What to do up front..?
The age old question this season that confronts Arteta on a weekly basis and divides opinions amongst our ever present online fanbase. Lacazette, Aubameyang, Nketiah. Three strikers all with pros and cons. All three on the way out next season (if not sooner in Aubameyang’s case). Arsenal and Arteta have decisions to make – both short and long term. Let’s take a moment and assume our striker hunt fails to come to fruition this January. Vlahovic is almost certainly off to Juventus. Whilst the likes of Isak, Osimhen, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will all be tough to bring through in a winter window from clubs that don’t need to sell.
Lacazette is the main man at the minute. Playing well, let’s be honest. He keeps the side ticking and brings our young attackers into their own quite nicely. Yet as Dave Seager puts it in this piece here he also lacks certain necessary attributes of a striker that drops deep in Arteta’s system. The mobility to turn and run at defensive units, the speed to catch up with the play for cut backs and passes after he has played a through ball or the general ability to play 90 minutes with top quality in our high pressing system.
Let’s be clear though. Lacazette will remain a key player for the season, whether as a regular starter or rotating with another option. Just look at my article here looking at player goal differential this season. Lacazette is at the top of the pile at +16. Over the course of his career he has been a top team player in this regard as you can see in the article. Under rated by many, the stats simply don’t lie.
Dave’s potential answer to the Lacazette and striker solution is to look at Nicolas Pepe. This intrigues me. I like his pace. I like his movement. He will find himself arriving in the box and he possesses one of the best shots at the club. However what about his control. Does he offer a steady ship at the top for our defenders and midfielders to bounce off and feel confident in his touch and pass. This, I am not so sure of.
So I find myself looking at other options. Let’s be honest here, it doesn’t look there is much of a way back for either Aubameyang or Nketiah. Arsenal and Arteta are moving in different directions and to go back to either would be a big step backwards even just in the short term.
No. Not for me.
How about Arsenal’s number 10. Emile Smith Rowe. First thought was yes, sounds promising. Immediately following I experienced the thoughts of no, again, it’s not quite right. Why improvise and mess with his development. That semi final in the Europa League just didn’t work out did it? With days to contemplate however I realized that that is naive and poor analytical thinking. ESR was younger, the team were playing poorly with an average squad and other players out of position in a massive, massive semi final.
It’s fairly safe to say that since that game both team and player have matured, and developed endlessly more amounts of skill, knowledge, and tactical nous. Not to mention 6 new high quality signings.
What about the player himself. Could Emile Smith Rowe really be influential for Arsenal in this role?
Well let’s first take a look at the player’s attributes:
Good on the ball, Smith Rowe brings the balls down and is able to get on the half turn easily before running at the opposition and committing defenders thus creating space for his team mates. Check. Not only good carrying the ball, but in my opinion his most underrated quality and possibly best trait is his ability to bounce and pass the ball off his first touch. ESR moves the ball with speed and bursts away with extremely quick intelligent movement. Again creating space for team mates. Check. What about his ability to get in the box… 9 goals this year from smart movement. We can confidently say that if our young Hale Ender is dropping deep to link, as soon as the ball is moved on he is bolting for the box to get into a position to score.
Now that’s a lot of positives.
Watch this clip and tell me he doesn’t have all the talent to pull off a false 9. Pay particular attention to minute 2.24 where you can see him pick the ball up after moving off the CBs and turn evading the DM and driving forward before taking a shot (he also had a good option to play in the wide forward. There you have a play that I promise will play out a million times if ESR hits the false 9 position. Shots, through balls for Martinelli or passes into Saka’s feet for a cut in and curler into the top corner. All ESR’s talent is on display here.
Physically strong on the ball in possession. Fast with and without the ball and surprisingly tall. Perhaps the only things he lacks from Lacazette is a presence in aerial duels and the experience to know how to slow a game and add control.
Emile Smith Rowe really could make that position work you know. He has matured amazingly this season and I really would fancy him to add value both as a link up player and running in behind scoring goals.
Possibly the biggest positive of this move would be that it gets him on the pitch whilst allowing Arteta to keep the double pivot that has served us best this season. ESR and Odegaard together in midfield just doesn’t seem to be working yet. However with the added presence of Partey and Xhaka at the back it allows Arteta to field all four of Saka, Martinellli, Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe.
Bold moves often pay off. It’s not going to be the clear answer, but if Lacazette does need a rest at some point – which really is inevitable then I’d love to see ESR given this one. We are going to need goals from our centre forward during the second half of the season. Saka and Martinelli can’t be solely relied on. Turning to Emile Smith Rowe really could be the game changer we need to kickstart our season again.
Kia Kaha everyone. Let me know what you think in the comments and tag me in @kiwigooner1. Lets get the debate going team.
The voice of a dedicated Arsenal fan living all the way across the world in New Zealand… 3am wake ups to watch the beautiful game; coffee and a pen; heart break and euphoria; a lad with a dream of seeing the famous red and white in the flesh and back where they belong…
Football runs in the blood. Playing will always be the passion; whilst now working as a sports physiotherapist enables me to have constant access and inside insight into the goings on at club level.