Why have goals when you can have possession?

Arsenal. One word hasn’t meant so much. Numerous debates and arguments commence at the mutter of this word, with so many topics to cover. After observing their first few performances of the season, I’ve delved into their game footage to see how they play depending on who’s up front and why there’s so much chatter and negative press. I am going to try and solve this roundabout of a debate by analysing Arsenals striking performances this season and look at where they can improve.

The dilemma up top

Arsenal picked up where they left off last season, undecided between the grumbling Theo Walcott and the prolific Olivier Giroud. Walcott claims he’s better in the striker role and has expressed his desire to play there more often. He provides a different game to what Welbeck and Giroud offer Arsenal, with his pace his main asset.

Looking at the game vs Newcastle on Saturday, Walcott got the nod ahead of Giroud. Arsenal won the game 1-0 thanks to an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shot deflected into his own net by Fabricio Coloccini, but the whole way Arsenal attacked changed for this game, as Walcott brings a whole different armoury to his teammates. As we see with the following picture, he likes to get on a defenders shoulder in between 2 players, with his body shape facing towards the goal, looking to make runs at every opportunity.

He took many chances, not receiving a pass on many of his runs he made. His work ethic to get back onside was impressive, and he really tried to stretch the defence with his runs in behind. The whole team had to twinge their build up play in the midfield to accommodate Walcott’s lack of physicality. Arsenal narrowed their formation and the wide attacking midfielders came in to try and pass their way through a very deep lying Newcastle formation. Walcott had to remain on his toes to latch onto any rebound or pass forward from the midfield. The central midfielders were very stagnant, not moving around. Arsenal seem to lack a cutting edge with Walcott up front, as he fails to bring any offers to the table apart from his speed.

When Arsenal utilise Walcott up front and not on the wing, they are forced to play a more patient game, which involves a lot more short passing and a more horizontal game, where the midfield are more patient and look for ways through the defence on the ground, rather than crossing it in from wide areas. This showed by the 75% possession Arsenal had against Newcastle. It’s very one dimensional, and the opposition usually know to tuck in and suffocate the creative players if space to turn and pass or shoot.

As we can see from this next picture, Walcott is much more suited to a high pressing defence where there is more space to work with in behind, making his runs a more viable option for the creative players on the ball. Therefore, I would opt against starting Walcott as a starting striker, as the defence know what game Arsenal will try and play against them. I would bring him on as a striker (or tactically switch him to the ST role) in the second half, when the defence are lacking some energy. This is where his pace really shows and his runs can be picked out, making him more effective. He is the type of player who would fit in to a counter attacking team, but seeming as Arsenal are more of a possession team, I would avoid playing him up front from the kick off.

Also, to stake a claim at the starting striker spot which Giroud currently occupies, Walcott must improve on his finishing skills and his composure. He has the intelligence to get himself into scoring positions with good movement, but he lacks clinical finishing. He is not a natural striker, and his poor finishing complied with the “one-trick-pony” tag people lay on him when he plays up front, I believe Walcott isn’t cut out for the starting gig, and that he should be 3rd in line behind Oliver Giroud, and the injured Danny Welbeck.

A target man with an extra flair. Those are the words I would use to describe the loveable number 12 and man with model-esque looks at Arsenal, Olivier Giroud. He exhibits a much different style to Theo Walcott, a style that ip allows the team to play with multiple dimensions to their attack. He has scored 42 goals in 101 games in the Premier League since his arrival from Montellipier for an estimated £9.6 million. I believe he is Arsenals best striker, ahead of the other two trying to knock him off his perch.

Looking at the following picture, we see Arsenal playing a wider game, using the full width of the pitch as they put balls into the area. At 6 foot 4 inches, Giroud brings the physically that Walcott doesn’t. His presence occupies the two central defenders, giving more room for the attacking midfielders. He forces the defenders into paying more attention as Arsenal can play in a number of different ways, they can either play out wide, or play it into Giroud who can hold it up and play it into his midfield making runs in behind him.

