This is the first part in a three part article on potential Arsenal transfer targets. Parts 2 and 3 will be tomorrow and Wednesday respectively. But for today, we look at Arsenal’s need for a forward, specifically a hold up forward in the mold of Olivier Giroud.
Evidence suggests that Arsene Wenger likes having a big hold up player leading his line and bringing the more creative, scoring, midfielders into play. While he’s tried before with players like Chamakh, Giroud is possibly his best ever example of that type of player.
If the big man up front’s job is to win the aerial duels, Giroud wins almost as many headers as Chamakh (56 v. 64) to place him 5th in aerial duels per game but what makes him different is that Giroud also leads the League in assists with 4. That’s tied with Ramsey, Özil, Mirallas, Aguero, Gerrard, and Rooney. Not bad company.
Olivier Giroud is also one of only 4 players with 5+ goals and 4+ assists (Aguero, Rooney, and Ramsey the other three) because he is scoring goals at a slightly better clip, 13%, off his overall shots than last season where he converted a mere 10%. But crucially his shots on goal percent is down from last season to a pretty poor 30%. It’s still early, and this number could go up quickly with a few good games under his belt.
I can’t stress enough how difficult it is to find a player like Giroud. Most hold up forwards are not very technically adept. For example, Crouch, Maiga, Chamakh, and Anichebe all combined average 22 aerial duels won per game and have tallied just 2 goals and 3 assists.
Benteke, Kiessling, and Adrian Ramos are three players among the hundreds of target men who, along with our Giroud, really shine.
Benteke is the most well known among Arsenal fans, he’s been touted as a potential purchase since he burst onto the scene last year with 19 goals, one shy of the mythical 20. Benteke doesn’t have any assists (yet) this season but you would have to think that is more down to playing on Villa than the quality of his final ball. Benteke is also an aerial monster. His aerial duels per 90 minutes of play (AD/90) is off the charts. Basically, Villa just lump him the ball and he wins it. A lot. He does that while carrying the load for Villa in terms of scoring. In terms of a direct replacement, I think Benteke is the closest to Giroud that there is among the players I looked at.
Stefan Kiessling is similar to Benteke in that he’s also a monster in the air. 8 headed goals last season was better than anyone in Europe and marks him as a real threat from every set play. Could you imagine Kiessling getting set play delivery from Mesut Özil? That would terrify even Sam Allardyce!
Kiessling isn’t just an aerial threat, he also had 52 successful dribbles last season. He’s pretty good with the ball in the air and at feet, and he’s comfortable taking on defenders, something Giroud was criticized for last season, which he’s getting better at this season (he only had 11 successful take-ons last season and already has 8 this season).
Kiessling might be reticent to make a change from Bayer Leverkusen to Arsenal. He doesn’t seem to care for his national team, having said he will never play for Löw and there are other rumors that he’s a problem player. He’s also 29 years old and is just now coming into his own as a player. In an era where clubs like Chelsea and Man City literally stockpile players it’s hard to fathom how Kiessling scored 25 goals last season and there wasn’t so much as a whiff of a big club buying him. I know this is completely unscientific but my gut tells me he would be a huge gamble.
Adrian Ramos on the other hand is getting nothing but praise for his play at Hertha Berlin. And you can see why, what with 7 goals (1 from the penalty spot) and 3 assists.
Ramos is an interesting forward because he’s Hertha’s target man and is only a shade over 6′ tall (185cm). He does prefer to play in that Giroud-type role even though he doesn’t win a lot of headers (just 43%). But what he really excels at is attacking his defender with ball at feet. He’s made more successful dribbles than any of the players I compared for this article with 30. And more amazing, he’s won 30/36 of his take ons. That’s an absurd 83% rate.
I see Ramos as more versatile than the other three players above. He’s not just a target man, though he does do that for Hertha, Ramos is a very technically gifted footballer. He passes at a 77% rate, he can attack his defender, and he’s a threat off set pieces. Instead of a direct replacement for Giroud, Ramos could take the lead in some games and play off Giroud in others.
No doubt Arsene Wenger has a plan for this January. Whether any of those three forwards fit into that plan remains to be seen. Giroud is going strong and I can’t think of too many times in the last ten years that Wenger bought players just as insurance. In fact, there are almost none. But what separates the teams like Chelsea and City from teams like Arsenal is that they have an abundance of options — Chelsea has Ba, Torres, and Eto’o plus Lukaku out on loan. Arsenal have Podolski and Walcott set to return some time this season and that will certainly offer Arsenal a couple more options up front. But there’s nothing wrong with having another option like a Benteke or Ramos to spell Giroud or.. even to take his place should he revert back to last season’s form. It’s pretty clear that Nicklas Bendtner will not do it.
Tomorrow, I will be back with a piece on more creative midfielders and on Wednesday, defenders. See you then.