Transfer window woes
Less than a day after the transfer window slammed shut with Arsenal failing to make any further purchases, a statement regarding Danny Welbeck’s health was issued on the official website. Unfortunately, the news was far from heartwarming, as it turned out Danny’s injury required surgery. a surgery which took place during the last week of August.
Arsenal’s fanbase duly exploded and you could see why: it was hard for the supporters to come to terms with the simple fact Cech remained our only acquisition, losing one of our forward options on the back of a summer when most considered an elite striker a necessity was the last straw.
The Club was once again accused of dithering, of keeping the supporters in the dark and, most importantly, of failing to recruit when the need for recruitment seemed so obvious. Gloomy predictions were up next: we are 1-2 injuries away from a disaster, our forward line looks incapable of scoring and we can just forget about mounting a proper title challenge. 4th, here we come.
This tune became almost laughable. In a hurry, everyone forgot that nobody of importance left our squad. It was forgot that the same squad (minus Cech) had a storming end to the last season. It was forgot that transfer window is not a panacea, something Rory Smith brilliantly summed up:
Remember everyone: your team’s problems are caused and resolved by what has or hasn’t happened in the transfer market. Nothing else.
There are no tactics. There is no training. There is no human error or excellence. There are only transfers.
Rory then went on to produce a quite fascinating article for ESPN, in which he gave his explanation of just why the transfer window is loved so much and why it’s unlikely to change in the near future.
In fact, I believe we had a good transfer window, one which would have been viewed as such by more people had we picked up more points in the opening games, say, 10 out of 12. People would have just taken a look at the table (because looking at the table is crucial in early September) and seen we are not far away from City. City, who have spent over 150 million pounds on players they didn’t really need and will have problems cramming into their squad.
But our stuttering start, during which we’ve scored only one goal had people looking at the transfer market in search of a killer striker who would score more or take his chances better. Amidst all that, one little detail was ignored: there was no striker on the market we could have bought for reasonable money and who would have presented a substantial upgrade on Olivier Giroud. In their article Daily Mail (yes, Daily Mail!) hailed Arsene’s transfer policy, while saying the exact same thing which has been blindingly obvious all along: our Premier League rivals overspent, quite likely didn’t get good value for money and didn’t substantially improve or, more importantly, didn’t improve in the areas which needed improving most.
The author argued his point very well (among other things he also backed Arsene’s decision not to reinforce central midfield), so I won’t repeat what he said here. What I will do, though, is quote him on Benzema and Cavani rumours:
By all accounts he tried very hard to bring in one of the few strikers in Europe better than what he already has – Karim Benzema.
It’s not easy to buy top-class players, and it is not sensible to drastically overpay for them. Arsenal went up to £50million, and were rebuffed. Any more money would have been ridiculous for a man who, at 27, would have next to no resale value if he flopped over the next two or three years.
The other name linked to Arsenal was Edinson Cavani – the man most fans desperately wanted Wenger to sign on deadline day. Why?
Last season, in Ligue 1 – a significantly easier environment than the Premier League – Cavani scored 19 times in 35 games. That’s a strike rate of 0.54 goals/game – nearly identical to the 0.52 scored by Giroud in a tougher league (and when you throw in the fact that Giroud’s all came from open play, while Cavani netted two penalties, the Arsenal man’s record is actually more impressive).
What message would it send to the players Wenger already has at the club if he was desperately trying to replace them with expensive stars who are not better than what he already has?
Cavani might have improved Arsenal’s squad, but at £50m-plus he would have been a terrible signing in terms of value and, again, at the age of 28 would be almost worthless at the end of what could turn out to be a disappointing spell.
All of this finally brings me to the point I wanted to make in this piece (800 words in I finally get to this point): how can we compensate for not bringing in another striker? Who do we deal with it knowing Welbeck will be unavailable up until Christmas? Well, I think there are a couple of solutions we (or rather Arsene Wenger) can try out.
Continue with Giroud as our main striker
That’s the most obvious, easy and likely solution. We know what we’ll get with Olivier up front, the team has become accustomed to seeing Giroud spearhead our attack over the last three seasons. If Arsene really decides to continue with the Frenchman as our main threat, both will have to get ready for critique coming their way. Giroud will score a lot of goals, but not enough to please the fans, but, crucially, he’ll miss quite a few chances and will be reminded of this by our fans at every opportunity. As for Arsene, he will naturally get blamed for not finding an adequate upgrade in the market.
However, there’s a case to be made for omitting Giroud and trying someone else. It will yield the double benefit of putting the Frenchman out of the firing line and changing our style of play, something that can ultimately lead to us becoming more effective in front of goal.
