Carlos Vela: The resurgence of a former Arsenal expendable

Overlooked and eventually offloaded by Arsenal, Carlos Vela has come into his own at Real Sociedad and has emerged as one of the standout players in La Liga..
 Brendon Netto
 Comment | Spain
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It wasn't too long ago that Carlos Vela's career was quickly becoming yet another story of 'what might have been'. Going from a teenage prodigy to a peripheral figure at Arsenal, it seemed as though Vela's time to launch himself to stardom had passed and he was instead destined to settle for mediocrity. However, his time at Real Sociedad has afforded the Mexican a fresh start and he's responded with some stellar performances that's earned him a second shot at the spotlight.

Vela announced himself as a potential star early on while he was a youth player at Guadalajara. He was part of the Mexican side that won the 2005 U-17 World Cup and finished as the top scorer of the tournament with five goals. It wasn't long before he was on Arsene Wenger's radar and snapped up by Arsenal.

Despite arriving in London as a promising prospect for the future, Vela was denied a work permit and the Arsenal fans had to wait to see him in action. After decent loan spells at Salamanca and Osasuna over the next couple of seasons, Vela was finally granted a permit and deemed eligible to play for Arsenal. 

However, despite Wenger's assurances that the youngster would be involved in the first team, Vela found himself way down the pecking order in the next couple of seasons. He was out-ranked by the likes of Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo da Silva and Nicklas Bendtner. Needless to say, he didn't see much game time as their fifth-choice striker.

Out-ranked at Arsenal

Vela's time in north London wasn't all bad. When afforded the opportunity, he did show glimpses of his undeniable talent. In fact, he stole the show in his first full debut for the Gunners in a 6-0 thumping of Sheffield United in the League Cup. The match featured Arsenal's youngest ever side with the average age of 19. The Mexican scored a hat-trick and his second goal which was a delightful chipped finish over the keeper, was later voted as one of Arsenal's 50 greatest goals.

After a brief loan spell at West Bromwich Albion, he was sent on a season-long loan to La Liga outfit, Real Sociedad where he enjoyed plenty of exposure and started to fulfill his potential. His second goal for the side was a spectacular bicycle kick in the final minute of normal time which levelled the score at 2-2 against Malaga. Real went on to win the game 3-2 in stoppage time as Vela’s stunning effort proved to be crucial and was a sign of things to come for the loanee.

A fresh start

After registering 12 goals and 8 assists in 37 appearances with the Spanish side, he voiced his desire to remain with the club on a permanent basis and his request was granted via a £4 million transfer fee. This season, Vela has kicked-on with his new club and has already matched his goals and assists tally from last season having played 8 fewer games. He's been the focal point in attack for a team predominantly made up of exciting young players like Antoine Griezmann, Imanol Agirretxe and Inigo Martinez. 

Vela has brought pace and guile to La Real’s attacking force. He is a natural dribbler and with 39 successful dribbles in the league this season, he is only 2 behind Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s matured at the Basque side and has grown into one of their most important players as he has been directly responsible for 41% of their goals in the league this season. His pace and finishing is now neatly complimented by his ability to read the game and set up players around him.

A central figure at Real

It’s his vision and passing that’s made him indispensable to the side even when he doesn’t score. This season, he’s averaged 1.8 key passes per game, the same as Xabi Alonso and better than the likes of Barcelona stars, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas. Meanwhile, only Santi Cazorla has had a better average at Arsenal this season. His improved link-up play, ability to adapt to different positions and new-found composure have been the features of his resurgence.

So why didn’t Vela succeed at Arsenal? In fairness to him, there were a lot of strikers ahead of him and he was the youngest and least experienced of the lot. However, his immaturity was also an aspect that perhaps went against him. He became famous for his chipped finishes among the Arsenal supporters but also notorious for showboating against lesser sides while struggling to perform against the better ones. Furthermore, his pace often subjected him to playing out wide in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 system when his preferred position was always in the center.

Ultimately, the move to La Liga has done the Mexican a world of good. At only 24, Vela has a great chance to push on and make a name for himself and he can start by helping Real Sociedad to hold on to their current 4th place in the league and secure a most unlikely ticket to the Champions League next season.

While that would be a massive achievement for the club, it would also offer Vela the opportunity to establish himself on the European stage, rendering his shortcomings at Arsenal little more than distant memories.

Can Vela go on to be a top player in Europe? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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