Vieira wrong! Arsenal CAN win ugly

Patrick Vieira has questioned his former club’s title credentials despite their brilliant start to the season.

If anybody surrounding the Arsenal camp had been asked over the summer where the side would be 15 games into the Premier League schedule, certainly none would’ve suggested five points clear at the top of the table.

A tumultuous period spanning June, July and August saw supporters rue what they believed to be a lack of ambition from the club, calling desperately on Arsene Wenger to spend on the market.

Of course, an opening day loss to Aston Villa at the Emirates only appeared to be an omen for further tribulations to come, but suddenly the thunderheads cleared and victories abounded as Mesut Ozil strolled into north London on deadline day.

There hasn’t been a significant amount of ugliness for the Gunners since the August 17 debacle against Paul Lambert’s men, as their record has been blemished just twice by defeat in the ensuing months between the Champions League and Premier League, first by Borussia Dortmund and one month later by Manchester United.

Yet Vieira remains unconvinced by the side he once captained, believing that two key elements of a champion are missing at the Emirates.

“When you look at Arsenal, they play fantastic football. But sometimes you need to win games playing badly, and I don't think Arsenal are capable of that at the moment,” he told the Daily Mirror.

"Maybe there is a lack of leadership - they don't have a Tony Adams, Martin Keown or Sol Campbell. These are players who can be leaders on or off the field."

Frankly, the Frenchman’s been a bit unfair to his ex-club.

Poor performances have been few and far between for the Gunners, but the 1-0 victory over Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on November 6 is a prime example of Wenger’s charges being able to grind out a victory when not at their best.

Arsenal’s first shot of the day came in the form of Aaron Ramsey’s 62nd minute winner during the encounter, in which they suffered immensely under an hour of constant pressure from a typically relentless Jurgen Klopp team.

The win was a quintessential display of this quality that Vieira has contended is absent in the north Londoners’ squad – the ability to hold out in a hostile environment long enough to scrape by with a single moment of inspiration.

In losing to Dortmund at home earlier in the Champions League group stage and United at Old Trafford, the Gunners were on top for the majority of proceedings, outplaying the competition and suffering from profligacy rather than being outlasted on a bad day at the office in a hotly-contested affair.

Thus the example of the away win in Germany is perhaps the only evidence of Arsenal’s resilience to poor form available, though Wenger’s men did fare poorly against Everton at the weekend and were denied three points only by Gerard Deulofeu brilliant equaliser, but provides a flawless illustration of what Vieira claimed the side are not capable of.

The Manchester City U-21 coach has indeed done himself more justice with the observation that Arsenal lack a defined leader, but the somewhat egalitarian nature of the squad hasn’t presented a problem up to this point, and there’s no indication that would point to it becoming one down the road.

Ozil certainly has become a reference point on the pitch in attack whilst Ramsey has looked beyond his years alongside veterans in midfield, and the experience of Per Mertesacker in defence has made up for the lack of inclusion of captain Thomas Vermaelen.

And barring a breakdown of this fabric that has lifted Arsenal to success thus far, this structure seems fit to take the place of a preeminent personality in the club’s ranks.

Napoli are still in the hunt for top for the Scudetto in Italy, in a comfortable third place but their form has trailed of late as, since a 3-0 upset defeat to Juventus on the same day Arsenal lost to Manchester United, the Partenopei have recorded a strong 4-2 victory over Lazio but have showed vulnerability at home - to both Parma (1-0 loss) and Udinese (a draw, but conceded thrice).

As such, Wojciech Szczesny holds no fear about going over to Italy and obtaining the result that will guarantee their top spot in Group F of the competition. Napoli, though, also have something to play for.

'In the first half-hour [against Napoli] we were frightening… I never touched the ball so that should tell you a lot,' reflected Szczesny to Arsenal Player. 'But now they play at home, they know they need to win, so they will probably throw everything at us and we're going to have to be focused to deal with that. But I believe we can turn up with the same sort of result again.'

He continued by touching on the importance of holding down that first position in the table: 'I think it's important to finish top. This year as well most of the big boys are top of their groups so coming on top of our group will give us probably a better draw in the last 16.

'I don't think we should approach the game thinking that we need to avoid a defeat. We believe that we're good enough to go there and get a win. We don't need to change our attitude, we need to keep it going the way we have been and that should give us a result.'

Arsenal take on Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday, December 11.

image: © EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

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