Fabio Vieira was excellent but no amount of excellence will be enough to force Arteta’s hand at Arsenal. Takehiro Tomiyasu wasn’t excellent.
Both Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira will have expected to be more involved for Arsenal this season. Tomiyasu has started four Premier League games despite Cedric Soares being the only recognised competition for his right-back berth. Vieira’s started just one Premier League game following his £30m move from Porto. Neither accounted for the brilliance of their rivals in the first XI.
Ben White played just his second ever game at right-back for Arsenal in the opening-day win over Crystal Palace and has kept his place in that position ever since. His form, paired with the solidity of the centre-backs alongside him, has meant there’s been no need for Mikel Arteta to either drop White from the team or move him centrally into a more natural position.
Tomiyasu may well be in the Premier League starting line-up had he not been injured at the start of the season, though it’s hard to believe he was ever in possession of that shirt judging by his performance on Monday night.
With the way Oxford packed the centre of the pitch and stuck as tight as they could to Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, the full-backs – and Tomiyasu in particular – were afforded the most space to create.
The Japan international did very little with those opportunities, with crosses hitting first defenders and seemingly obvious forward options ignored.
Tomiyasu perhaps illustrates the progress Arsenal have made in the last year better than anyone. He was one of the shining lights under Arteta following his move from Bologna, starting 15 Premier League games on the bounce after his arrival in the summer of 2021. Now he’s a serviceable sub at best.
Vieira is close and yet so far from Arsenal’s best XI. He’s probably the most technically gifted player in the squad not playing week in, week out in the Premier League.
It was easy to see against Oxford that Vieira could be a very productive influence in the Premier League. He has the knack of finding space and the ability to pick through balls from those tight gaps in a defensive rearguard.
He was so rarely found in those spaces in the first half, at which point it looked as though the problem for Vieira, as is the case for anyone looking to prove their Premier League worth in domestic cup games, would be having to play alongside teammates with even less of a chance of making the step up.
Vieira would have looked a lot better had he been playing with Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka rather than Albert Sambi Lokonga and Mohamed Elneny. And he looked pretty damn good anyway.
He produced a stunning free-kick, which was curled beautifully on to Elneny’s head for the first goal of the game, before he utilised a pocket of space to slip a perfect pass behind the defence for Eddie Nketiah to score the second.
He’s an excellent footballer currently faced with what feels like a hopeless task. There are few more difficult than displacing Martin Odegaard, the club captain and arguably Arsenal’s best player this season.
Vieira’s performance against Oxford will have made no difference to Arteta’s selection against Tottenham. If the first-teamers are fit, Vieira won’t be starting the north London derby.
That’s of course the danger of signing for a brilliant team, but Vieira can feel hard done by that the team he signed for was half as brilliant when he arrived as it is now. But it’s wonderful for Arteta and Arsenal, for whom the loss of Odegaard would not be a complete disaster.
One substitute’s excellence and the apparent inferiority of another are both clear indicators of the progress under Arteta, not that we really need further evidence of that.