Arsenal: 5 Players They're Pursuing to Replace Patrick Vieira
It is no minor detail that Arsenal's trophy drought has coincided exactly with a large Patrick Vieira-shaped hole in midfield.
Of all the big-name players Arsenal have lost in the past few years, Vieira was arguably the most damaging—even though the timing of his sale was probably adroit—simply because he was never adequately replaced.
At the time, the emergent Cesc Fabregas claimed his role with such aplomb, the loss was hardly felt.
And as the general ethos in world football has shifted emphasis from physique to technique, it hasn't always been clear that a player in the Vieira mould was strictly necessary.
Yet Arsene Wenger himself—often criticised for seeming to favour small, tricky players over more direct power and height—has been reluctant to abandon the template, as his persistent faith in Abou Diaby has shown.
But as that faith becomes more and more unjustified in light of chronic injuries and marginal influence, Arsenal may be turning to the transfer market finally to replace Vieira.
Here are five players Arsenal are said to be pursuing this summer to fill that hole in midfield, plus an assessment of their credentials in three of Vieira's great strengths: skill, physical presence and character.
It's not often that an SPL star generates as much transfer speculation as Celtic's Victor Wanyama has this year.
According to ESPN, Arsenal are among a clutch of English Premier League clubs thought to be targeting the 21-year-old Kenyan.
Physical Presence: Wanyama rates highly in power and physique, at 1.88 metres.
Skill: Detractors may say his show of skill could be exaggerated by the lacklustre competition in the SPL, but his winning display against Barcelona in the Champions League amply refutes that argument.
Character: His leadership potential is unproven, but again, his unflinching performances against Barcelona both home and away indicate a rare big-game mentality. Plus, his choice of shirt number 67 in deference to Celtic's legendary European Cup-winning year suggests a player able to capture the hearts of fans and teammates as surely as Vieira.
The 20-year-old has key assets and versatility in the middle of the park, and among the youngest of the summer prospects, he offers tremendous potential for development under Wenger.
Physical Presence: The lankiest of the crop, Kondogbia obviously has room for physical development as well, but even at 20 he has an imposing presence.
Character: His rapid development in his first year at Sevilla indicates a healthy determination.
The tallest of the prospects, Everton's Marouane Fellaini has lately performed more as an attacking midfielder, but his physique, strength and—most important for Arsenal, who continue to struggle defending set pieces—aerial prowess make him a creditable Vieira replacement.
His Premier League experience also makes Fellaini a favourite.
Speculation linking the Belgian to Arsenal has increased recently, with the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel suggesting Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis would be willing to meet Everton's £24 million buyout clause.
Physical Presence: Two centimetres taller than Vieira, Fellaini also displays impressive strength and stamina.
Skill: His prowess in the air can match Vieira, if not on the ground.
Character: Fellaini's commitment has been questioned, as spectacular displays have sometimes been followed by spells of anonymity.
Versatile France international Etienne Capoue has long been an Arsenal target with the Vieira mould in mind, the Express reported of the club's interest back in April.
At 24, the Toulouse midfielder offers a mix of experience and potential. He is also capable of filling in at centre-back, which could prove him a canny signing given Arsenal's thin defensive cover.
Physical Presence: As imposing as one would expect from a player who frequently operates in Vieira's role for France.
Skill: His strength in the air, tackling, interception and passing make him an excellent candidate for the defensive midfield role, both in terms of breaking up play and launching attacks.
Character: Perhaps lacks the leadership qualities of Vieira, but his professional demeanour put him firmly ahead of former target Yann M'Vila on the Arsenal wish list.
The ex-Manchester United reserve player's similarities to Vieira have been talked up by none other than the man himself.
"I think he's the next great midfielder for the French national team," Vieira told RMC Sport (in French) in April after watching Pogba play for Juventus. "He's calm, very technically strong. He's bound to score lots more goals than me... He's better than me at the same age."
Physical Presence: Even as the youngest prospect, he one of the more physically imposing.
Skill: Technically adept and remarkably complete for his age.
Character: His progress in one season to go from frustrated United reserve to regular for Serie A champions Juventus shows exceptional determination and character.