Thursday, February 29, 2024

January Striker Plan B?

Here is the current state of play regarding Arsenal’s strikers.

Alexandre Lacazette

Available for selection. Contract expires in June. Despite some vague suggestions an extension has been offered, there has been nothing concrete in that regard.

Premier League stats: 16 appearances, 3 goals, 3 assists (assists include penalties won). 15 shots, 8 shots on target. 956 minutes played.

All competitions: 5 goals (2 EFL + 3PL), 4 assists (1 EFL + 3 PL)

Eddie Nketiah

Available for selection. Contract expires in June. Mikel Arteta has spoke about wanting to keep him, the player has reportedly turned down contract extensions.

Premier League stats: 4 appearances, 0 goals. 0 starts. 1 shot, 0 shots on target. 51 minutes played.

All competitions: 5 goals (5 EFL). 11 shots, 7 on target (against AFC Wimbledon, Leeds and Sunderland). In two games v Liverpool 0 shots.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Currently not being selected due to a disciplinary breach. Has not played since the 2-1 defeat to Everton on December 6th. Contract until June 2023.

Premier League stats: 14 appearances, 4 goals, 1 assist. 33 shots, 16 on target. 1040 minutes played.

All competitions: 7 goals (3 EFL + 4 PL).

A few things stand out for me. I’ve spoken quite a lot about chance creation, but from these very basic stats, it’s clear that Aubameyang – with more or less the same number of appearances as Lacazette and very similar minutes – takes more shots on goal. However, in Aubameyang’s absence, other players have been scoring, and it’s worth noting that since his disciplinary breach which saw him dropped last month, Arsenal beat Southampton 3-0, West Ham 2-0, Norwich 5-0, Leeds 4-1 and lost to Man City 2-1 with the goals shared around:

Saka – 4
Martinelli – 3
Smith Rowe – 3
Lacazette – 2
Odegaard – 1
Tierney – 1
Gabriel – 1

Aubameyang’s last Premier League goal was on October 22nd in the 3-1 win over Aston Villa at the Emirates. Lacazette’s shot numbers are, in part, a measure of how he plays these days. He does more to try and connect play by dropping deep, and while it has been effective at times, it leaves the team without an outlet up front and without any real penalty box presence.

As for Eddie, although his Premier League minutes have been scant, he’s rarely looked like someone who is going to make a goalscoring contribution. He fluffed his lines badly against Everton, he struggled against Forest in the FA Cup, and it’s hard to make a good case for his introduction in games beyond the fact he’s about all we’ve got with any kind of first team experience right now. Also, bringing him on to play anywhere else other than up front seems like a waste of time because that’s not his game (his game is scoring against lower league opposition).

Our centre-forward issues are laid bare by the stats, but our eyes have told us plenty this season too. The need for something else up front is obvious, and the urgency is acute given the transfer window is closing in six days time. The pursuit of Dusan Vlahovic appears to have been a fruitless one, Fiorentina say they have received bids and are open to selling but have heard nothing from his agents. There’s talk of a Juventus bid, which is apparently the player’s preferred option, and at this point it feels like we’d be foolish to waste any more time on this. I could be wrong, but we’ve seen this kind of scenario play out before and it rarely goes the way you want.

So, what to do? We must have other targets, but are they available in January? There’s talk of Alexander Isak, the Real Sociedad striker who has a £70m+ buy-out clause, but his stats this season aren’t exactly stellar. You’d be investing in his potential, obviously, but his true value is some way below that clause amount. You could get him immediately if you paid it in full (and he wanted to come), but perhaps there’s room for negotiation. However, sitting just 2 points off the Champions League places, would Sociedad view his sale this month as too damaging for their ambitions this season?

I thought James made an excellent point on the Arsecast Extra yesterday about the kind of deal we could get done this month. It looks, to all intents and purposes, like Aubameyang’s Arsenal career is toast, while both Lacazette and Nketiah will depart in the summer when their contracts expire. It means that Arsenal will likely require more than one striker in the coming months. We do have Flo Balogun out on loan, and I think there’s something to the idea of Martinelli up front, but if we have Europe next season (fingers crossed), we’ll need more than that.

So, if you can’t bring in the A1 target this month, is there room to still bring in a good player who will be there to compete and provide back-up next season? He might not be the star signing we’re all dreaming of this month, but I bet there are players out there who can contribute more than some of our existing strikers. It allows you to strengthen the squad, while not compromising on the main signing which you then push to complete in the summer.

I know there’s urgency about our lack of firepower up front, but I still think the last thing we should do is compromise and spend big money on someone out of a sense of desperation. Those deals almost never work out and in the end you’re lumbered with a player you find hard to sell, who you don’t really want to use, who doesn’t have the quality you really need, and who then becomes a frustrating burden. A back-up/second striker is a much smaller financial commitment, it might even be a short-term loan, and it means your resources can go into making the signing you really want.

I’ve already seen some names mentioned when it comes to that profile of player, which suggests that perhaps this is what Arsenal are thinking – or at least considering as a contingency plan. There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we do something this month to give the squad a boost up front, our loftiest of ambitions won’t be realised. We might have enough to secure Europe, those wins I mentioned earlier demonstrate we have the ability to score goals, but a striker who can put that Smith Rowe chance against Burnley away could be the difference between 1 point and 3 in close games.

Let’s see what they do. The latest podcast is below, enjoy!


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