All Arsenal fans are (painfully) aware that Arsène Wenger liked to talk about the players he could have signed.
It has, in fact, become something of a joke among fans of other clubs to hear Wenger talk about his nearly men: From Pogba to Drogba, Kante to Kompany, Suarez to Sancho – there is an endless list of stars that might have ended up plying their trade in North London. “Might have” is obviously doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence, and Gunners fans are much more worried about what’s happening now under Mikel Arteta rather than the what-ifs of the Wenger era.
But if there was one feasible transfer possibility that could have made a difference to the Arsenal of today, it’s the missed opportunity with Jamie Vardy in 2016. Fresh off Leicester’s historic title win, Vardy and his wife, Rebekah met with Wenger to discuss the deal. Leicester, so it is reported, were on board and a fee in the region of £20 million was agreed. We don’t know exactly what went on in the meeting, but Vardy ended up walking away.
Law confirmed Arsenal meeting
For the record, it’s worth saying that Vardy denies the meeting took place. However, that was contradicted by Dick Law, the transfer negotiator who worked with Wenger as sporting director for eight years at Arsenal. Law claimed that the deal was done with Leicester and that Vardy “sat down on the couch in front of Arsène”.
And while it’s not useful in any way to talk about the players that are not at the Emirates, you can’t help but think what might have been with Vardy. The 33-year-old possesses many of the qualities that Arsenal players lack – grit, dependability, consistency and nous. You only have to look at the history of Jamie Vardy to see that this is a player who earns every penny of his wage packet.
At 25, he was playing non-league football. He has talent, sure, and that’s the reason he became the first non-league £1 million transfer when he joined Leicester in 2012. But you only get to climb the ladder as high as Vardy has by having a unique hunger for improvement. If Vardy’s attitude was different, he would probably be winding up his career at a lower league club now instead of flying high with Leicester near the top of the Premier League.
Arsenal players lack nous
Now, we don’t want to use Vardy’s drive as a stick to beat Arsenal’s current crop of players. The poor run of results is down to many factors. And while the attitude of some players might not be perfect, there are many trying to their best to deal with a rigid tactical set-up.
Arteta has talked about bad luck, and you might argue that the team has deserved to have a few more points on the board. But that’s the point we want to make of Vardy and players of his ilk – they make their own luck. We mentioned one of the Vardy qualities – nous – and that’s missing from Arsenal (it has been for a long time). Leicester have won nine penalties this season – the most in the league. Arsenal have won two, with only Leeds getting fewer spot-kicks. That’s not luck; it’s a sign of shrewdness.
As has been talked about on this site, the answer to Arsenal’s woes is not to sign new players, nor sack the manager. There is talent in this squad, and Arteta should be given the time to see out his plans. But the resolve to win at all costs, the knack of winning matches when playing poorly, the canniness to force penalties when other ways of scoring seem closed – these are all qualities lacking at Arsenal. But they can be learned by players – just ask Jamie Vardy.