Today’s post comes courtesy of Michael Davin, who’s becoming something of a regular here at Les Artilleurs. Anyway, take it away: Arsenal seem to have turned down many a potential transfer over the years because, firstly, they would have to spend more than two Snickers’ worth on the player in question, and because, secondly, they don’t seem to want to have anyone playing for them who plays up front. Or in goal. Or at the back. Or defensively. They just want midfielders; creative ones, preferably. The signing of Mesut Özil may have done something to convince the club’s fans that they are willing to finally spend proper (read: silly) money, as is required to compete at top in the Premier League and in Europe. However, he was another creative midfielder.
And here we are in a January transfer window, discussing three potential signings, all of whom are (sort of) attacking midfielders. OK, Morata is a striker by trade, but he can play anywhere across the front 4 positions of a 4-2-3-1. Antoine Griezmann, a French U-21 international, is a left winger. And Julian Draxler is a real oddity; he’s one of the most technically gifted and creative inside forwards in world football, playing a role for Schalke similar to Santi Cazorla’s for Arsenal as a secondary, but wide, playmaker.
So it sounds simple – Arsenal like to buy players who fit their style – but there’s a little more to it than that. There have been a few matches over the past few weeks, such as against West Ham, Aston Villa and Fulham, where Arsenal have played well and dominated possession, but not had a major goal threat, and have relied on the natural scoring ability of the likes of Giroud, Cazorla and Walcott to actually win the match. This can probably be diagnosed as a lack of directness in the squad, which has been exacerbated by the loss of the likes of Walcott, Podolski and Ramsey to injury. With the team packed with playmakers, there might be great passing ability in Arsenal’s midfield, but this might be wasted without runners to receive those passes. Similarly, they become much more prone to being walled out by those sides that play with compact defences which don’t have much space between the lines for the midfielders to drift into.
It’s probably no coincidence that the injuries that Arsenal have suffered have been to their direct runners – they were the side with the most successful dribbles over the course of last season, but that gives plenty of opportunities for more, er, ‘proactive’ defenders to put a foot or two in. Most commentators were expecting Arsenal to flounder without their goalscorers, and it was only through the astonishing form of Aaron Ramsey and the blizzard of passes that Arsenal used to dispatch many a weaker side that they pulled through October and November with such an exceptional record.
Generally, Arsenal have biased their squad towards creative players and not those with goal threat, but this can be accentuated massively by injuries and the workload required of these players – Giroud is the only striker Arsenal have capable of leading the line for them; Podolski is their only player who naturally fits on the left of attack; Serge Gnabry has had to be fast tracked into the starting XI after injuries to both Walcott and Oxlade-Chamerlain. The players who could prospectively improve the squad substantially are those who are technically proficient enough to fit Arsenal’s way of playing but who have the ability to play more directly and quickly.
So now we look at their prospective transfer targets. To be clear, I personally think that it is unlikely that Arsenal will make any purchases this January, but the players they seem to have targeted are pretty telling.
Alvaro Morata would be a great squad addition to provide both cover for Giroud and a second kind of player up front, more capable of turning defences and stretching the game vertically. I do think that he’d probably find it hard to replace Giroud as a lone striker given his relatively light physique, but anyone who’ll take minutes and metres off Giroud’s workload would be welcome. He may well be a long term solution in the mould of Henry – a flighty and physically slight winger or number 10 who converted to be a goalscoring menace as his body grew up to match his technical ability. Indeed, he has played much of his football out wide this season at Real Madrid given that his role as second choice to Karim Benzema has been ceded to Jesé. Given his displays for the Spanish U21 side (4 goals in 5 games during the recent European Championships in Israel, 8 goals in 6 games in qualifiers over the past season), it is evident that he is extremely talented. These prospective signings are inherently risky however, and there’s no guarantee that the €15-20 million Euros might be a poor investment in the short term of the title challenge this season. Ultimately, Arsenal do need to bring another striker into their first team, and Morata would fit the bill excellently. That said, many other players will be available over the next few seasons, and a large proportion of them will represent better value.
Antoine Griezmann is an out-and-out winger, a short, fast, tricky and incredibly powerful left footer who likes to play high up on the left side of Real Sociedad’s 4-3-3. In my opinion, he’s the best signing imaginable; he has been playing regularly in a tough league, a key part of a fast and technically demanding system of extreme width and counterattacking pace and fluidity. Most significantly, he’s had a fantastic season in terms of both his performances and goal threat – having scored 12 in 18 La Liga matches, he is sitting between Cavani and Lewandowski in 8th in the Europe-wide scoring league table. Also, he’s French, so (forgiving any stereotypes or assumptions) he probably wouldn’t have any motivation problems moving to Arsenal. He’s a like-for-like replacement for, and a significant improvement over, Podolski, and, assuming he’s comfortable receiving ball to feet and recycling more than he is used to, he’d fit in perfectly in Arsenal’s system. He’s reportedly got a €30 million Euro release clause, and reports last week surfaced that Arsenal had a €15 million bid turned down.
Julian Draxler is a whole different story for two simple reasons: firstly, like Mesut Özil, he’s not a player to improve a team, he’s a player to build a team around; secondly, like Mesut Özil, he’d cost a very large amount of money, and more that Arsenal probably have at their disposal this window. There is the small matter that he’s been injured for the last month, and hadn’t even been in particularly good form for Schalke who have been overshadowed completely by the likes of Borussia Moenchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen in challenging for Germany’s last Champions League spot. Given only football hispters are celebrating the transfer of Heung-Min Son, or the re-emergences of Raffael and Diego, it might suggest that Draxler wouldn’t be too sensible a purchase just yet, particularly at the price of €40 million (£35 million) he’s being touted at.
What he is, though, is exactly the kind of creative playmaker that Arsenal already have a squad packed with. If they’re looking for another addition to their astonishing resources in that department. Alongside Isco and Mario Götze, he’s one of the premier young attacking talents in world football right now, and deserves to move to a club more likely to challenge for European honours soon, as Isco and Götze have. He would be another headline signing for Arsenal, and not a decision to be made at a snap in a January window.
The bottom line is that Arsenal are only looking at players who they can be sure will both fit their very singular way of playing, and that severely cuts their options to the point where expecting any business at all to be done in January is probably too optimistic. One thing that is sure, though, is that Wenger will not sacrifice his principles – fast and energetic possession football, buying youth, playing with technical ability in all positions, never overspending – to find a short term fix to injury problems. He’s far too successful and far too stubborn for that.
I hope you guys enjoyed that as much as I did – don’t forget, if you want to write for us, you can do so by clicking here! Please comment, and vote in the poll!