You have to be living under a rock to miss that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger announced he will depart from the Emirates at the end of the current season after 22 years in charge. The rumour mill began in earnest with some Arsenal fans (that’s you Arsenal Fan TV) not even allowing the dust to settle before speculating about the great Frenchman’s successor.
Brenden Rodgers (The Brodge to his friends), Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Carlo Ancelotti have all been touted as potential replacements but the man most intriguing is the figure of New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira.
Patrick Vieira is a former Arsenal captain, who led the Gunners during the fabled Invincibles 2003-04 season and enjoyed his best playing days under Monsieur Wenger. Vieira remains a popular figure in the red and white side of North London after spending nine years of his career with Arsenal, lifting three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in the process.
One person you can absolutely trust in these situations for reliable football news is disgraced beIN SPORTS television commentator Richard Keys, who tweeted that Wenger himself recommended Patrick Vieira as his successor but according to Keys, the Arsenal board ‘aren’t entirely sold on the idea’.
Just a day before the announcement that Wenger would leave at the end of the season, he spoke of his admiration for Vieira’s coaching potential and suggested that he might someday follow in his footsteps at the Emirates Stadium. Wenger said:
“He’s a guy who has the potential one day, yes. I’ve followed his managerial career. I think he does very well. But overall, after that, this Premier League is special, you know. … There are plenty of former players who played here who have potential and the intelligence and the knowledge to do it.”
Vieira ended his career with Italian sides Juventus and Inter Milan before briefly appearing for Manchester City. Vieira retired from midfield duty in 2011 having won the FA Cup once more and began his coaching career in the City youth development system. After beginning with a training and youth development role, he was promoted to reserve team and Elite Development squad manager in May 2013. Having rejected a move to Newcastle United two years later in May 2015, he was announced as the new head coach of New York City FC in November of the same year.
Having led New York City to consecutive MLS Cup Playoffs appearances, the Boys in Blue are now firmly in the fight to be named MLS Champions in 2018.
Following NYCFC’s first loss of the season to Portland Timbers, he declined to discuss reports connecting him to the managerial vacancy at Arsenal. “I just want to talk about the game,” Vieira responded as he remained tight lipped. “I don’t have any comment to make. I just want to talk about today’s game and nothing else.”
Later in an interview with the Times, Vieira was decidedly more engaging in the topic, illuminating a light on his own personal ambitions to manage in Europe in an discussion which is sure to fan the flames of his potential return to Arsenal.
“Of course it’s an honour to be mentioned with Arsenal.”
“It was somewhere I spent nine years and I love the club. I played my best football there and made my name in the game. I am always going to have a deeper relationship with Arsenal. That [alone] is not enough to coach that team but I’m ready to coach any side in Europe.
“I don’t want this to be perceived that I want to go because I don’t want to leave. But if the question is as simple as ‘are you ready to manage any teams in Europe?’ then I would say yes. I am ready.
“I think we’re all doing this job because one day we want to coach the biggest teams in Europe. Just like when you’re a player, you want to play for the biggest clubs.
“If the call came it would be really difficult. It would be difficult because we will be in the middle of the season.”
Looking at the tactics Vieira has utilised while in MLS, it’s clear that he doesn’t immediately make the best fit with the Gunners, somewhat making a leap that he would look to replicate his current system of play as he refines the theory with New York City.
Vieira’s team set out in a 4-3-3 consistently, last season Pirlo was the deep lying playmaker behind the combination of Alexander Ring and Maximiliano Morález. This season Ring has moved centrally while Ebenezer Ofori has come in ahead of him. Last season the front three read from left to right Wallace, Villa and Jack Harrison. With the Englishman’s departure to Stoke City, versatile Norwegian international Jo Inge Berget joins Villa and Rod Wallace plays as an inverted winger on the right.
Defensivly New York City squeeze hard in the opposition defensive third with the forward three required to press their respective opponents, Berget and Wallace on the full-backs and Villa (often assisted by Morález) closing down the centre-backs. When the opposition transition into the middle third, the team retreats into a 4-1-4-1 to clog up the space combined with a high defensive line, reducing the space between City’s defence and midfield.
When City have the ball, they look to play a slow progressive possession based game, using triangles before sending the ball down the flanks through the full-backs to the respective winger ahead of them.
There are some areas which suit Arsenal’s current playing style and personnel. Patiently keeping possession at the back and moving the ball horizontally to drag the opposition out of their designated place are traits of Wenger’s Arsenal and crucially, what Vieira himself experienced as part of the Gunners’ midfield. Where there are differences is in the method the two sides look to force openings. Arsenal are very swift and direct, looking for through balls to Lacazette or more recently the explosive pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. City rely on individual skill and the guile of David Villa, the Spaniard being less mobile than Arsenal’s strikers.
While New York City look to play from full-back to winger, Arsenal are shorn of genuine wide men. The two players most associated with wing play in recent Arsenal seasons, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, have departed the club. Instead Arsenal look to employ a mobile three to cut inside behind the striker, relying on the full or wing-backs for width.
Patrick Vieira is certainly an option to replace Arsene Wenger but with an immediate priority on defensive solidity, it may be wise to appoint a more pragmatic coach who strengthens that area of the team and maintains the current attacking unit, which has been assembled at some cost.