Another thing that impresses me with Giroud is his movement. He won’t stretch the defence, but his short movement is sublime. What I mean by short movement is the small runs, losing markers with quick burst of movement to give himself space to fashion an attempt on goal. The defenders don’t know which run Giroud will make, so both are pre occupied with him. Giroud can also be used as a good decoy, as his runs give extra space for players like Sanchez, Ozil, Oxkade-Chamberlain and Ramsey.

In terms of the skills needed to be a successful striker, Giroud wins hands down. Walcott isn’t a natural striker and is best suited to the wing with his finishing needing work, however his work rate is surprisingly good and he can stretch a defence. Giroud does not have the pace Walcott does, but his finishing skills are better and he is a more supportive player for his midfield. He allows the team to play a more complex game that isn’t readable.

As for the unspoken man so far in this article- Danny Welbeck, he provides Arsenal with some physicality and a work ethic not many people can match. He’s always husling opponents for the ball and making numerous runs. He can hold it up if needed aswell, so he’s almost the combination of Walcott and Giroud. His main issue? His goal scoring. A major issue that he needs to rectify to take the next step. He has a great record for England but for club he isn’t so prolific. The main cause of his inability to score is his technical skills. They aren’t the finest, to say the least. He needs to work on these to excel in Arsenals possession game, as control is needed in the confined areas of the pitch he is often found working in. Injuries have hampered his development aswell. I love Welbeck and his work rate, but a tweak on his finishing and technical control is needed to take the next step and claim the starting role at Arsenal.

My rankings of the current strikers in the squad go as follow:

  • Olivier Giroud
  • Danny Welbeck
  • Theo Walcott

The million (probably more) dollar(s) man

To solve the conundrum up top for once and for all, I feel Arsenal need to dip into the transfer market. They should focus their efforts on signing an all round player, someone who can hold it up but also have enough pace to get in behind the defence. A regular goals tally is also needed for this mystery striker. To put a name to a place is the hard part though. I have identified a few players who could fit into the role perfectly.

Karim Benzema- he would probably cost around £50 million, but would tick all the categories Wegner wants- he’s quick enough, clinical, and is physical enough to cause the 2 centre backs problems (plus he’s French, so there’s that bonus). The only put off is his price tag, but he’s prolific and is a world class talent, keeping a regular starting place amongst the big boys at Real Madrid.

Edison Cavani- also probably costing around £40-50 million, Cavani plays his trade for PSG. He’s also a very talanted striker, who has a great work ethic. He is continually chasing balls down and hustling opponents, while also making clever runs. Not a physical player, but a very clever one. His finishing is superb, and he has an impressive goal tally.

Gonzalo Higuain- £25-30 million. The hype train seemed to die down on Higuain since he left Real Madrid for regular first team football at Napoli. The most physical of all the potential targets, Higuain is more of a poacher. He is an upgraded version of Giroud, as he nets more goals. He isn’t the complete forward like Benzema and Cavani, but he is more physical than them.

Stevan Jovetic-£20 million. After falling below everyone’s expectations at Manchester City, he was loaned out to Inter Milan for this season, where he has scored 2 goals in 2 appearances so far. He is arguably the most technically gifted striker of the bunch, but isn’t as physical. He is clever and has excellent movement in the box to give himself extra space from defenders, but his form is inconsistent.

Charlie Austin- with a £15 million slapped on him, Austin was a goal scoring machine for QPR last season. He would be the back up option for Arsenal, the cheaper buy. He can score goals and is very physical, with some nice movement in the box, he can’t stretch a defence and might not fit into the teams style of play, but this move should be considered seriously as it could be a savvy buy.

So, to tie it all up; I believe Arsenal should invest in a world class striker in Benzema or Cavani. But, as nothing has happened to date regarding a high profile striker, I doubt they will bring in a Benzema or Cavani. If they choose to still bring someone in however, I think Charlie Austin would be a cost effective move, as it’s clear the player deserves to be in the Premier League. There’s also a third option: to not bring in anyone and stick with the trio they already have. If they choose the latter, then Olivier Giroud wins the starting gig, with Welbeck backing him up. Walcott should only be used in certain games and as a second half striker to really stretch a defence late on.

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