Why Arsenal Should Not Fear a Francis Jeffers Repeat If Jamie Vardy Arrives

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJune 7, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14 :  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City scores a penalty goal to make it 0 -1 during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

After the disaster that was the signing of Francis Jeffers, many Arsenal fans probably thought Arsene Wenger wouldn’t sign an English centre-forward again. However, after adding Danny Welbeck in September 2014, he is now attempting to lure another homegrown forward to bolster his attack ranks.

Wenger is hoping to tie up a deal for Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy—and if he gets his man, Arsenal fans need not fear a repeat of the Jeffers debacle. Vardy appears far more likely to succeed in north London.

Right now, we don’t know what Vardy’s future holds. According to BBC Sport, he was expected to inform Wenger whether he would be moving to the Emirates Stadium on Monday. His subsequent silence might cause some concern in Arsenal's marble halls, but it won’t dissuade them from pursuing their man.

If the Gunners are prepared to match Vardy’s substantial release clause, they must be determined to land their man. 

30 Mar 2002:  Francis Jeffers of Arsenal holds off the challenge of Paul Thirlwell of Sunderland during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Arsenal and Sunderland at Highbury, London.  DIGITAL IMAGE  Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jeffers offers a cautionary tale of sorts. Signed from Everton for £8 million in 2001, the young forward had bagged 20 goals in 60 appearances for the Toffees and was expected to develop into an international-class striker. 

At the time, Wenger seemed hugely confident in his young signing. Per the Evening Standard, he said:

He is only 20 and he's a great example of a player with quality because he's already had experience of playing in the Premiership.

Maybe people will be surprised that I have signed an Englishman, but I looked at his quality and not his passport. You need an English base and the right mixture at a club. 

Francis is that 'fox in the box' we have been talking about and although he is a goalscorer I want to develop him as a team player so he is not obsessed by just scoring goals.

It’s fair to say things didn’t go quite to plan. Over the next 12 years, Jeffers represented 12 different clubs—and failed to score more than 10 goals for any of them. 

Speaking in 2012, Jeffers admitted to Matt Law of the Sunday Mirror that he may not have been ready for the step up he made when moving to Arsenal:

I look back now at that Arsenal squad I joined and think, “How did I ever believe I was going to get in the team”? There was all the fox in the box stuff as well, which added more pressure.

Pressure was one issue. There was also the problem of compatibility. Jeffers had been reared playing a wholly different style of football at Goodison Park. Asking him to join in with the intricate approach play of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp was simply beyond him.

Now there are fears that some of the same hurdles could foil Vardy. Like Jeffers before him, he is not a typical Wenger signing—and not just because of his nationality. 

However, there are some crucial differences between the two men. The first is Vardy’s age and experience. Jeffers was just 20 when he moved to Arsenal. Wenger was buying potential, but he had proved little.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City and Per Mertesacker of Arsenal argue during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Arsenal at The King Power Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Vardy is a full nine years older. His critics may scoff that he has only delivered one season of top-flight success, but an alternative way to look at it is that he has shown the consistency required to drag himself up through the divisions.

Since Vardy joined Halifax Town in 2010, his performances have been on a steep upward trajectory. His progress has barely stalled, and last season represented the apex of his extraordinary career.

Simply put, Jeffers had never enjoyed a campaign like Vardy did in 2015/16. This is not just a well-thought-of up-and-comer—this is the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year. Last season, Vardy bagged 24 goals and played a key part in propelling Leicester to an unlikely title triumph. 

He also appears to be more technically gifted than the former Everton man. Jeffers’ main qualities were his movement and composed finishing, but he was a pure penalty-box player. He was able to find an extra half yard in packed areas of the pitch but unable to become a coherent part of a fluid Arsenal team. 

Leicester may have taken a more direct approach than Arsenal last season, but Vardy still showcased an impressive array of technical attributes.

Look at the goals he scored and you’ll be struck by the variety—his tally of 24 was not made up wholly of tap-ins. There were strikes from range, placed shots, and deft clips. Granted, his stand-out asset remains his blistering pace, but there’s far more to his game than that.

The fact that Vardy has already impressively acclimatised to international football is another indicator that he could thrive in an environment such as Arsenal’s.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Arsenal at The King Power Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Ge
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Also, the idea that Vardy’s style of play is completely in contrast to Arsenal’s own is somewhat ill-founded.

Vardy is a brilliant counter-attacker, capable of jet-fuelled assaults on the opposition goal. At first, that appears in stark contrast to Arsenal's possession-based approach. However, when you examine the Gunners' best performances in 2015/16, many of them featured that kind of rapier attack.

Wenger spent much of the first half of the season trying to build an attack around the fleet-footed Theo Walcott. It didn’t quite work, but Vardy has the requisite attributes to be the speedy spearhead Arsenal need.

Fundamentally, Jeffers was considered a flop because he failed to justify his £8 million price tag. The mooted fee for Vardy is around £20 million, but in December 2015 Wenger claimed that he believes the Leicester man to be worth even more than that.

Per the Independent, he said: 

He is worth £30m, because he is the best goal-scorer in the league. Without a doubt, he is worth that money today. 

If you put that in the context of the financial power today of the top clubs, £30m is not that massive for a striker. Just compare it to Anthony Martial [for whom Manchester United paid Monaco £36m in the summer]. 

The mystery behind Vardy, at 28 years old, is why nobody bought him before. And why did he not have that success before? But today, of course, nobody would dispute [his worth]. 

If Vardy is as good for Arsenal as he has been for Leicester, he could prove to be a bargain.

It remains to be seen if Vardy will choose to stick with the Foxes or join Wenger at Arsenal. If the Gunners do get their man, they’ll be landing a player ready to hit the ground running—and at some speed. When Jeffers arrived, he still had everything to prove—and he fell short.

Vardy has proved plenty already. Having exceeded expectations his entire career, who would bet against him successfully making another step up by continuing to blossom with Arsenal?

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2016/17. Follow him on Twitter here.


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