I always rather liked Carlos Vela. When we completed the deal to bring him to Arsenal from Guadalajara I was pretty excited – he sounded like quite a talent. Then, after a couple of frustrating years of waiting for him to get a work permit, being sent out on loan to Spain twice, he got his permit and went straight into the first team, with the number 12 shirt.
Arsène Wenger spoke of having high hopes for Vela, and he was vindicated early on – he fired home a stunning hat-trick on his first team debut, as Arsenal annihilated Sheffield United 6-0 in the Carling Cup. All three goals were fine finishes, but one stood out: his second, which was a delightful dink over Paddy Kenny, not to mention the superb chest control that preceded the finish.
Over Vela’s career at Arsenal, the cheeky chip became something of a trademark. In the same Carling Cup campaign he repeated the feat, running onto a through-ball from Johan Djourou to send an absolutely delightful chip over Chris Kirkland, who was left rooted to the ground. While Vela was celebrating, the camera cut back to Kirkland, who looked utterly bewildered.
It’s a massive shame that Vela never seemed to have the resilience and the drive to adapt to the Premier League – ever since joining he was light-weight and easily bullied off of the ball
The trick was played for a third time later that season, this time in the FA Cup against Burnley. Receiving the ball from Andrey Arshavin, he nutmegged his marker with his first touch to burst through on goal, before looping the ball over Brian Jensen.
Arsenal’s final game in the Premier League the next season was against Fulham, and it saw Vela feature as he had against Blackburn the previous game (although he missed one or two sitters in that game). At 3-0 up, fans were expecting Vela to contribute to the party atmosphere, and sure enough, with five minutes to go he brought out his signature move. Played in by Samir Nasri, he dropped a shoulder and delicately dinked the ball over Mark Schwarzer to complete the scoring.
In a 6-0 rout over FC Braga in the Champions League, Vela again showed cheekiness in abundance, gently lifting the ball over the sprawling opponent goalkeeper, although this was a lot more straight-forward than his previous chips. Almost half of his Arsenal goals - 5 out of 11 - were chips, a rather incredible statistic, and that doesn't even include friendlies.
It’s a massive shame that Vela never seemed to have the resilience and the drive to adapt to the Premier League – ever since joining he was light-weight and easily bullied off of the ball, and due to a tendency to go hiding in tight games, his only contributions were in low-pressure situations such as cup games or games that had already been won.
He was always more suited to the slower tempos of the Spanish game, rather than the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the Premier League.
In fairness, he was always more suited to a 4-4-2, just like Eduardo da Silva, to whom Wenger had compared him. They both suffered from a switch to 4-3-3, as they were never physically able to lead the line, nor suited to playing out wide.
The little Mexican certainly had the talent to make himself a house-hold name, and he showed it in spades as detailed above, but sadly he could never apply it when he needed to most. He was always more suited to the slower tempos of the Spanish game, rather than the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the Premier League.
It’s sad though, because many players have arrived in the Premier League needing to adapt, and have done so – Laurent Koscielny for a recent example. Vela never seemed to fancy it though, and he’ll go down as another talent who could have been so much more for Arsenal.
However, despite his career at Arsenal being labelled something of a failure, we’ll still have those cheeky chips. Thanks for those, Carlos.
If you liked this, check these out
Click here for more articles about Football and Sport in Sabotage Times
Click here to follow Sabotage Times On Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times On Facebook