The Vieira who once helped lead Arsenal through the glory days of trophies and titles could be what the Professor needs right now. Wenger’s kids are in dire need of core leadership and defensive stability. There’s a Lord of the Flies comparison in here somewhere, but I can’t quite flush it out. Arsenal definitely need a grown-up on their island to keep them grounded and direct them. And Vieira is an obvious candidate. A legendary defensive midfielder with undeniable leadership and experience, a Vieira-type presence could be the thing Arsenal need to steady the ship and give it direction once again. But can Vieira bring anything near the old stuff?
He’s 33 years old. Well past his prime. He’s struggled with form. He’s struggled with injury. He might step into his old boots with success or he could spend most of the season on the physio’s table. Wenger knows he won’t be getting the old Vieira. He knows he’d be investing in a hit-or-miss package. So the question becomes, will the off-the-pitch influence of Vieira outweigh any on-the-pitch inconsistency?
With the market’s inflated prices I wonder if we’ll see more aging players going to big English clubs. Owen to United. Vieira might go to Arsenal. Who else? If big club can get a discount price on such established-yet-fading talent, who can blame them for trying to integrate the old and young? Owen and Vieira won’t start every match, but if they can perform well in small doses and influence younger, still-developing players, such moves can pay off.
Arsenal have also been connected to Blaise Matuidi from Saint-Etienne. The 22-year-old defensive midfielder can give Arsenal the tactical difference they need and help balance their flowing attack-mindedness with some central rigidity. But what Vieira can bring as a veteran might be as important to Wenger as the vitality Matuidi can bring as a young player. Wenger should probably grab them both. The best of both worlds and two promising options in deep midfield, a place Arsenal have shown a painful vacancy.
Last season, Wenger relied on his plethora of youngsters. But what was missing was someone to teach them. There was no Vieira, no Henry to look up to, to follow. Vieira could do wonders as a leader and a teacher, helping works-in-progress like Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott bloom into their fullest potential.
The remaining quesiton is would Vieira embrace the move? He wants to play in South Africa in 2010. He wants to spend the next year proving he’s up to that challenge. Playing in the Premier League again could mean less starts than if he landed in a gentler league. The roughness and intensity in England could put him at a higher risk for recurring injury. At his age, he might be more likely to get the starts he wants at a smaller club. He might be more likely to enjoy a full season of play in a gentler league. Can his history with Arsenal and his relationship with Wenger outweigh these considerations?
Like Owen for United, Vieira shouldn’t cost Arsenal much. Owen came on the free. Vieira only has a year left on his contract. If Arsenal can convince him to come and bring him in at a modest price they’ll have no complaint if he doesn’t give them the old stuff every week.
I guess all this thinking out loud leads me to this: If Wenger can get him, Wenger should go for him. Why not? Set up a performance-based deal akin to Owen’s and Wenger will get what he pays for with Vieira. As when Robbie Fowler came back to Liverpool in 2006: Fowler didn’t tear up the pitch every week and he didn’t magically regain his old abilities, but he scored 10 goals in all competitions and gave his teammates a lift just by being there. A dose of a Vieira could be a great thing for the ailing Gunners. I wonder if he’d embrace a return to north London.