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Everton fringe players' chance

Everton
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By ESPN Staff

Arsenal slump baffles Vieira

Patrick Vieira admits he is surprised to see Arsenal languishing outside the top four of the Premiership.

The Gunners have finished first or second in the league for the last eight years but are suddenly faced with the prospect of missing the cut for next season's Champions League.

Arsene Wenger's team must now make a late charge into the top four or win the European Cup - and Vieira's Juventus are out to block the second option.

Vieira, 29, who left the Gunners to join Juve in the summer, said: 'Arsenal have the quality to do better than they have been doing.

'But the season is not over yet and, in the last few weeks, they have played really well.'

The sale of Vieira to Juventus for £13.7million last summer is widely considered to be a major reason for the slump.

But Wenger's new generation of youngsters are starting to show signs that they can scale the same heights as the Gunners of the Vieira era.

The former Arsenal skipper has been back to Highbury to watch his old team in action since his switch to Italy.

He has stayed in touch with his former team-mates, especially close friend Thierry Henry but the French duo will be opponents in tonight's Champions League quarter-final first leg.

Vieira said: 'I talk with Thierry about everything, about life in general.

'We talk about Juventus. We talk about Arsenal. We talk about life in Turin. We talk about life in London. We have normal conversations.'

Vieira proved a snip at £3.5million from AC Milan when Wenger signed him as a youngster. He went on to earn cult status among the fans as he won three league titles in nine years at Highbury.

Vieira said: 'When you spend nine years anywhere and you win so much and do so well, the last nine years have been the best in Arsenal's history and I was part of that, it makes you very proud.'

But he will not allow his emotions to shatter his dream of winning the Champions League.

He said: 'I am not nervous at all. I know what to expect. I have enough experience to deal with that.

'I am not emotional at all. The only emotion will come after the game.

'I know how to prepare myself. My only focus is to win the game and do my best for the team.

'Playing against Arsenal is the same as any other team. What's important is to try and qualify for the semi-final.

'I never regret any decision I make. As soon as I signed for Juventus my focus changed. The Arsenal page was over.

'I started to look forward to the season with Juventus and focus on what I could achieve as a player.

'Every team in the quarter-finals are good teams but we are strong enough to reach the final.

'Our confidence is high. I believe we are strong enough to win this game but we know it's not going to be easy.'