Tag Archives: striker

Aubameyang – Stick or Twist?

With absolutely zero football taking place right now, our minds have a little more room for thought.

Instead of your brain juggling your teams impending fixtures, injury worries, potential changes in your fantasy team and league placements all residing in a cortex of your grey matter, there is now more room to ponder other things……

Erm…

In the absence of that leather ball bobbling around on that lush carpet we call The Emirates pitch, we have been privy to the usual mix of player rumour – especially circulating around our star striker and perennial goal machine – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon man is in contention to win the Golden Boot again after securing it last season. What puts that into perspective is that Auba has done this while for at least half of our season, the Good Ship Arsenal has plotted a course for mid-table ignominy.

Our number 14 has acted as a one-man lifeboat, keeping our precious cargo and personnel above the plunging depths. He has continued to terrify goalkeepers no matter what mess has been going on behind him. He has performed wonders – and we have recognised this.

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Our club has been attempting to lasso the striker into extending his stay with Arsenal as his contract winds down. Currently in his peak years, Auba is now approaching what will be the biggest decision of his footballing career.

Of course, the media have taken it upon themselves to write the alphabetical equivalent of smoke and mirrors surrounding Auba’s future at the club – and one story has certainly captured everyone’s currently free imagination.

The rumour surrounds Real Madrid, their unwanted striker Luka Jovic – and a large wad of money.

That’s right, the transfer rumour is that those at the Bernabeu want to lure Auba to La Liga, and will tempt Arsenal with a cash plus Jovic bid.

The question is – would you take it?

Everyone knows that the hardest thing to buy in football is goals. With Auba putting up more than his fair share of goals for the team, selling him and his numbers would almost certainly weaken our team.

We currently have Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to make up the goals – but Lacazette aside, neither of the young strikers have proved week in, week out that they can make the difference in front of goal. How efficient will they be?

Lacazette has also changed his role somewhat since arriving at Arsenal. He still prowls centrally, but he is dropping deeper as his part in attacks is intrinsic to our moves. That has affected his goal return almost as much as poor form this season.

Then there is the Luka Jovic part of the equation. Jovic was a sensation in the Bundesliga – a competition far more similar to the rigours of the Premier League than La Liga ever has been. Rotation and reported poor discipline has seen Jovic play an ever-increasingly remote part of things at Madrid, but does his pedigree convert to success in the Premier League?

In short, can he be the man that replaces the certainty of Auba’s goals?

Maybe not, but throw in £50m and the search becomes a little easier.

There are other variables to take into consideration. Auba’s age means he has two, maybe three years maximum that we will have the PREMIUM version of the striker. Make no mistake, as he hits 33, 34, he will still bang in the goals, but he won’t be AS prolific, he won’t be able to beat as many defenders with his pace as he runs into the box, he won’t be AS lethal as the man we have now.

So, do we stick or twist?

Can we improve the team more with the money and Jovic?

Or do we stay where we are, potentially risk losing what is a huge asset on a free, but still feed off his goals while he does stay?

What a conundrum.

Good thing we have time to mull it over…

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

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Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Strike Bromance Crucial To Club Future

All good teams are built on building blocks.

Reliable, rock-hard slabs that you can build on top of. Partnerships that very rarely let you down, players that you can rely on to do their job.

Every good team has had them, and they allow you to worry about other matters, concentrate on the next area of concern.

After last season, it would appear that we have a scarcity of these building blocks in our squad right now. At one time or another last season, all areas of our team had moments that led to our downfall. That isn’t to say that our entire team were atrocious, but in terms of dependability. We couldn’t take many of them to the bank.

Aside from our strike force.

The bromance between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette flourished on the pitch amidst our turbulence, and their combined tally of 35 goals was the third best in the Premiership last season – only behind Liverpool’s Mane and Salah’s haul of 44 goals and City’s Aguero and Sterling’s 38.

That means that despite our finishing position of 5th, we had the third most dangerous attack. Just imagine where we would have been without them?

It also means that in the face of the constant adulation, tottenham’s pair of Kane and Son banged in six goals less than our pair.

So in the face of transfer speculation about our pair of hotshots, this stat highlights how desperately we need to keep hold of our duo.

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We are aiming to build on last season, which saw us fall agonisingly short of a top four spot – a top four spot that was in our grasp until we fumbled the keys in our hands and dropped them through the sewer grate instead of opening the door to the Champions League.

Our midfield is missing key parts, with only Torreira and Guendouzi being players we can see as mainstays for the coming campaigns.

Our defence is falling apart, with only Sokratis and Rob Holding as long-lasting, reliable parts, with perhaps Calum Chambers rising to the fore. Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal have been fantastic servants to the club but their age is against them, with Shkodran Mustafi showing that he is far from the answer we have been looking for.

We need a new left-back. We need a winger.

So in order to make these additions, the last thing we need to do is sell the players that are the standard we need, with the consistency we crave.

Of course, the fees involved in any transfer for both Lacazette and Aubameyang would be lucrative. Even in the face of some of our most recent transfer mistakes (letting Rambo go for free when Eden Hazard goes for more than £100m with one year left to go on his contract?) we could expect £50m plus for each of them.

It would swell our so-called warchest, it would give us the opportunity to reconstruct our defence, maybe even a decent prospect in midfield to help out Torreira and Guendouzi.

We would be going into next season far weaker than we are now though.

We would also be confirmed as a selling club. It would see us selling players at their peak again, a breeding ground for talent so the big fish can sweep them up.

Aubameyang and Lacazette must stay if we are to go one step further next season. After falling so agonisingly short of making last season a success – a top four spot and a Europa League win was a mere two wins away and would have been a categorical success – our prolific strikeforce is mandatory in order to go that half-step further.

