Mikel Arteta admits Fabio Vieira has been unlucky not to feature more regularly for Arsenal since the World Cup although there are signs that the midfielder is growing in stature at the club.
Joining the Gunners in a €40 million summer deal from Porto, the 22-year-old was initially held back by a foot injury that ruled him out of pre-season. He’s since made 26 appearances – a total of 1,198 minutes across all competitions – although tellingly, two-thirds of his time on the pitch has come in cup competitions.
This week, Vieira started consecutive matches for Arsenal for the first time; first, filling in for Granit Xhaka in the 3-2 win over Bournemouth and then replacing Martin Odegaard as the Gunners drew 2-2 with Sporting Lisbon.
Judging by Arteta’s comments, we’re going to see even more of the Portugal under-21 international.
“We’re really happy with him, I think he deserves more minutes than he’s had especially in the last two months,” he said.
“Obviously he had a difficult start because he was injured as soon as he joined so he required a bit of time to get back to the level that we want.
“You saw tonight [against Sporting] he was one of our dangerous players, making things happen and he’s a player that I absolutely love.”
If captain Odegaard doesn’t recover from the illness that ruled him out of the trip to Lisbon, Vieira could get another chance on Sunday when the Gunners travel to Fulham. Then attention returns to the Europa League and a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals.
While some consider our responsibilities in Europe to be a distraction, the manager insists Arsenal are taking the competition seriously.
“We’re not [giving up on this competition] and we had to go against a few issues that we’ve had in the last few days where we’ve lost a few players.
“We lost four or three or our strikers, but in this competition, if you want to go through, you’re going to have to go through difficult moments.
“We knew that, we are alive, everything is still to play for at the Emirates and hopefully we will play better and deserve to win the game.”
In three of Arsenal’s last five games, Arteta’s side have conceded twice. It’s a bad habit that heaps pressure on the front players at a time when the club has something of an injury crisis in that department.
It’s not gone unnoticed by Arteta, who said: “We are conceding too many simple goals and we’ve talked about the importance of boxes, and especially in a competition where you are in or out.
“Today we didn’t defend that well enough, and we have to do better up against our opponents. We’ve had a lot of really emotional games recently, and today we made a lot of changes, meaning that cohesion needs some time.
“You could feel that in the first 10-15 minutes that we needed some time to adapt and to click, but if we don’t expose them, that’s never going to happen.”