Toure – City’s captain – lost his place in the side to Kompany, only to be recalled when Joleon Lescott went down with a hamstring injury. Since stepping in for the former Everton defender, Toure’s displays have improved markedly from his pre-Christmas form, particularly in the 2-1 away win over Fulham, where the Ivory Coast international’s goal line clearance was the springboard for City’s opening goal. Toure has suffered with a knee injury and the disruption of travelling to Angola for the Africa Cup of Nations since the turn of the year but his performances even before that tournament were nothing to shout about. The £14m man’s form is on an upward swing however – perhaps his spell on the bench prior to the trip to Craven Cottage was needed to jolt the No.28 back towards his Arsenal best.
When Toure was signed by Mark Hughes, the reaction was pretty much universally positive – City had signed one of Arsenal’s key players, who at 28 was still in his prime – but the same cannot be said for Hughes’ successor Mancini and his decision to sign Vieira. Not only did City already appear to have numerous options in Vieira’s defensive midfield position – Kompany, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry – but doubts were manifold over the former Gunners’ skipper’s ability to withstand the furious pace of the Premier League, having not played in England since 2006. Not only was Vieira returning from the slower-paced Italian league, but the 33-year-old’s game was so heavily based on stamina during his Arsenal glory days, a loss of athleticism would be devastating, and so it has proved.
Vieira is no longer able to rampage through midfield as he did when leading Arsenal to three Premier League crowns, as well as four FA Cups. He may be a good enough footballer to adapt his game and play a more subtle Claude Makelele-style destructive role but there has been little evidence of that yet, with Vieira lacking the discipline to hold his position and protect the back four. Instead, the Frenchman has been guilty of pressing too high up the pitch for someone of his limited endurance. Compare Vieira to his Arsenal successor Alex Song, who – when bypassed by an opposing midfielder – has the speed to recover immediately, but the experienced midfielder is good enough to compensate should he desire. In Mancini’s defence, Vieria is a player he knows from their shared time at Inter and he provides a winning mentality like few others, but performances on the pitch should matter most.
The pitch is where the third of City’s ex-Arsenal cadre – Adebayor – would be best served spending more time. Nine goals in 21 games would be a fair return for an average striker – but Adebayor – at his best – is much more than an average striker. The Togo captain has missed 20 City games this season – in part due to the Africa Cup of Nations and the tragic events and aftermath in the Togo camp – but regularly down to suspension. Adebayor has served two suspensions this term, the first after raking his studs down the face of former Arsenal teammate Robin van Persie – a game where he was booked for celebrating a goal in front of the Arsenal supporters who once loved him – while missing the four games prior to Monday’s 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic for raising an arm towards Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross. Both the player’s prospects and that of his team would be improved greatly if the £25m signing remains on the field more often.
Each of Toure, Vieira and Adebayor have much to offer on and off the field – not just for their respective playing qualities but the taste for success in which they were developed, North London and, in Vieria’s case, Italy. However, if they are not cutting it, their past glories matter little. Mancini has already been somewhat critical of Vieira and had no hesitation in benching Toure, but getting Adebayor and his fellow old Gunners firing could take City into the Champions League.