With Carlos Vela going on loan to West Bromwich Albion, one can’t possibly help feel that it’s make it or break it for the young Mexican striker; in his third season at Arsenal, he has gotten few appearances in the Cups unlike previous years, and has largely been disappointing except for a few games early in the season. One problem may be his role, which is something I wish to discuss in the coming article.
Vela was an instant hit in his first year at Arsenal; a hattrick against Sheffield United, a goal and assist against Wigan and a wonderful chip against Burnley were some of the highlights in his first season in England. He showed a range of skills, including pace, nutmegs, chips, but also, excellent movement. Playing with either Nicklas Bendtner or Eduardo, he would drop off the main striker, giving him space to perform the magical, and also meaning he wouldn’t go up against 6’3 centre halves, who would always win the ball in the air against him.
For all of Vela’s potential, the hardest problem for him seems to be, not only getting in the team, but displaying the physicality to stay in it. In 2008/09, Arsenal mainly played 4-4-2, and in his better games, Vela was partnered with Nicklas Bendtner, a striker who offers a more physical dimension, and allows Vela to run beyond him and beyond the defending line or find space in the wide areas. As mentioned on here before, his movement is very good, and so too is his finishing, but his final ball often lacks quality, though he has shown flashes of brilliance, with superb crosses for Eduardo against Cardiff and West Ham. With Arsenal moving to a 4-3-3 and Vela lacking the physicality to play as a lone striker, most likely he’ll have to play on the left of the forward 3. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for him to play there; Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri have all scored goals this season and last, and Vela could easily follow in their footsteps in that department. What differs Vela from the previous 3 though is his passing is not as good, and quite often his final ball lacks enough quality. One example is against West Brom, where, brought on to get the ball into the box, not one his attempted 8 passes made it into the penalty area. Nasri in a similar time frame had only 1, but he scored two goals, while Arshavin had 3 (and an assist), Rosicky had 5 and Wilshere had 3. All of the above players, except Wilshere, are competitors for a left wing spot, and all 3 are better passers of the ball. If Vela is to make it at Arsenal, his passing must improve, and that is why he has gone on loan to West Bromwich Albion. They play a similar 4-2-3-1 to Arsenal, they play the ball on the ground and they play a similar pressing style. If Vela does well at West Bromwich Albion, we may see him on the left for Arsenal where his pace would offer a different option to teams that pressure Arsenal in the midfield, and perhaps in the future, a move to a central role could occur. If he fails to play well at West Bromwich Albion, don’t be surprised to see Vela leave the club, especially if his main failings at WBA are physicality and inconsistency.
For Vela, the time to produce has come; whether he does or not is the question.