Arsene Wenger was questioned vigorously today about Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity this summer. The gathered members of the press focused exclusively on strikers, asking the boss in various ways why he didn’t buy a center forward.
The press focused on strikers (center forwards) because many Arsenal supporters, including TV pundit and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, want an upgrade on Olivier Giroud in the center forward role. Wanting your club to buy a top quality striker is not an unreasonable desire: having a player who can score 25+ goals a season from the forward position almost guarantees a title push for your team and more importantly, since goals are why we watch the game, an exciting season of football.
And yet when questioned about whether Arsenal tried to get a forward, Arsene Wenger insisted that such a solution didn’t exist:
I told you many times, you look at what happened on the transfer market at the end of the day and you will see. I can understand everyone’s hope, but if you look at what happened it shows you that there is a shortage of solutions out there.
Many Arsenal fans will point to transfers outside of the Premier League and wonder why Arsenal couldn’t have purchased those players. Eden Dzeko in particular would possibly be an upgrade on Giroud, he has a superior scoring record in terms of Minutes per Goal: banging in a goal every 151 minutes over his career in all competitions, compared to Giroud’s 171 minutes per goal. But the chance of getting Dzeko on loan from a Premier League title rival who don’t need the money in any way is almost zero.
Plenty of other players made moves this summer as well: Carlos Bacca went from Sevilla to AC Milan for €30m and he has an excellent career goalscoring record of 138MPG, Paulo Dybala is a 21 year old prospect often compared to fellow Argentinian Kun Aguero (273MPG right now) and he moved to Juventus for €32m, and Jackson Martinez has an astounding career goalscoring record of 129MPG (which is up there with the likes of Falcao at 126MPG) and he was scooped up by Atleti for €35m.
So why couldn’t Arsenal land any of these players?
Wenger’s answer struck me as odd, he said essentially, “look at what everyone else in the Premier League did and you will see that there was a shortage of solutions.” So, I looked at the transfer business of every Premier League team (via transfermarkt.com) and sure enough, nearly every team in the Premier League bought a center forward and yet none of them went for the likes of Bacca, Martinez, or Dybala and instead opted for names like Martial, Benteke, and Falcao.
Two teams refused to buy a center forward this season: Arsenal and Man City. Man City have just Aguero and Bony while Arsene Wenger named Giroud, Sanchez, Walcott, and Welbeck as his center forwards.
If we look at Arsenal’s four center forwards their minutes per goal and ages look like this:
These MPG numbers are career numbers (all competitions, all teams) and should change as the player gets better or starts to fade. I expect Sanchez and Walcott to both lower their MPG numbers this season as they enter the prime of their respective careers. Welbeck isn’t really a consideration this season as his knee injury will likely keep him sidelined for half the year.
But what did the other teams in the Premier League do to get center forwards? Be warned, it’s underwhelming:
The only player even vaguely comparable to Giroud is Falcao. He had a rough season last year with Man U but has already gotten off the mark with a great header to equalize in Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. The other players with lower MPG numbers are both 19-21 year old prospects (Bamford and Oulare).
The chart shows clearly there were several teams who wanted to sign a world class center forward and who settled for Benteke, took a chance on Falcao, or went prospecting in Monaco for a 19 year old with no history. But in terms of upgrades on Giroud, no one in the Premier League was able to land one of those players. Why remains a mystery, but the facts are clear.