As Arsene Wenger enters the final year of his contract, he has reacted predictably to the mounting pressure he was put under last season by making two unusually early entries into the transfer market. Going into next season with the same toxic atmosphere is not an attractive proposition for a manager that badly needs to get off to a good start. Wenger is therefore banking on early signings changing the mindset of a large proportion of Arsenal’s fan base well in advance.
Another reason for his panicked state of mind is that Ozil and Sanchez have still not signed their contracts and Wenger desperately needs them to put pen to paper. If neither signs a new deal this summer, it would hardly be a ringing endorsement of Wenger’s management going into next season, and Arsenal would have to sell both players within the next 12-14 months.
Approaching Vardy seems a somewhat desperate act on the part of Wenger. Whether a brainless solution to a connundrum Wenger is at a loss to remedy or a despairing final throw of the dice designed to appease supporters and placate doubters in his squad before throwing the towel in, the decision is seemingly based on a knee-jerk response rather than a proactive tactical strategy.
Personally, I don’t see how Vardy fits into Arsenal’s system and I don’t see Wenger adapting his system to incorporate Vardy. As we all know, Wenger doesn’t do tactics. He incorporates a system of play that lives and dies by the functionality of the players within it. There may be a couple of games a season where Wenger demands a different approach (Bayern/Barca), but it inevitably fails when the players succumb to mental fatigue.
Are we supposed to believe that the perpetually inflexible Wenger will suddenly adapt Arsenal’s entire system to suit Vardy or that the Englishman will play merry-go-round with Giroud depending on the opposition? I doubt it. The system will stay the same and Vardy will have to adapt, probably out of position on a flank, hanging off the shoulder of the last man.
However, we’ve seen signs that, even within a system built around Vardy’s undeniable counter-attacking strengths, he was not nearly as potent when teams started to adapt to Leicester’s style of play. Towards the end of last season, Leicester faced more defensive opposition, which had a negative impact on their ability to score goals. The Foxes mutated from being a devastating counter-side team to one that relied on its defence to squeeze out wins.
Vardy increasingly became a spectator on the pitch, scoring just 4 goals in open play from his final 10 games. For England recently, against deep-lying Portugal, Vardy only managed 8 touches in 66 minutes. His pass completion rate is a laughable 64.3% - statistically one of the worst of any player in the Premier League. For a laptop manager that has spent 10 years making robotic decisions based on statistics and moulding players into a system constructed on the principles of pass and move, siging Vardy would be a mind-boggling paradox.
Chucking long balls over the top won’t work because opposition teams already know that defending deep and counter-attacking Arsenal is the most effective method of securing a result. And if Arsenal sit back, that does not compel other teams to attack, you just end up with a tedious stalemate.
One would also have to question whether Vardy - at 29 years of age - has the technique or intelligence to adapt to a possession-based style of football. While it’s true that Vardy has a work rate and aggression that is completely absent in a player like Walcott, for example, he already possessed those characteristics in 2014-15 yet only scored five goals. It's therefore logical to conclude that work rate and aggression were only a minor factor in Vardy's prolific goalscoring record last season, more important was to implement a system tailor-made to his technical and physical attributes.
Besides, the deal is not done yet. Embarrassingly, Vardy - who was playing Conference football four years ago - has requested time to think over his decision. He clearly has nothing to lose in terms of attracting attention going into the Euros and Liverpool are also rumoured to be interested. It’s possible Vardy is prepared to wait to see if Liverpool can secure funds by offloading Christian Benteke to West Ham, assuming Jurgen Klopp can entice him with higher wages than Arsenal are willing to pay.
I don’t know much about Granit Xhaka – signed for approximately £30m from Borussia Monchengladbach. On paper, he is exactly what Arsenal need – a robust deep-lying creative midfielder. However, his disciplinary record is horrendous, which raises obvious question marks over his temperament and ability to read the game. He may need taming in a league as fast, cynical and heated as the PL.
In other news, Jose Mourinho has made his first signing as Man Utd manager, the hot-headed but powerful and technically proficient centre-back Eric Bailly. The 6’2” African is just 22 but was an ever-present in the Villarreal defence last season. Pep Guardiola has also signed his first player for Man City, £20m midfield general Ilkay Gundogan, and has now sets his sights on prolific 26-year-old Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Jurgen Klopp is apparently interested in taking ex-Arsenal centre-back Thomas Vermaelen to Liverpool.
Meanwhile, Everton have wasted little time flexing their new-found financial muscle, prizing manager Ronald Koeman away from Southampton for £5m. Koeman’s 9th managerial role, the Dutchman’s 54% win percentage towers over former manager Roberto Martinez at 39% and is better than Arsene Wenger’s too. One might put this down as yet another opportunity lost.
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