Arsenal need ‘exciting’ Vela to deliver soon
Domestic cup matches provide Arsene Wenger with priceless opportunities to evaluate his current crop of youth prospects.
The Frenchman has used these competitions to test-drive young talent, and in the aftermath of Sunday’s encounter with Stoke, it seems an opportune moment to assess the progress of another of his crown jewels, Carlos Vela.
At the Britannia Stadium, the Mexican international showed some spark and looked threatening going forward, producing his traditional powerful mazy runs, but his cause was not helped by his side’s all-round poor display.
Like so many of Wenger’s signings, Vela was widely tipped as a star of the future when Arsenal snapped him up from Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara in November 2005.
He had been victorious in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship earlier that year with Mexico, securing the competition’s golden boot in the process.
Soon after capturing his signature, the club decided to ship him off to Spain for three consecutive loan spells with Celta Vigo, Salamanca and Osasuna respectively.
This was partly motivated by the UK’s strict work permit regulations, but the loan spells clearly assisted the young Mexican’s adjustment to European culture and allowed him to gain valuable first team experience to aid his development.
And Spain was of course the natural choice of destination as Vela’s first language is Spanish.
At the time, some labelled Wenger’s decision to leave Vela’s development in the hands of other clubs as “strange”. Understandable given the resounding success of the youth system he has developed at London Colney to date.
However, judging by the rave reviews the Mexican earned himself whilst in Spain, the Gunners boss certainly appears to have been spot-on in his decision making.
Arsenal fans grew excited over the countless YouTube clips of Vela emanating from his time abroad, and the Gunners ripped up the second year of the loan agreement with Osasuna to allow Vela make his long-awaited arrival in 2008.
He was fit and up for the challenge of battling for a spot in the first team.
But since then, he has been living off scraps of appearances, suffering several niggling injuries and struggling to make an impact on games as a substitute when minutes are precious.
His manager has been impressed by his recent training performances and has indicated a willingness to allow the player adequate opportunities to stake his claim.
Vela’s most effective position appears to be on the left wing due to his powerful bursts of pace, meaning he should slot in naturally into the current 4-3-3 set up.
But it is easy to overlook the fact that he will be turning 21 this March.
At Arsenal there will be an increasing pressure on him to force his way into the side. Captain Cesc Fabregas is only one year older and is the envy of top clubs from across the globe.
It will take Vela more time to get his bearings at Arsenal, in the Premier League and the British culture as a whole. English and Spanish styles of play have their own individualities which can take time to adjust to.
Additionally, few teams play the game with a system as fluid as the Gunners; only an extended run of first team games will improve his knowledge of Wenger’s pure footballing approach. And world-class teammates such as Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie are obvious stumbling blocks to achieving first team status.
Wenger has been guiding the career of Vela since he signed in 2005, and is sure to allow him sufficient time to prove himself.
The player signed a new long-term deal with the Gunners last November, providing Wenger with an opportunity to assess his progress.
“Let’s remember, he is still only 20-years-old, so there is still a huge amount to come from this boy,” said the Frenchman. “We have invested a lot of time in Carlos, as we put him in Spain for two years to get some good experience.
“Now he’s back with us, we’re working hard with him every day and he is a very exciting player.
“We’re looking forward to seeing Carlos score many goals in an Arsenal shirt for a long time to come.”
Vela has shown glimpses of promise, but has thus far failed to deliver. Given their injury-plagued squad, fans at the Emirates will be keen for the Mexican to shine sooner rather than later.