Is Reported Return of Carlos Vela Really a Step Forward for Arsenal?

Charlie MelmanCorrespondent IIJune 11, 2014

Real Sociedad's Carlos Vela of Mexico, left, celebrates after scoring his second goal against Olympique Lionnais during their Europa Champions League second leg, play-off soccer match, at Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian, northern Spain on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

Arsenal need a striker.

That should not be a surprising bit of news to any Arsenal fan. The Gunners have been severely short up front since Robin van Persie left, and especially after the season before last. Arsene Wenger obviously knew this last summer, when he devoted almost all of his energy to signing an elite striker.

Instead, Arsenal ended up with Mesut Ozil. A fine addition, certainly, but he did not have the same sort of transformative impact that Luis Suarez would have if he had been pried away from Liverpool for £40,000,001.

A season later, Arsenal have finally broken their famous trophy drought, but their prolonged Premier League title challenge fell away when their attack sputtered due to a severe dearth of options.

So here we are again, wondering if this will be the summer when Wenger finally addresses the most glaring weakness in his otherwise pretty strong team and buys a striker better than Olivier Giroud.

All indications are that the Gunners will do the right thing this time and sign a striker after making doing so their top priority. The majority of Arsenal transfer rumors are about strikers, and very credible sources have asserted that the club are in the market for a front man. 

Fabregas now open to market & future likely to be sorted in next few weeks. #Afc priority striker & right-back + will get back-up goalkeeper

— David Ornstein (@bbcsport_david) June 5, 2014

Ignoring the whole Fabregas matter for a moment, Arsenal's priorities are exactly where they should be if Ornstein's information is correct. 

But there have also been reports for weeks that have claimed Arsenal are interested in activating Carlos Vela's buyback clause. The Mexican, who was sold to Real Sociedad in 2012 but was shipped there on loan in 2011, can reportedly be had for just £3.5 million, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 05:  Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United tackles Carlos Vela of Real Sociedad during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Sociedad de Futbol and Manchester United at Estadio Anoeta on November 5, 2013 in San
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The article claims that Vela, who scored 16 goals for Sociedad last season, is nearly back at Arsenal. It quotes the Spanish club's President as saying, "Arsenal have informed us that Vela would be with them next season."

The reliable Spanish football reporter Kike Marin tweeted similar information recently, saying that Arsenal had chosen to activate Vela's buyback clause.

Aperribay: "El #Arsenal ya nos ha dicho que cuentan con Vela para la próxima temporada". La #RealSociedad confirma que ejecutó la opción.

— Kike Marin** (@Kike_Marin_) June 10, 2014

Let's assume the information on which the Mail is reporting is not fallacious and that Arsenal are not merely engaging in brinksmanship in order to drive up Vela's selling price. What does his return mean for Arsenal, and what should fans' reactions be?

Well first, it would show that the club are still Europe's best bargain hunters. How many times in this paradigm of hilariously inflated transfer fees and oil-rich clubs will one be able to snag a player who scored 16 times and assisted 12 more in Europe's second-best league for less than £4 million?

Never, of course, unless there is a contractual exception of this sort.

But, while Arsenal do perpetually have insufficient squad depth, this had better not be the only striker signing they make this summer.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11:  Carlos Vela of Arsenal scores his teams fourth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers at The Emirates Stadium on September 11, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

While Vela has improved in every season he has been at Real Sociedad, he has failed to produce against the very best opposition he's faced. He has only scored one goal in three years against Barcelona or Real Madrid, and only bagged one Champions League goal last season.

It's also not unreasonable to assume that, for a native Spanish speaker, living in a Spanish-speaking culture more similar to his native Mexico is more relaxing than the relative culture shock of England (not to mention the vast difference in the quality of food).

Moreover, Vela faces relatively little pressure at Sociedad, which is not expected to ever challenge for the league title or progress very far in the Champions League.

The expectations will be paralyzing at times in North London, as he well knows. This will be amplified if Vela is the only other striking option the club have besides Giroud.

The fundamental question Wenger needs to ask is this: Will Vela be a significant upgrade over Giroud and will he provide stiff competition for him?

The answer, almost certainly, is no. Vela is certainly a good player and would be valuable squad depth. But he is not better than what Arsenal already have.