to life in north London suffered as a result.

Arteta’s settled Premier League XI has meant chances have as few and far between for the midfielder in the top flight, with the majority of his 879 minutes this season arriving in either the Europa League or cup competitions.

The summer arrival had certainly teased his talent before Arsenal’s FA Cup third-round tie away at Oxford Unitedbut impatient supporters were growing frustrated at Vieira’s slow start to life in north London.

Fabio Vieira is slowly moving in the right direction

“He is in a much better place,” said Arteta ahead of Monday night’s game. “I think physically he has reached the level now where he can compete at the standards that we want.”

The Spaniard’s comments regarding Vieira’s development excited fans ahead of the trip to the Kassam Stadium, but for the opening hour of a drab cup tie, many were scathing of Vieira’s anonymous showing. Oxford’s aggressive approach without the ball, which included a man-marking ploy in midfield, limited Vieira’s touches and he was barely involved for two-thirds of the game.

Sure, there were tidy actions here and there, but also examples of the diminutive point guard being hassled off the ball rather easily. Concerns over the player’s minute frame resurfaced.

But then, just as calls for the player’s head were becoming rife, Mohamed Elneny headed home Vieira’s wicked free-kick to give Arsenal the lead. In an optimal position and under no pressure, the 22-year-old showed off his stellar technique and the ability to execute the killer final action that convinced the club to sign him in the summer. It was a cross so perfect that not even Elneny could miss.

The set-piece assist, combined with Arteta’s substitutions, ignited the former Porto star, who started to enjoy the greater freedom that his role entailed following the arrivals of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Granit Xhaka into midfield. A clever backheel for Bukayo Saka predated his first assist from him, but was nonetheless another sign of Vieira’s ingenuity from him.

His standout moment, however, arrived seven minutes after Elneny’s opener when he received possession in acres of space high up the field amid a disorganized Oxford backline. The lack of pressure allowed Vieira to turn with ease and once he was facing in the direction of the hosts’ goal, a disguised but incisive pass put Eddie Nketiah through on goal. The weight of the through ball was perfect, and Eddie ensured the midfielder grabbed his second assist of the night by rounding the keeper and sliding the ball into an empty net.

While many celebrated with the goalscorer after he got himself on the scoresheet yet again, Zinchenko ran over to Vieira in appreciation of his divine pass. The Arsenal squad are believed to have played a big role in allowing the young midfielder to settle comfortably in north London despite his lack of minutes, and little things like that from Zinchenko will go a long way in boosting the player’s confidence.

Arteta said ahead of the cup tie that he was “really happy” with how the 22-year-old was coming along, and he was full of praise for the two-assist man post-match.

“He contributed in a big way to win the game. That’s his quality of him – to create goals, to decide games in the final third and he had two really good moments that helped us win the game. The moment we started to do things better, he found more space,” the boss said.

There’s still so much more to come from the summer signing, but those two second-half moments at the Kassam Stadium depicted why Fabio Vieira’s arrival was greeted with much fanfare. He’s a player that boasts the requisite quality to make a huge impact in the final third and, in time, that ability will manifest itself at the highest level.

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