Does Arsenal need to buy “just one player?” And if so, why is it that no one can agree on the “just one” player that Arsenal need to buy? Also, why is it that Arsenal need to buy a different type of player every three months when someone new goes down with injury? In this series of articles I have looked at the defense, the midfield and now the forwards to see if Arsenal need to buy anyone, whether it’s more than one player, and today I offer some players who might be good buys in January.
Offense 8/10: Arsenal’s most clinical finisher, has six shots and three goals in Champions League play and 4 goals off 19 shots in the League. Also quite the provident passer and has already tallied 4 assists in both leagues. Efficient, doesn’t get the ball a lot, but doesn’t need the ball a lot. Has already shown a decent partnership forming with Giroud. Can’t really create his own shot. Would benefit enormously from having a creative wing player on his left.
Defense 5/10: Tracks back nearly every single time. Takes his duties seriously as a winger in Arsene’s 4-4-1-1 defense. Tackles at a decent rate for a forward, fouls a little too much, and doesn’t read opposition passes very well. Should have higher defensive numbers considering how much his side of the field has been targeted this season. Can’t complete 90 minutes, almost certainly due to the physical demands of playing as a winger.
The Oooo Walcott
Offense 9/10: Can’t dribble, but dribbles better than Podolski (11 v. 9 and Theo has had less time on the pitch). Can’t finish, but finishes better than Podolski (has a goal every 4 shots). Can’t cross, but has 4 assists all from the wide position (leads Arsenal in assists). Poor touch, but the best Arsenal player for touch at pace. Flat track bully who has also added 5 goals and 3 assist in League Cup games.
Defense 3/10: Historically considered a defensive liability and still has some of the lowest defensive numbers for any Arsenal player in the Premier League. Plays significantly better with Sagna behind him than Jenkinson. Can play defense (see Schalke) but would rather play as a 2nd striker in a 4-4-2.
Offense 6/10: Arsene moved Gervinho into the center forward role and the Ivorian flourished-ish. Movement is good and when he scores they are usually good goals. But his touch is often dreadful at pace and as a result it’s not the goals he did score that many remember but the goals he should have scored or sometimes, worse, the shots he should have taken but didn’t because of his poor touch. Effective dribbler who always dribbles to the same place and almost always drops the ball to the same place. Why no one (offensive or defensive) has figured this out yet is going to be a Leonard Nimoy “In Search Of” special. Started last season strong, finished horribly after ACN. Cannot cross the ball, probably the reason why Arsene moved him centrally. Would rate lower but that would be unfair due to the fact that he has five goals.
Defense 4/10: Actually, a better defender than Theo Walcott, only just. Doesn’t take defensive duties as seriously as Podolski but still averaged twice as many tackles per game as Theo last term and has a surprising number this term despite being used as a center forward.
Offense 5/10: Remember we are rating on actual play, not potential. Has the drive to break down opposition defenses, can dribble “the village” and is dispossessed a ridiculously low 0.9 times per game but has very little final product right now. Has just the two assists and one League Cup goal in 11 apps to keep his rating low.
Defense 5/10: On par with Podolski in that he takes defense seriously and tracks back nearly every time. Decent tackler, but like everyone at Arsenal would rather play centrally than wide.
Offense 2/10: Played in two games, has 2 goals and an assist. On the merit of that probably deserves a higher rating. But he’s been dropped from even sitting on Arsenal’s bench in the last few games and scored just one goal for Arsenal all season last year. Would rate lower but don’t want to incur the wrath of the Chamakh lovers.
Defense ?/10: There’s nothing to rate him on. Played in that 5-7 win over Reading but not responsible for any of their goals. Is a center forward.
Offense 7/10: Needs a lot of shots to score but has added headed goals to his scoring repertoire. Wins a lot of aerial duels. Gives Arsenal an option up front that they were looking for from Chamakh. Poor passing range, poor vision, but some times pulls off the amazing assist pass. Looks to be finding his place in this Arsenal team, could rate higher very quickly.
Defense 8/10: Compared to a winger or a defender, Giroud doesn’t deserve an 8, but he is always back to help clear the ball on set plays and puts his head on the line. And besides which I like a good defending forward!
Verdict: £ — Received wisdom is that Arsenal need a striker, someone to back up Giroud, but I completely disagree. Arsenal have a backup to Giroud in Podolski. Podolski would thrive in the center forward spot because he’s strong, he’s a better passer, and he’s much much much more efficient than Giroud. But the problem is that Arsenal can’t play him there because they need him playing defense on the wings and covering for Gibbs/Santos. It’s a strange situation, the only three players in Arsenal’s 25+ man squad who like too play wide are Gibbs, Sagna, and Jenkinson. Everyone else wants to be a center forward.
That said, Arsenal do need to spend some money on either replacing or securing Theo Walcott as he is Arsenal’s only other wing threat. There are right wing players out there who could fit the bill if Theo’s demands are too odious but they will cost dearly in the January transfer window.
I would like to see a backup keeper at Arsenal. Given the fact that he has bid on several over the last few years, I think Arsene Wenger wants a backup keeper at Arsenal — for the right price. That said, who sells their best keeper in January? No one, in Europe. Major League Soccer produces a lot of fine goalkeepers and I wonder if Arsenal shouldn’t take a look at Jimmy Nielsen from Sporting KC. He is a fan favorite over here and would almost certainly not turn down the chance to retire with Arsenal.
