VIEIRA FOR ARSENAL?
While Unai Emery watches the world burn around him, many Arsenal fans are scanning the continent for the options available, and with Jose Mourinho’s supposed interest given short shrift the gaze inevitably moves to former players. The legend that is Patrick Vieira has been murmured. He has somewhat served his apprenticeship at Manchester City and NYCFC, and is currently in charge of a Nice team filled with exciting, and young, players. Indeed there’s nothing most supporters enjoy more than cheering on a vibrant, burgeoning talent, and Nice’s average squad age of 23.2 is the youngest of ANY of side of the top five leagues in Europe. A good start.
But unfortunately for Gunners fans, things go downhill from there and Vieira is not only unable to fix Nice’s endemic problems, he may well be in danger of being replaced should things continue.
Quite simply, Nice are an elegantly designed blunt instrument. Only Lyon and PSG have had more possession of the ball in Ligue 1 since Vieira took over in June 2018, while in 2019/20 they rank 20th of 98 in the top five leagues. They have four of the top 30 highest passers P90 in France (Racine Coly, Andy Pelmard, Dante & Patrick Burner, all of which are defenders) and their 83 ball losses P90 is second only to PSG in terms of retention. They have clearly adopted a possession-based system akin to that developed and perfected by Pep Guardiola.
They have the ball.
They just do absolutely nothing with it.
Nice PASSING, NO SHOOTING
Nice predominantly operate in a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 though Vieira clearly isn't sure, as he experimented with a back three in a recent fixture against Strasbourg, and the changing isn't helping build any attacking momentum. Only six teams in the whole of Europe scored less than Nice’s 30 league goals in 2018/19, and this lack of potency has not only continued into this season, it has arguably got worse. They have netted 13 goals in 11 games, but are actually outperforming their xG of 11.4 which is 14th of 20 in Ligue 1 and puts them in the bottom 25% in the top five leagues.
The attacking statistics don’t get any better. Their 9.81 shots P90 is just above the Ligue 1 relegation zone (though their 3.9 shots on target P90 is fourth-best in the division) and builds a pattern of a team attempting to circulate the ball around the pitch but failing to turn that territorial dominance into anything like enough goalscoring chances.
Nice clearly have attacking talent - Kasper Dolberg was a big capture from Ajax and 18 months ago was seen as one of the biggest developing talents in Europe, and Ignatius Ganago and Myziane Maolida both have potential but are largely untested so far. But they are given little to work with, given Nice's inability to get the ball anywhere near the danger area. In passing the ball, it is reaching the full-backs (the aforementioned Coly and Burner, big passers both) but it is just simply coming back around the circuit of midfielders and centre-backs. This leads to two pretty clear statistics of 8.6 crosses P90 - the lowest in France and indeed the third-worst in Europe - while they achieve just 10.8 touches inside the opposition penalty area P90 - once again, the lowest in France, now fourth-worst in Europe.
You can literally picture the passes in your head as the statistics rack up; 19th of 20 in France for passes into the final third and 18th of 20 for progressive passes (defined as forward passes in the opposition half of +10m in length). And yet, in the same moment, they are ranked second for progressive runs - ie attacking players running forward. They seem reticent to play a pass that may see possession surrendered, eschewing danger for prolonged periods of mundane ball-hogging. Key Passes per game as a result, 1.99, is 17th in France and a horrid 86th of 98 in Europe, behind the likes of Paderborn and Lecce.
BAD AT THE BACK, TOO
And it’s not just an impotence in attack causing Vieira to have sleepless nights. Their defending at times is borderline naive - perhaps expected from such a young team - and no team has conceded more counter-attack goals than them (3).
Angel Di Maria left them completely exposed recently, as did Monaco, Montpellier and Marseille, and the results aren’t unfortunate breakaways; opposition xG per shot is 0.126, the second highest in the league as they concede 12.9 shots per game, with only Brest, Amiens and Toulouse allowing more. They have conceded 18 goals with an xGA of 19.6; their form is not an accident and the most damning statistic of all is that their expected points of 10.8 would find them in the bottom three. This is a team that has finished seventh, eighth and third in the past three seasons. But with five losses in their last six, they seem completely bereft of an offensive tactical construct, and a distinct inability to keep teams from their goal.
The next two matches are crucial for Nice and Vieira. They face Reims and Bordeaux at home and given the recent propensity of clubs to change coach in the international break, two bad results may see a change being made. The midweek disaster in the Coupe de la Ligue against Le Mans - a 3-2 capitulation against a team in the relegation positions in Ligue 2 - has simply increased the scrutiny further.
In Vieira's defence, the nonsense surrounding Kasper Dolberg's watch and the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s protracted takeover has led to a period of unrest. But it's not as if this isn't his team; he already spent a substantial amount in the summer on Kasper Dolberg (£18.5m), Alexis Claude-Maurice (£12m), and Stanley NSoki (£11m).
Nice are young, but naive and Vieira’s tactics don’t seem to have evolved, or improved, the fortunes of the team in his 16 months in charge. His win percentage of 37% pulls up no trees (and is miles from Emery’s 58.9%) and, in truth, Arsenal are in need of a coach with a clear, defined, proven skillset if they choose to change. A manager still finding himself isn’t the way forward.