Patrick Vieira: Q & A

The former Arsenal man gives his opinion on the Gunners' prospects in 2008.

Have you seen much of Arsenal this season?
Only on TV. I watched the game against Middlesbrough, but just the first half. I watched the Chelsea match as well. I haven't had the chance to go to the Emirates this season, last year I went four or five times.

How do you think they've played so far?
I was expecting them to be doing a little bit better than they are. I was expecting them to be closer to the top. I'm a bit disappointed so far, but there's still a long way to go, and I know that they will be there fighting for the title.

Do you think the criticism of Wenger has been fair?
That's the way football is. What is really important is to win, that's all people want. When you don't do it people start to ask questions, but when you (Arsenal) are winning nobody speaks about the way Arsene works and there are no question marks about the way he is working at the club. So when you don't win year after year people start to question his job, but I don't think it is fair because in the last 12 years he is done a tremendous job.

What would you say to the fans?
They need to be patient. You need to look at the average age of the team. They are a really young squad and of course they need time to learn and perform game, after game.

Do you think Wenger can bring Arsenal more success?
He has more success to bring. If you want to succeed you need to keep your best players. Before the start of the season they lost Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb, Jens Lehmann, Gilberto Silva. They were all important players and it was too many to lose. To start this season without all those players is difficult.

Do you think the criticism will have hurt Wenger?
Of course, it's never nice to hear people talking bad about the way you are working.

Can you see Arsenal winning the title this season?
It's going to be difficult, but don't write them off. If the team can find a way to perform together week after week, they can fight for the title. I don't write them off.

Is it just consistency they are lacking?
I watched them play fantastically well against Chelsea. Coming back and winning the game is not easy away from home. I saw them play against Middlesbrough and they didn't play very well, but they are capable of beating the best or drawing against an average team. They have not found themselves yet as a team. If they find it I really believe they can be at the top with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Are Arsenal only good against the better sides because they play an open game?
It comes down to concentration. When you play against Chelsea, you know that your mind is focused, and then when you play against Middlesbrough maybe you think you will win the game easily because you are Arsenal and you have a good team. I think the Arsenal players need to get their heads right. Their motivation and concentration has to be at the same level game after game. They need to approach games against sides like Middlesbrough the same way they do against Chelsea.

Do they need to strengthen in January? Players with experience and steel?
I don't know if that is the answer, but of course new players may help them to get better as a team. What they really need at the moment is to find a togetherness, to be strong as a team and that will help them more than getting players.

Who are Arsenal's key players?
Every player, it's really difficult to single out one player. The strength of Arsenal has always been the team‚ rather than the individual players, but of course they will need Cesc Fabregas to be at his best to drive the team. You always need leadership , this can come from Cesc, it can come from William Gallas even if he lost his captaincy. Up front it can come from Emmanuel Adebayor or Robin van Persie.� It takes more than individual players to perform.

Is Cesc Fabregas the right choice for captain?
I don't know if he is right choice, but he's my choice. He has been at the club quite a long time now, even if he is still young, and I think he is the one who can bring everybody together. From the outside it looks like Arsenal are not together.

Arsenal have struggled since William Gallas's outburst. What did you make of that?
It's affected the team because it was a bad distraction for the team. It was a difficult time for the team. It's important that they get focused on playing well on the pitch.

Do you think there is a danger the captaincy is too much responsibility for Cesc Fabregas?
His shoulders are big enough to carry that. When you see what he has done in the last few years at his age, it's fantastic. He won the European Championship with Spain so the character and experience he has already. He's not afraid of responsibility.

What have you made of Denilson?
He is a wonderful young player. He's got so many qualities, he's a terrific player. It's his first season playing regularly in the Premier League so he just needs time. The more he plays the better he will get. It's not easy because Flamini was the best player last year. To lose him was a big blow, now all the trust and belief is in Denilson, and he just needs to time to develop as a player. Long term he can be one of the best players at Arsenal.

Are Denilson and Fabregas too similar?
The qualities of these two players come through when they have the ball, not when they don't have it. But all the best players can play together and I'm sure they can.

Is Arsenal's match with Liverpool on Sunday December 21 key to their title aspirations?
It's a massive game for Arsenal because they are already eight points behind. They have to win this game if they want to keep fighting for the title.

How does Wenger get his sides to play beautiful football?
It's always been about the pleasure of playing together, to give the ball, to move. In training with Arsene we enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed playing the game together, had a good relationship with one another. The strength of Arsenal has been the pleasure to play together and try to enjoy ourselves. That's what is behind Wenger's vision for football, and Arsenal.

What were training sessions like?
Nothing special or different than anyone else, but he was creating a pleasure to play and enjoy ourselves. It's really easy to say, but difficult to understand.

How is Serie A different?
It's really different. It's less pleasure, more business. It feels more like going to work, rather than going to enjoy yourself.

Is it still possible for Arsenal to achieve success with their approach to the game and insistence on blooding young players?
When you look at Arsenal beating Manchester United and Chelsea you say of course it is possible. It is always hard, because you need quality but money is not a guarantee of success. I think in the last few years Arsenal have been showing to everybody that you can win without spending too much. In the last 15 years so many players came to Arsenal, like myself, who really became somebody in football at Arsenal. So I think we don't have to worry too much about Arsenal.

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