The other problem that Arsenal need to sort out is the fullback situation. First, it is critical that Wenger sign Sagna or replace him with a player in the 23-25 year old range. Fagner is having an amazing season, though it could be a one off, and his tackle numbers (5 per game) are almost as absurd as the fact that he averages 2.2 dribbles per contest. This is a situation that can wait until summer but if Sagna won’t sign, Arsene has to replace him. Second, Arsenal need a left back. Santos’ was signed to do the job and has never convinced and whether it’s his on or off-field antics something is keeping him from first team football. This is more pressing for me because Gibbs is injury prone and Vermaelen is not ideally suited for the role. Left backs are hard to find and everyone wants me to say Leighton Baines but I’m going to suggest Argentinian Pablo Alvarez from Catania instead. Or Baines!
In the midfield I am surprised by the number of people who don’t believe that Arsenal need a holding midfielder. It’s been something on my list for 5 years and while Arteta has impressed greatly, he’s not ideally suited for the role, and given his history will not be able to play 50 games there for Arsenal this season. Coquelin seems like a nice kid and I’m sure he’s loyal but he’s not been impressive for me. He’s always going too far forward and he’s not as tidy with the ball as needed for a position like that. Last season I recommended Yann M’Vila and I’m sticking with that recommendation despite his France ban and the drop in form this year. His problems are not with his technical ability or footballing intelligence, they are off-field problems, and they are hurting his performances on-field. He is still the same technically gifted, positionally disciplined, hard tackling, defensive midfielder with a great field vision that he was last year, he just needs a change of scenery. Ettiene Capoue has been stellar for two years and I wouldn’t turn him down but my intuition tells me that M’Vila is a more gifted footballer.
No one would turn down the big name signing of a out and out striker like Falcao or Cavani. That said, signing either would mean dropping Giroud to the bench or changing the lineup to play two strikers. Doing the former is fine but doing the latter would require Arsene to buy actual wing players as the Gunners have none. Unless you really believe that Arsenal could play a front line of Podolski (wing), Falcao, Giroud, and Cazorla (wing). Maybe you do? I tend to think that they would all try to go to the same spot in the middle of the pitch simultaneously and form one weird ball of forwards — “Palcoudla”.
Podolski has a lot of caps for Germany and plays out wide for them but it’s patently obvious that he’s not physically equipped to deal with the sprints required to play as a outright wing player in the Premier League. Arsenal have no winger on the right, unless you want to put all your eggs in one Ox cart, stick Cazorla out there (he could do it but would be wasted a bit), or hope that Theo can somehow magically become a better defender.
Given the above, the question is “Do Arsenal need a forward or a winger?” I would say the latter: a left wing player would provide width, dribbling, pace, and defense down the flanks. This would free Arsenal to make tactical changes, play a 4-4-2 with Theo and Giroud or Giroud and Podolski. And would give Arsenal options to play Cazorla on the right or in the middle of 4-3-3.
The big name players right now are Andre Schürrle on the left and Mario Goetze on the right (though Goetze likes to play… centrally). Both of these players have great dribbling skills, great vision, expansive passing range, dangerous crossing, and will do the dirty work. Both are also going to break the Arsenal transfer record: Bayer turned down a £20m offer for Schürrle from Chelsea. The reality is that it’s hard to find anyone who wants to play wide. Perhaps that’s why Arsenal don’t have any and why so many teams are adopting the 4-3-3. Miyaichi is a real wide player, though he has been struggling to impress at Wigan and has only come on as a sub. Don’t count on him getting a start for Arsenal this year.
The point of this three day and 5,000 word exercise was to show that Arsenal are not just in need of one player, there are a number of positions which the club is weak. Arsenal have two of the best midfielders in the world right now in Cazorla and Arteta and there are plenty of forwards in this club who are willing to play centrally and even one center forward willing to try to play defense (Podolski). But after that, there’s a lot of gaps in the Arsenal midfield due to injury and other issues and none who are able to play wide. Also, there are some scary issues with the only width that Arsenal have in the fullbacks area. And, there’s the not so small issue with keeper that has never been really resolved since Almunia deposed Lehman.
Maybe I’m wrong. I will be the first to admit it when I am. But there’s a stern test of the squad depth of this team between now and the close of the January transfer window: 11 League games, mostly against mid-table teams, mixed with League Cup, Fa Cup, and Champions League matches, will almost certainly decide the season.
P.S. — Felliani
I was remiss not addressing many Arsenal fans’ desire to recruit Fellaini for the holding role at Arsenal. He fits the bill in many ways: big, aerially adept, and a hard tackler (e.g, “broke his own ankle stamping on someone in a Merseyside derby”). The problem with Fellaini is that he’s not playing in a defensive midfield role and really hasn’t been for a year and a half at Everton. This raises a lot of questions for me. Would he be happy doing the dirty work for Arsenal in order to let Arteta be more creative? That’s a tough sell. Once a defender gets a taste for goals and the Hollywood feeling of offense it can be hard to reign them back in (see Alex Song Billong and Vermaelen). But more difficult that that would be a transition from outright starter at Everton, who gets to play any role in midfield, to backup for Arteta at Arsenal. I don’t see him doing that. I also don’t see him as a legitimate #10 (which is sort of what he’s doing for Everton). That’s another big reason why I chose M’Vila: not only is he very conservative in terms of positioning he is also trying to rehabilitate his career and might accept the backup role/more purely defensive role that Arsenal need someone to play.
Also, watch for Fellaini today; Moyes will almost certainly use him to mark Arteta out of the game which might be in Arsenal’s favor, actually.