Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Almost exactly 12 months ago, a 21-year-old midfield hopeful by the name of Arthur was watching Brazil struggle through to the World Cup knock-out stages wondering if his upcoming move from Gremio to Barcelona would prove a success, or if he would fade under the step up in class and expectations.
There are now no doubts over his ability to shine at the top level at Camp Nou. And despite his team stuttering to a 0-0 draw with tenacious Venezuela, there is similarly no question that he is the man around whom Brazil can build their plans for the next decade in the middle of the pitch.
Arthur sat out the Selecao's first test of the Copa America through injury and his absence was keenly felt. Deprived of his razor-sharp passing, Brazil toiled and failed to impress before finally accelerating in the second half to beat Group A whipping boys Bolivia 3-0.
On Tuesday, however, the Barcelona midfielder showed no ill-effect from that horror tackle suffered in a 7-0 friendly walkover against Honduras, controlling the tempo for his side against a resolute, uncompromising Venezuela team.
And while the result for the home side was again rather underwhelming, Arthur for one showed that he has to be the first name on the team-sheet for coach Tite should Brazil hope to end their 12-year Copa drought and take this title in front of their own fans.
Inspired in goal by the impeccable Wuilker Farinez, Venezuela were never likely to be easy rivals. So it proved as Brazil huffed and puffed but failed to knock down the reinforced concrete door built in front of the net by the Vinotinto, happy to sit back and absorb intense pressure while waiting to break through the evergreen Saloman Rondon.
Arthur placed himself at the forefront of Brazil's fruitless effort to break down the resistance. The 22-year-old was ubiquitous as a passing option and continually drove his side forward, pitching in with a handful of exquisite balls to keep the Vinotinto pegged back throughout.
He was the top passer on the home side, completing almost per cent of his attempts and repeating that near-flawless figure in the opposition half, for a total of more than 100 successful passes. The comparison with the more withdrawn Fernandinho from Friday's opener could not be more pronounced: with Arthur there was a real urgency in the middle and Venezuela had little option but to hold on for dear life.
If those exertions did not end in goals for the Selecao, it was largely the fault of those further ahead. David Neres cut a frustrating figure throughout, failing to replicate Neymar's class on the left side of attack and flashing into the side-netting early on to waste a sublime pass from none other than Arthur.
Philippe Coutinho, Brazil's two-goal hero against Bolivia, was only an intermittent presence, while Roberto Firmino failed to make his presence in the area count and rarely looked dangerous. Extra zip in attack was provided off the bench through Gabriel Jesus, the Manchester City man finding the net in a move eventually called back rightly for offside in consultation with VAR. Coutinho also fell foul of VAR late on after an outstanding individual action by Everton, a disappointment that cannot hide the fact that for all their pressure, Brazil mustered exactly zero shots on target in the entire second half.
Those failings in precision in front of goal must be addressed by Brazil should they have real hopes of lifting this Copa, with Uruguay and Colombia both making early statements of their own intent with victories over Ecuador and Argentina respectively.
The core of the team, however, is there for Tite. His Copa debut may not have ended with the desired result, but a commanding performance across the pitch leaves no doubt that Arthur is essential to the Selecao's plans. It is now up to the coach to build his line-up around this imperious midfield dynamo, as Brazil prepare for a Group A top of the table clash against Peru that promises to be far more open than these disappointing first two outings.
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