Patrick Vieira has told The Times that Arsenal should reinforce the squad to address the longstanding lack of physical presence and leadership in the team.
Vieira, who won the Premier League three times during his nine years with Arsenal, said he respects Arsene Wenger’s refusal to overpay for players and believes they are capable of winning the title this season.
Even so, the Frenchman, now in charge of New York City FC in MLS, warned that the current squad is missing the qualities of the 2003-04 “Invincibles,” who finished top without losing a league game.
He said: “We had [Dennis] Bergkamp, who had the flair; Thierry Henry who could finish and had so much power; athletic players with the physical aspect like Sol Campbell; and some really strong personalities with [Jens] Lehmann or the back four.
“This Arsenal Invincibles was quite like the French national team when we won the World Cup in ’98, when we had physical players, players with flair, players with pace.
“I enjoy watching Arsenal play now. They play some of the best football in the league. But they’re missing the physical presence, the personality. In our generation we had some fantastic players with the ball but the majority of the players were quite physically strong.
“This last five or six years, Arsenal went more with this type of mobile, technical players who are completely different.”
Wenger has come under fire for his failure to invest in recent times, with Granit Xhaka still the only big-money signing to arrive this summer.
Petr Cech was the only significant arrival ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, with Mohamed Elneny joining in January from Basel.
Wenger, though, has criticised the current focus on expensive signings, sarcastically saying he is sorry that summer arrival Rob Holding “didn’t cost £55 million,” and Vieira has some sympathy with his former boss.
“You can spend as much as you want, I don’t believe that will guarantee the titles, but the better players you have the better chance you have,” he said.
“The fans expect Arsene to bring more players in but if the player’s not worth the valuation, he doesn’t want to spend the money. In one way, I respect that because in the world we live in there’s a lot of pressure to bring in players. He’s being really brave not bringing in players who don’t fit the system he wants to play or aren’t of the value he seeks.
“I quite admire that in the world where some clubs have so much money, they buy players for £40m who are worth £10m. But the other side is that the team is not as good as it used to be. You need to reinforce the team but he’s training every day with the players and may believe they can do it.
“I still believe they’re going to be in these five teams who can win the title.”
Vieira has previously expressed disappointment that Wenger did not offer him the chance to coach at the club when he retired and said it was “a little bit disappointing” that more former Arsenal players have not been offered jobs on the staff.
Steve Bould is Wenger’s assistant, while Thierry Henry had a role with the under-18 side before leaving this summer in favour of his TV punditry work, but Vieira feels the club’s former players are underrepresented at the Emirates Stadium.
“Players want to do it and, not having the opportunity, they feel disappointed,” he said. “The perfect example is Ajax when you see all the old players working for the club. The door’s always open for them. That’s nice. But Arsenal don’t do it and I don’t know the reason.
“Arsenal are the first team — with Manchester City of course — that I watch. I’m still a big fan of Arsenal.”