Arsenal Forward Carlos Vela Departs – Why The Prodigious Mexican Couldn’t Establish Himself In England

Arsenal forward Carlos Vela completed his move to Real Sociedad, ending a seven-year spell at the London club which was filled with ‘Chips’ and ‘What ifs’.

17th July, 2008 –

I have been waiting three years for this moment and now I am here I will work very hard to earn my place in the first-team and I hope to be at this club for a very long time.”

7th February, 2012 –

I don’t want to return to Arsenal. I have asked my agent to negotiate with Arsenal to stay here.

A journey that started with great expectation and excitement has ended with almost a feeling of relief, for Carlos Vela that is. While, seven years of build-up has ended with a whimper for Arsenal.

Carlos Alberto Vela Garrido rose to prominence during the 2005 U-17 world cup, as an extremely talented Mexican side lifted the trophy. Jesus Ramirez’s side decimated Netherlands 4-0 in the semi-final and cruised past Brazil, 3-0, in the final. Carlos Vela won the golden shoe award for the five glittering goals that he scored in the tournament. In a very emotional moment, he dedicated his award and victory to his father – “I dedicate my goal tonight, and the trophy, to my father, because it’s his birthday this evening”.



Carlos Vela lit up Peru in 2005


Soon after this tournament, Arsenal won the race to sign this promising young kid from Cancún. But Vela had to wait for three long years to get his name up in the Gunner team sheet. Due to work permit rules in England, he was loaned out to three different Spanish teams in three years.

Finally, on 30 August 2008, Carlos Vela made his debut for Arsenal as he came on as a substitute in a match against Newcastle. It all started quite well for the young Mexican as he was justifying the hype that surrounded him. The fans had to wait for three years to see the man who lit up the 2005 U-17 world cup in Peru.

In one of the most memorable performances and perhaps his best in an Arsenal shirt, Carlos Vela scored a wonderful hat-trick against Sheffield United in the League Cup. Arsenal won the match 6-0. Each goal was a master piece and the second goal where he deliciously chipped Paddy Kenny had class written all over it. It was also voted in the top 50 goals of Arsenal by the fans. ‘That’ chip was only the beginning.



In the three and a half season that Vela played for Arsenal (rest were all loan spells), the Mexican has scored only 11 goals, but perhaps more importantly, every Gooner remembers all of those 11. He got his chance in the team rarely, and in among those appearances very rarely did he score goals, but when he did, he made sure those were unforgettable. Carlos Vela ‘chipped’ his way into the heart of the fans. Talent was something he certainly didn’t lack.

So how did such a prodigiously talented player fail to reach his true potential at a club such as Arsenal, under a manager such as Wenger?

It all went wrong from the very first day itself. He never got the chance to settle in England in the first place. He was immediately loaned out to Celta Vigo, where even more frustratingly, he didn’t even make a single appearance for the club. Two more season of Spanish football followed with spells at Salamanca and Osasuna.

Carlos Vela was physically not strong enough to play in England; in order to succeed in the premier league, he needed to grow stronger. Instead he spent his ‘growing up days’ in Spain, in a league that is completely different to what England has to offer. He naturally adapted to Spanish football and it was hard for him to feel at home in English football when he returned.

Injuries played a big part as well. He never really experienced a long uninterrupted spell at Arsenal, either in reserves or in the first team.

Perhaps the most important reason behind him not achieving his true potential was the tactical change that Arsenal underwent from the time he was at the club to time he actually started playing.

In 2005, when Wenger signed Vela, Arsenal were still using the 4-4-2 formation with minimal variation. Vela was a perfect fit for 4-4-2 formation; his natural attributes made him a potent ‘second’ striker. But by the time Vela returned to London, Arsenal was on the verge of a tactical evolution.


In good times...


By the 2009/2010 season, Arsene Wenger has changed his tactics from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3. Robin Van Persie/Eduardo was played up top; Bendtner/Walcott on the right and Arshavin/Nasri on the left shared the load of striking responsibilities.

Carlos Vela couldn’t lead the line due to his lack of strength, hence there was no place for him in the center of the attack. Hence he was forced out wide. But Vela was not a natural wide player. In his national team, Vela played through the center while his long-term ‘partner in crime’ (since the days of U-17), Giovani dos Santos  was usually the one who drifted wide.

Arsene Wenger, who had earlier successfully converted someone like Thierry Henry from a winger to a forward, has in recent times failed with his effort to change natural center forwards to wide forwards; another sufferer of such attempts was Nicolas Bendtner.

At just the age of 23, Carlos Vela has already appeared for seven different clubs! That’s how unsettling his career has been so far.

Spanish football suits Vela more than English football ever did. He had a good spell at Real Sociedad last season, scoring some wonderful goals that we know he is capable of. Finally it seemed that the Mexican has began to settle down.

The Gooners would be sad that a player with such immense talent has left the club before doing justice to his promise, but deep down they would also be happy that finally Vela might have found a place where he can settle down and fulfill his potential.

Carlos Vela will always be remembered by Arsenal faithful as the epitome of ‘What ifs’.


