Can Fellaini become as important as Vieira for Arsenal?

Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini is heavily linked with a move to Arsenal this summer following reports that the Gunners had activated his £23 million release clause to bring him to the Emirates.

The 25-year-old Belgian arrived in the Premier League from Standard Liege in 2008 at the age of 20 and was yet another fine example of the impeccable work done on scouting and development under David Moyes at Goodison Park in recent years.

The imposing 6ft4” defensive midfielder has played over 100 games in the English top tier and emerged in the last season especially as one of the most dangerous and dominant opponents in the middle of the park.

His control and technical ability on the ball, his range of passing, his hold-up play, his aerial dominance, his power, strength and agility make him both a dangerous and useful asset all over the pitch.

Defensively he can protect the backline, likes a strong challenge and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty for the benefit of the team. Both attacking and defending set pieces he towers above most other players and his heading is both a weapon and a means of protection in the box.

For his size and physique he’s remarkably skilful, he can weave in and out of tight corners, dribble past opponents with a range of tricks up his sleeve – he’s intelligent in both his drawing of players to the ball and his movement off it in the middle of the park.

His passing is of an excellent standard and his vision adept at finding a forward teammate with cross-field diagonal balls as much as it is when making triangles in close proximity.

He’s strong, holds the ball up well with his back to goal – he can function effectively as a target man in and around the opposition half. His hair helps too. To round it all off he’s a winner – he’s focused, committed and determined to give one hundred per cent for the team.

For all of those reasons, he reminds me a little bit of Arsenal and France legend Patrick Vieira who commanded the Gunners’ midfield for the best part of a decade under Arsene Wenger.

His goal stats are similar to Fellaini’s form prior to this season when the Belgian really made his mark in front of goal (12 goals in 36 games). He operated in a slightly more forward role this term for Everton and subsequently enjoyed ever-so-slightly more freedom to get forward and into the box.

Vieira was a legend for many reasons at Arsenal – first and foremost for his 9 seasons in North London, along with the trophies won and the glory days enjoyed in that period. Arsenal won three league titles and four FA Cups during Vieira’s time at Highbury.

Vieira was the kind of player who liked to throw his weight around – most infamously in duels with Roy Keane during his time at Manchester United – but the current Arsenal team don’t have that fear-factor. Wenger can’t claim to have a player that scares the opposition physically.

Even before the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona that was the case – I’d imagine you’d have to go all the way back to 2006 before Abou Diaby endured the tackle that would effectively destroy the next 7 years of his career. The season prior to that tackle happened to be Vieira’s last before he moved on to Juventus.

The only other defensive midfielders in the period between then and now were Mathieu Flamini and Denilson, (both 5ft10” and of slight build) and they were never really going to intimidate anyone.

Diaby was intended as a replacement for his elder compatriot who, at his peak, was one of the best midfielders in the world, winning the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships in 2000 with France – undoubtedly their golden generation.

But, as sad as it is, it doesn’t look as though Diaby will be able to genuinely fulfil his immense potential, despite his constant comeback struggles year in year out. Arsenal earned a reputation since the departure of Vieira of being too easily bullied and that is something that stuck around for many years.

They’re no longer a whole team of tiny dancers but the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are not physically intimidating – not to players of Fellaini’s size, anyway.

Fellaini possesses all the same physical qualities as Vieira (they’re almost exactly the same height, weight and build) and the majority of the same technical and mental qualities.

If he does indeed end up at the Emirates this summer, Wenger will once again have a rampaging monster in his midfield, capable of protecting the backline, doing the dirty work to make space for the flair players and getting his head on the end of crosses into the box.

Could Marouane Fellaini ever be as important to Arsenal as Patrick Vieira was? If they end up winning a few trophies with him, I wouldn’t rule it out. If Fellaini moves to Arsenal this summer we may chart back in a few years a shift in power in the Premier League not altogether dissimilar from when Vieira arrived in 1996.

The following season 1997/98 Arsenal won the double - in fact Arsenal have not won a trophy in the years since the Frenchman departed. That ought to tell you something about the kind of impact Vieira had and Fellaini can have on Arsenal. He could be a complete game-changer - he could genuinely be the difference in their quest for a title.

images: © gordonflood, © nicksarebi

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