A return for Carlos Vela to Arsenal this summer always looked a bit off, an out-of-character move for Arsene Wenger especially, who hasn’t made a habit of re-signing former players pre or mid-prime.
The issue has never been quality – at least for those who have kept an eye on Vela since he moved to La Liga, initially on loan with Real Sociedad, in 2011. The Basque side have, over the past three seasons, afforded the Mexican the kind of regularity on the pitch and responsibility that Arsene Wenger never felt comfortable entrusting to the forward. His improvement has been notable in Spain, seeing a steady increase in his production over the past three years: 12, 14 and 19 goals.
It made a lot of sense for Arsenal to re-sign Vela this summer. At the very least he would have been a squad player, ridding the manager of the headache of replacing Theo Walcott on the right side of the attack at the start of next season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a more than adequate replacement, but like so many Arsenal players, the England international simply can’t be relied upon due to his injury troubles. Unfortunate.
Arsenal would have barely felt a pinch at re-signing Vela. The buyback clause was reported to stand at £3.5 million, and while the club are in need of someone who can generate the same kind of excitement created by Mesut Ozil’s signing, there shouldn’t be an out-and-out neglect for depth.
Arsenal supporters shouldn’t be overly concerned, though. Vela is good, but Arsenal are shopping in a market that has players of the quality of Alexis Sanchez on offer. The Barcelona forward has shown just how good he can be, both for the Catalans and now during this World Cup. Vela would add depth, but unlike Alexis, he isn’t the world-class game-changer Arsenal are crying out for.
Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal have done away with side-step signings and are now going for players that are better than what’s currently on the books.
I don’t subscribe to the notion, but there have been concerns among some supporters that Vela’s improvement over the past few years have been in large due to his environment. Simply, he’s more suited to the league and culture of Spanish football. It’s possible, and it’s also possible that Wenger had similar reservations. The Arsenal boss is notorious for changing his mind innumerable times on any single deal – ‘dithering,’ as is commonly used. Again, I’m not buying it. Vela is evidently a good player and was always going to improve. His surroundings in Spain are just coincidental and convenient.
But if we’re led to believe that Alexis and Mario Balotelli are high up on Wenger’s wish list, it’s OK to take a hit on Vela and pass on his signing.
Joel Campbell’s performances at the World Cup are also important. Essentially, Vela and Campbell would be filling the same role in the Arsenal squad: versatile forwards able to play anywhere across the front three. If Wenger is looking to retain the Costa Rican international, it makes no sense to follow through on alleged interest in Vela. Wenger likes his squad streamlined.
Vela would have amounted to a positive signing for Arsenal this summer. But in the bigger picture, he’s no great loss. The club have the resources to recruit well, even if the ambition is questionable. Bottom line is this: Arsenal’s season won’t be decided by a low-key signing of Vela’s nature. No harm done in passing on him if there are signings of higher quality in the works.