I’ll admit, when I was first told of Arsenal’s bid for Jamie Vardy, I laughed out loud, presuming it to be another one of those ludicrous fantasy transfer stories that populate the tabloid press. You know the ones: “Lionel Messi could sign for Manchester United” or “Liverpool ready to bid for Robert Lewandowski”. That was how ludicrous I envisaged a link between Arsenal and Jamie Vardy, it just didn’t seem right.
Imagine my surprise when it transpired that Arsene Wenger actually had decided a move for Vardy was the right move, especially for the €38m (£29.4m) release fee that Claudio Ranieri admitted to an Italian newspaper was “all true”.
Just the paying £30m for a 29 year old in itself is such an un-Wenger like move, though is perhaps a sign of intent from the Arsenal manager. I’m sure Arsenal fans will be encouraged and enthused that Wenger is appears to be relaxing his principles of buying younger players to develop. Although Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez were established players when they were signed for a considerable amount of money, but they were also yet to reach their peak. The signing of Petr Cech last summer was the only real exception to the rule and that was a unique opportunity that Wenger rightly took advantage of.
For all his effectiveness in the Leicester attack, I’m not fully convinced by Vardy. His movement, technique and first touch are not great or suited to Arsenal. That, I feel, is the key element here; Vardy was effective in the particular style that Leicester employed. The end-to-end, fast transition football is very different to the style Arsenal employ. Leicester thrive on the break, the counter attack and being more direct than Arsenal, whose slower, more intricate build up and passing game relies on intelligent movement against what is normally a deeper block defence than what Leicester usually come up against.
It’s reminiscent of the Christian Benteke transfer to Liverpool last summer, an over inflated fee for a Premier League striker who, on paper, had a good record, but didn’t suit the style of players he was moving to play with. Similarly, Benteke was used to a more direct, counter attack style that suited his particular attributes, but at Liverpool, the style was more possession based passing football, where the creative players look for smart interplay and intelligent movement. So, whilst many pundits insisted Benteke’s Premier League goal record meant he would be a success, those who looked a little deeper could see the clash of styles would not be fruitful for either party.
Like Benteke, it’s not to say Vardy is a bad player because he’s not; I don’t think he is top quality, but he is effective in a certain style. It just so happens that that style is not the one Arsenal play or one that suits Arsenal’s creative players. If the alternative is for Arsenal to change their style to accommodate Vardy, then that would negate the influence of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. Would Wenger really sacrifice his two star players in order to utilise Vardy?
- Leicester average possession in Premier League 2015/16 = 45%
- Leicester average pass completion in Premier League = 70%
- Arsenal average possession in Premier League 2015/16 = 57%
- Arsenal average pass completion in Premier League = 84%
The above stats emphasise the difference between the approach of Leicester and Arsenal. Claudio Ranieri has been very smart in his utilisation of the Leicester team, they do not win by dominating possession, they play the quick transition counter-attack and take chances. It’s why they have significantly lower average possession and pass completion than Arsenal. Leicester are set up to draw teams in, Arsenal are not and have a squad ingrained in and suited to playing a possession based game. There are few opponents that allow Arsenal the opportunity to play a more counter attacking game. Some Arsenal fans may point to playing Manchester United this past season and employing this tactic, but Louis Van Gaal’s approach invited such a tactic and those opportunities for Arsenal are few and far between.
To try and alter playing style for a largely unproven striker who turns 30 years of age midway through next season would be a very risky tactic. To continue the same style, but sign a striker not suited to it is also risky, as seen with Benteke at Liverpool. So, if reports of Vardy ready to turn the move down and remain at Leicester are true, Arsenal may have just unwittingly dodged a bullet.