As Tim Stillman pointed out in his column for Goonersphere, it doesn’t look like Wenger planned to use Giroud as a main man for so long, which can prompt him to try and bring his original plan to fruition:
For the first game of the 2012-13 season, Podolski started as Arsenal’s central striker, with Giroud on the bench. I think it’s fair to assume that this was Arsene’s long term intention, for Giroud’s physical presence to provide a much desired Plan B.
For the first few games of the 2014-15 season, Alexis started as a centre forward, with Giroud again sealed in the envelope marked Plan B on the bench. This worked to good effect at Goodison Park when Alexis was hooked at half time and Giroud bagged a last minute equaliser. His predilection for changing games from the bench is very good; he almost unwittingly talks himself out of his preferred job in that sense. Giroud starts most games, but he has been left out of plenty of big fixtures. He was omitted from the starting line-up for a Champions League tie against Bayern Munich and for F.A. Cup matches against Liverpool, Everton and a semi-final against Wigan.
Last season, Theo Walcott was preferred in the F.A. Cup Final (where Giroud again scored from the bench). Olivier is clearly on a temporary visa as Arsenal’s starting forward until Wenger can find someone better, because he does not omit other regular picks from big matches in the same way.
Playing Walcott as a centre-forward
When Theo signed a luxury contract back in July, it became obvious you don’t just leave a player on such wages on the bench. Yet it was just what Arsene did for the first three games of the Premier League: Walcott came late on for Giroud against West Ham to try and rescue a point, a similar switch was made in the game against Liverpool with the scored locked, while in-between (against Palace) Walcott was an unused sub.
When Theo finally started a league game at St. James Park, he was utterly useless barring the first 15 minutes. Of course, the sending-off changed the landscape of the game, robbing Theo of space he thrives on; yet one could make a case most teams will play this way against us, both home and away. That means Theo won’t be able to help us much, as he wouldn’t be of much use in a direct battle against English physical centre-halves. In that case the Newcastle game may have been a demonstration by Wenger on why exactly Walcott can’t be our main striker.
However, I don’t think Wenger will abandon using Theo as a striker altogether. I’m not basing this assumption on anything, though, it’s just a hunch of mine.
Playing Alexis as a centre-forward
I believe it was the original idea when Arsene bought the Chilean a year ago. We didn’t see much of Alexis as a centre-forward since then; however, this can be explained by a combination of factors: Giroud’s injury, the acquisition of Danny Welbeck, no adequate cover on the left flank, Theo’s prolonged absence. By the time Giroud and Theo returned, Welbeck and Oxlade sustained injuries, while Podolski and Campbell were shipped out and Cazorla rediscovered his mojo in central midfield.
But I don’t think Wenger abandoned that particular idea of his. As I’ve said countless times it’s much easier to find a left winger and move Sanchez infield than find a striker and keep Sanchez on the left. Why am I so keen on playing Sanchez through the centre and why do I think Wenger might try it out? Simple: Alexis is world-class. It’s much easier to teach Alexis how to become a goalscoring machine as a lone forward than to find such a goalscoring machine.
Alexis could follow into Henry’s and Van Persie’s footsteps: both started as wide forwards, both were world-class, both were able to make that transition with resounding success. I believe Alexis can repeat this feat.
Playing with a false nine
By this I mean trying either Ozil or Ramsey up front. Both players are very intelligent, both are good finishers and both can (I believe) therefore play on the shoulder of the last defender to great effect by making darting runs.
Furthermore, Ozil and Ramsey will also be able to seamlessly interchange positions with Alexis/Oxlade/Walcott/Wilshere, allowing any of the lot to finish attacks.
I know this is a very unlikely scenario, that’s why I saved it for last. However, after giving it some thought I realised this formation has its benefits:
- Ramsey and Ozil are both very effective in the final third. Both are attacking-minded players, who will be able to greatly influence proceeding by basically performing the role of a centre-forward, albeit they will influence it in different ways
- This style of play will allow to accommodate both Alexis and Walcott/Ox. Oxlade can undoubtedly improve his end product, but there’s no denying he is a good finisher when he has the chance
- It will also allow to cram in most central midfielders, something Wenger looks hell-bent to do anyway. Only this time every central midfielder will play in his preferred position, or very close to it
- Finally, we’ll have the added benefit of utilising Giroud as a devastating weapon from the bench
Wrapping it up
The point of this article was to show that even without a new centre-forward, Danny Welbeck and resorting to Joel Campbell’s services on a constant basis, we have enough variety in our squad to mount a proper challenge. I hope I managed to do just that.
Right, enough said. Voice your opinions in the comment section below.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.