Arsenal Need Style And Substance, Says Vieira

Joe GSenior Writer IDecember 15, 2008

In an interview with The Guardian, former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira has delved deep into the problems plaguing his former team during their current campaign.

Vieira, like his countryman Arsene Wenger, seems to believe that the problem lies not with talent but with mentality and experience. He specifically pointed to the loss of experienced veterans like Gilberto or Mathieu Flamini as reasons for Arsenal's struggles.

"It's not easy when you lose Flamini, Hleb, Senderos, Gilberto, and Lehmann. When you lose all these players—and Flamini, for me, was the best player last year—it's really difficult to compete against Chelsea, Man United or Liverpool." Said Vieira.

He was quick to defend their replacements though, especially Flamini's replacement Denilson.

"When you look at the talent of Flamini and the talent of the new Brazilian guy [in midfield], Denilson, it's not the difference," he said. "He is really talented but maybe he needs more time to express himself. He needs to learn more because the more you play, the better you will be.

"I don't think Arsenal lost on the true talent but, by losing these five players, they lost a lot of experience. And of course, at the high level, people don't have the patience. The only thing that counts is the result."

Vieira is essentially echoing the sentiments of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been saying all season that his team has the talent to compete, and wins over Manchester United and Chelsea have shown that.

The squad has no problem getting excited for the big matches, but they seem to lack a competitive edge against opponents that they are supposed to beat easily. Arsenal currently sit fifth in the league thanks to puzzling defeats at the hands of Fulham, Hull, Stoke, Villa, and Manchester City.

Compounding their misery are draws against Sunderland, Boro, and Tottenham. The Tottenham draw is heartbreaking when you consider that the Gunners had a two-goal lead going into the 89th minute. These are the results that have left Wenger on the defensive and the Gunners faithful foaming at the mouth.

Vieira did offer some solutions in addition to his biting criticism.

"A winning mentality does not come in one day," he said. "I'm sure that every single player at Arsenal wants to win but it is coming to the moment when you need to play really bad games and win 1-0. One of the problems for Arsenal as well is that they are conceding too many goals. I think that teams now play against Arsenal knowing that they can score so that can be a little bit psychological."

Hmm...the problems start with the back line?

That makes sense. That's where most of the discord in the squad has originated. William Gallas has been inconsistent and may have alienated some of his teammates with his now infamous comments. Phillippe Senderos and his experience is gone on loan.

Really the only constant for Arsenal in back has been the play of Gael Clichy.

But one man does not a winning squad make.

Vieira and Wenger believe that the team is capable of winning but just needs to string together some consistent play. The defense needs to lock down and put together a few straight weeks of great play. A couple of clean sheets might set them on the right track.

Injuries are also part of the consistency issue, but that too looks to be clearing up in the near future. Eboue has just returned from a nagging injury, Eduardo is set to begin playing with the reserves 10 months after his horrific leg break, and Theo Walcott should be back shortly after the New Year.

Perhaps Arsenal also needs to get back to the style of play that they enjoyed while Vieira was in North London. He was a commanding physical presence in the middle while also contributing to Wenger's style of attack. Flamini looked like he was capable of filling that role, but with the departure of he and Gilberto, Arsenal lost a considerable physical presence.

Things are looking up for the Gunners in the second half, but Vieira has a message for Arsenal fans who may be harbouring some doubts.

"My message to the fans would be to be patient and calm, Arsène knows what he is doing. Being in London and seeing the Arsenal fans, the thing that is coming [out] really often is the frustration because they want to win trophies and they know that the talent is there but they are still missing something.

"I don't know if they need to get players [in January], I just really believe that they need to get a bit more together. I don't write them off. They can surprise so many teams and, even if they don't do what they expect to do in the championship, they can in the Champions League."

So there you go.

If the confidence coming from Le Boss wasn't enough, perhaps hearing the same thing from a legendary Arsenal man might help drive the point home.

Arsenal is only eight points back of the leaders Liverpool, and face the Reds this weekend. Will it be another victory over the top four for Arsenal? Will Patrick Vieira be proved right by his former club?