Jamie Vardy committed his future to Leicester City by agreeing a new four-year contract on Thursday, snubbing interest from Arsenal to stay with the surprise Premier League champions.
After the Gunners reportedly met Vardy’s £20million release clause, the striker instead opted to sign an extended deal with Leicester.
So where does the England international’s decision leave the plans of Claudio Ranieri and Arsene Wenger with the start of the new league season seven weeks away?
HUGE BOOST FOR THE CHAMPIONS
Vardy scored 24 league goals last season as Leicester shocked the footballing world, winning the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year award in the process.
There were understandably fears that Ranieri’s team of unlikely heroes would be quickly dismantled by bigger clubs, denying them the chance to continue fighting the top-flight’s traditional heavyweights.
While there remain doubts over whether N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez will stay with the continent’s biggest clubs circling, the renewal of Vardy is a critical first step to maintaining Leicester’s standing near the top of the table.
The massive television revenues available to Premier League sides allow clubs right down the table an opportunity to compete, with Leicester’s success giving hope to teams across the country last season.
Vardy’s commitment is another huge boost to the competitiveness of a division that may be set for its finest season yet, with the arrivals of star managers Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte, as well as Jose Mourinho’s return.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2016
WHY HAS VARDY STAYED?
Vardy, who has considered his future while playing at Euro 2016 with England, knows that at the age of 29, this is likely to be the last big contract he receives. Indeed, this deal will expire when he is 33.
Leicester’s offer is understood to have increased his wages again after he only signed his previous enhanced deal in February, but the Gunners were still reportedly offering 20 per cent more.
So Vardy’s decision to stay and reject the prestige and pay packet available with Arsenal was a significant one.
Factors that are likely to have played a part in Vardy’s decision include his loyalty and how ideally suited he is to Leicester’s style.
It was the Foxes who showed faith in the striker to sign him when he was playing for Fleetwood Town in the fourth tier back in 2012 and he has regularly spoken about his close bond with his team-mates.
“I have just won the league and I will be playing in the Champions League next year – I’m happy here,” Vardy said in May.
“There are going to be names thrown into the hat all summer, but with the group of lads that we have got you would hope it will keep everyone together.”
Vardy is the focal point of Leicester’s play – his work-rate and pace ideally suited to the team’s energetic and counter-attacking style, unlike Arsenal’s possession-based approach that often comes up against deep defensive opposition.
As the most recognisable player at Leicester, Vardy now has the chance to cement his legacy.
24 – Jamie Vardy was the first Leicester City player to score 20+ goals in a top flight season since @GaryLineker in 1984/85. Remain.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 23, 2016
WHAT NEXT FOR ARSENAL?
Arsenal supporters feel they are tantalisingly close to having a squad capable of ending a league title drought that has lasted since 2004.
World-class talents like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are key figures, Petr Cech’s arrival addressed a longstanding weakness at the goalkeeping position last season and recent signing Granit Xhaka could be the answer to their need for a midfield presence.
However, Vardy’s decision means their long wait for a prolific top-tier centre-forward continues.
Olivier Giroud is consistently decent without being spectacular – he has scored at least 11 league goals in all four of his Arsenal seasons, but never passed 16 in a campaign.
World-class strikers are hard to come by and, although it may pain Arsenal fans to hear it, there is no certainty they can land a clear upgrade on Giroud.
Of the 21 Premier League players to score 10 or more goals last season, only three – Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Vardy – had a better minutes-per-goal ratio than Giroud (one every 152 minutes).
With Vardy going nowhere, two potential options on the market are Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata.
Both have a clear upside at the age of 23 as well having significant experience, but they will come at a cost significantly higher than Vardy’s £20m price tag.
Real Madrid have just bought back Morata for €30m from Juventus and are expecting to turn a significant profit, while Lukaku’s value will have shot up since his permanent £28m move to Everton two years ago – and the Toffees have shown with John Stones they will not sell easily.
Lukaku scored 18 league goals last season, but at a slower rate than Giroud (176 minutes per goal), while Morata’s seven Serie A strikes for Juventus came at 207 minutes apiece.
But their shooting accuracy did compare favourably – with Morata’s 58 per cent better than Vardy (57), Lukaku (56) and Giroud (54).
Giroud’s all-round game is often cited as important, but Lukaku and Morata had a decent creative impact too – the Belgium striker had six assists and the Spain international had seven, while Arsenal’s current forward had six.
After the significant setback of Vardy’s rejection, Arsenal now continue what is becoming an expensive search for their upgrade on Giroud.