  • Wolfgang

    He wasn’t given a run in the first team.Furthermore he was,if I aint wrong,played out of position. There were other kids in similar circumstances.It was a sheer waste of time. If Arsenal had got some experienced players,things could have been different.
    As for this season,it ‘s make orbreak for Wenger. If he can’t get the gunners firing,no more time for him to
    mould the next generation of players.Enough is enough otherwise the gunners will left further behind.

    • davi

      I agree he wasn’t ever given a proper chance, but I think he could have adapted to the left wing position. He played left midfield with the first spanish club he joined on loan and was brilliant that year. I do think, though, that it could all have been different had we stuck with 4-4-2, because I think he was excellent every time he played up front in that formation.
      Also, I disagree with the idea expressed in the article that vela was too weak. There are plenty of examples of him holding his own against strong, often bigger, PL players, including a time when he put Tevez on his ass. Also, plenty of smaller weaker players have established themselves in the PL, such as Zola, Juninho Paulista, Reyes, Rosicky and Walcott. The difference is, Theo had PLENTY of time (years!) to learn to find that bit of space to give himself a run on defenders. If they get close to him from a standing start, they will usually just put their body in the way and neutralise him, but if he get’s a bit of space either in front or behind the defence, then they’ll more often be in trouble. Vela was good at running behind defenders, and had decent hold up play when placed up front, but in the left wing position, he struggled to find space, especially early on after the formation change. However, we gave Theo 3 years of 1st team football to learn these things, when he clearly wasn’t ready and was miles behind Vela, who had practically zero game time to learn anything like that; Theo couldn’t even play well two games in a row, and that really hurt the team in those days imo. Bendtner was also given far more chances to play than Vela, and that is completely beyond me. EVERY time Vela played in the League cup, he destroyed the opposition, and frankly I just don’t think we did enough to get him into the side. We’ve never seen a more devastating young player in that competition, so to not find a way to get him into the first team is a failure imo. Having lost eduardo, who could have been a massive player for us, I really thought we should have done everything to get Vela into the side and add the finishing touches to his game, because he has similar potential, but we never did.
      It doesn’t surprise me in the least that he had a good season last year because all they did was trust him and give him games. Anyway, I don’t think his experiences have damaged him too much, it’s given him some difficulties to overcome, and now he’s at a club that trusts him, and he’s no loss to us now because we’ve never really had him in the 1st team squad. Best of luck to him, and maybe Arsene will be able to get him back through the buy-back clause in a couple of years :)

      • Amlan Majumdar

        Strong doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is stockily built. You have to be strong on the ball. Vela was dispossessed very easily at times. He is a player who needed more time on the ball than he usually got in England.

        • davi

          “Vela was dispossessed very easily at times.”
          Couldn’t the same be said of all of those players I mentioned, at times? I wouldn’t call any of them strong on the ball. Rosicky is pretty good with his back to a player, but if he tries to run past someone, he can often be shrugged off. Zola was particularly famous for being able to find space, and for his first touch – that’s what made him great, he didn’t need strength, but when people got close to him, he could lose the ball. It’s normal. He lost it far less frequently than Vela, but surely that’s at least partially due to experience?
          “He is a player who needed more time on the ball than he usually got in England.”
          This is probably true, but do you not think that’s something he just needed more game time to improve? It’s more about the “pace of the English game” than any lack of physical strength.
          Also, the last time I saw him play for Arsenal was against Wigan in the League cup: he played left wing and was really good – didn’t seem to want too much time on the ball. He has great passing/playmaking skills, but he missed a sitter through trying to be too clever, and that’s all that people really remembered from the game.

          • Amlan Majumdar

            I absolutely agree with the fact that he needed more time :) Maybe he will be back in future.

  • davi

    Also, I do think Vela could have led the line in a 4-3-3, although probably as a backup option. In the couple of games he was played there, I thought he was decent. He’s not going to win the ball in the air, but he’s strong enough and has an excellent 1st touch. It was promising. You don’t need to be a bruiser to do that job; David Villa isn’t exactly strong, but has done that job very well in the past – 1st touch and finding space are much more important aspects, particularly in a club like arsenal.

  • tom

    He also has a very bizarre method of finishing: chipping the ball. This can only be done in quite exceptional circumstances. Ball at feet, on the ground, one-on-one with the keeper. For a striker, Vela lacked ALL the myriad of other ways to out the ball in the back of the net. Not only weak on the ball, but not good in link up play either.
    Highlight reels show a player who’s “cute” rather than all-round effective.

    • Bronzy Wellesley

      Perhaps you missed his monster bicycle kick against Malaga last season. The lad’s got way more than a side of chips.

  • Jim


    Yeah, I guess being the third top scorer in the second half of La Liga last season, only behind Messi and Ronaldo, is only “cute” and not all-around effective.

  • Emanuel

    @Tom, Those are facts! Well said and said enough. Now he’s at a club that believes and trusts him, might be because it’s a small club and humble (they don’t have the money and the power Arsenal have). If you see the videos and news from Real Sociedad’s official website you will notice what I’m talking about. I know, for what I’ve learned from you, that you will love him all the way up and when he finally earns a place among all those big names in soccer you will feel proud that part of his heart belongs to Arsenal.

    • Emanuel

      Please excuse me! I was trying to reply Jim. oops! lol