It's Going To Be A Big Season For.....
The sale of Eduardo was tinged with sadness for most of us, particularly the circumstances surrounding his loss of form and the immense dignity he showed in the face of a country that chewed him up and spat him out with glee. But his departure should perhaps perversely be seen as a fillip for a few of our squad players. Firstly, Nicky Bendtner can be satisfied that he effectively dislodged Eduardo and nudged ahead of him in the pecking order, as this time last year I am not sure he was seen as a preferred choice upfront to Eddie. Bendtner now has further competition as the similarly broad statured Marouane Chamakh has arrived from Bordeaux. However, the player that should see Eduardo`s sale as a challenge is Carlos Vela. Vela is a nippy, nimble, slight left footed striker whose finishing skills have been likened by the manager to those of Robbie Fowler in his prime. Which is really a stencil for how you would describe Eduardo himself. (The amount of times Arsene uses Fowler as a yardstick for his comparisons suggests the boss would like to have seen Fowler in an Arsenal shirt as much as I would have).
The fact that the manager sold Eduardo suggests the faith he has in the young Mexican to deliver as one of Arsenal`s roster of centre forwards. After the honeymoon season of 2008-9, where Vela delivered some special goals in Carling Cup matches that instantly won the hearts and minds of the Gooner public, the last campaign was a very disappointing one indeed for Vela. Much the same as with Walcott, his progress was ridiculously enervated by a useless international tournament last summer (the Gold Cup? More like the Golden Egg Cup), meaning the predictable slew of injuries and immolation of early season form that a lack of pre season almost guarantees happened. He didn`t get on the pitch until late September, scoring a typically cheeky goal against West Brom. That was pretty much all we saw of Vela last year until his trademark lobbed finish past Schwarzer in the last fifteen minutes of the season. Even in Arsenal`s mid season striker crisis, whereby van Persie and Bendtner were both injured and Eduardo`s confidence suffered terminal laceration, Vela was unable to make an impression. In fairness, he was thrust into a central striker position around the time that Chelsea and Liverpool were on the horizon, but that Arshavin ended up playing an unfamiliar striker role reflects badly on Vela`s performance last season.
He also found it difficult to impact games from the bench and his paltry return of two goals was not close to good enough for a striker on the fringes of the first team. (Neither goal was of any particular importance either). But Vela obviously has a lot of talent and the fact that Wenger has awarded him the number 11 shirt to boot, suggests he is pinning hopes on Vela becoming a more integral member of the side. Vela has been an established international for some time now and I had the impression at times last season that complacency had set in and that his international ambitions were more important to him than his club responsibilities. It is up to Vela to remove that impression and really play like a player who wants a starting berth in the Arsenal side. He can play centrally or on the left of the 4-3-3 formation, his technique, pace and finishing all suggest we have a player tailor made for our style. If he has players such as van Persie, Arshavin and Fabregas brain storming around him, there is simply no earthly reason he shouldn`t drastically improve on last season`s impoverished goal total.
Vela has improvements to make, despite his immense natural talent. For a start off, he will only ever be 50% the player he could be unless he gets over this quite astonishing refusal to use his right foot whatsoever. Vela has shown at times that he can barely even stand on his "chocolate leg" and this simply has to change and very quickly. When a centre forward is so ludicrously one footed, it makes a defender`s life very easy; particularly when he is coming in from the left. Van Persie showed the value of working on your weaker foot to the point that you are able to strike a ball cogently with it. In fairness, Vela did score with his right foot on Tuesday night and I hope that is an indication of confidence on his part. It`s all very well lobbing the goalkeeper when we`re 3-0 up, but there will be times when we are searching desperately for a goal in the dying embers of a crucial game and we simply won`t have the time or opportunity for him to fanny about so he can place the ball on his left toe before chipping it in, we might need him to put his right foot through it. You may recall van Persie`s equaliser at Stamford Bridge in November 2008, the ball came to him on his right foot and he had no time to think, so he simply smashed it into the roof of the net with his right peg. My suspicion is that, in the same position, Vela would have fluffed the chance by wasting time moving the ball onto his left.
The removal of Eduardo and the arrival of Chamakh clears the way for Vela to make an impression this year; the Moroccan will most likely compete with Bendtner. Vela has a monopoly on small, nippy strikers now and he has the chance and the ability to carve that niche out and make it his own. This will be his third season as a first team squad member and the honeymoon period has expired. He needs to demonstrate consistency and start doing the simple things better. When playing on the left, Vela is actually remarkably diligent in tracking back and performing his defensive duties, so he has the raw materials to be more than just a luxury player that features on You Tube montages, whether or not he takes that next step and has the fortitude to become an established Premiership striker. The manager has shown his confidence in a way that has worked wonders for past young charges, it`s time to reward that faith.LD.