Invest our money in our defence, defenders that can act on Emery’s instructions. A midfielder that can diligently track runners and convert defence to attack efficiently. A wideman with white paint on his boots that can whizz in a decent cross – just imagine our pair of strikers feeding from a player that has a decent delivery!

Our immediate future given our target of self-sufficiency hinges on Aubameyang and Lacazette sporting our fancy new kits next season, hopefully helped by some players that aim for their level of efficiency and optimisation.

 

Smudge – A Striking Dream

Alan Martin Smith earned his way into Gooner folklore in more ways than one.

You think of smudge, you inevitably think of the Miracle of 89, his goal at Anfield early in the second half that provided the platform for the most iconic moment in English football at the time.

However, the man who was the perfect foil for any striker was much more than this halcyon moment in Gunners history.

Smith won two Golden Boots in his time in an Arsenal shirt – the top scorer in the top league in England not once but twice. Some achievement.

SMITH

Two titles. Three cups, including his wonderful goal against Parma in the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1994 won us a European title that we had no right to win.

Smith was an expert in the opposition box. He obviously knew where the goal was – he was our top scorer for four consecutive seasons – but he possessed an almost peerless ability in the air. Smith was tall but not so much that he towered above those who battled him. No, the reason Smith invariably won most aerial duels was down to intelligence – and a fantastic leap.

Smudge always jumped at the right time, and it meant he ousted his marker more often than not. How many times did the striker flick on a lofted ball from Lukic or Seaman and the ball found his striking partner or a late runner in midfield such as Rocky, Merson or Thomas?

That brings us to his real skill. One that is often overlooked. Smith created so much for his teammates with his aerial threat. He grabbed his fair share of headed goals, but Smith gave so much more, and that was thanks to his first touch.

On countless occasions, Smith received a ball launched long and high, and he immediately brought the ball to heel with his feet or chest. If the ball was destined for his head, the ball mystically found a teammate. This meant that not only did Smith’s ball control need to be faultless, but he also had to know where his team mates were at all times. His awareness bordered on telepathy at times.

We had a striker that gave us perfect service for eight years. He fitted us perfectly and even when his pace – or lack of – became evident later on – because his first touch and his awareness didn’t need a lightning burst toward goal – he was incredibly useful throughout his time with us, not just in the earlier years.

Smith learned and honed his trade at Leicester, with a certain Mr Lineker at the club too. There were certain similarities between the two – both possessed a knack at arriving at the right time in the box – but it was their playing personalities that matched up neatly. Both had a huge appetite, but didn’t let it consume them with red mist. Lineker and Smith both flew under the radar with referees – Smith was booked once in his entire career, Lineker escaped any bookings from the match official.

That’s quite an incredible statistic, but it may paint a picture of a placid player who cared little for the team. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smith was instrumental in our team from the moment he arrived in 1987. He left everything on the pitch and his goals, assists and keeping defenders busy was a cornerstone of our trophy success in 89, 91, 93 and 94.

Smith is one of our finest strikers in our illustrious history. A player who was selfless and never once gave us less than his best.

A player who is encased in amber for helping to bring us the best memories.

Thank you Smudge.

Eddie Nketiah – Stick or Twist?

The dream for every young player is to make their debut for the first team.

To also score the winner in extra time? That’s the equivalent of dreamland Nirvana – but our very own Eddie Nketiah can always claim his debut for Arsenal was the perfect one.

The League Cup encounter versus Norwich was going the same way as our season – South. The Canaries had pretty much played us off the park, our own efforts frustratingly blocked by bodies on the line and our own final third failings.

We were heading for another exit at the hands of lower league opposition.

Step forward Super Eddie Nketiah.

Eddie Living out his dream

With mere minutes remaining, his first touch was a goal. It rescued the tie for us, and Eddie was mobbed by his relieved teammates. The teenager had saved each and every one of them.

It was to get better, as in extra time, Nketiah scored the winner, to send Gooners into delirium and ensure that his debut would be one he would never forget.

It also meant that Eddie would be on the fringes of the first team squad for the rest of the season. This, in turn, meant that when Aidy Boothroyd selected his England Under-21 squad for the Toulon tournament, Eddie was on the radar.

Nketiah played three times in the tournament, and scored twice, to give him an excellent scoring ratio for his country – and also underline that his talent is not just a flash in the pan. Every level he has stepped up to since being released at Under-14 level by Chelsea, the youngster has met the standard required. It takes mental strength and no little degree of pure talent, but the boy from Lewisham has met the mark for every test put in front of him.

This coming season though, represents the unknown for Nketiah, and perhaps a huge decision for him to make.

Another season like his last would not suffice. The boy desperately needs games, he needs to go through a season and make 30 or so appearances, and see whether he can last at a higher level for the duration.

This would signify a loan move, and there would be no end of takers for the striker – although choosing a host club is so important after many of our young charges last season were criminally underplayed whilst on loan.

If he gets a chance, he will score, but he also needs luck with injury and a coach that is open to the mistakes a youngster will make. Managers can be forgiven to a degree for being ruthless when a player is short of form, thanks to the results-driven nature of their position. There needs to be a balance though, so it is with great care that if Eddie does go on loan, we need to pick a club and manager that will help him blossom – rather than see him as just an extra body in the squad.

Alternatively, Unai Emery is not averse to playing kids in his teams and giving them the opportunities they desire. If Eddie did stay and try to force his way into the team this early, then Emery would most likely give him a shot if he is applying himself in training. In terms of a rhythm of games though? that is decidedly doubtful.

The good thing with this young man is that he tasted rejection early in his career, and Arsenal swooped in and gave him another shot. He will have a loyalty to the club, and will want nothing more than to wear the shirt and play games. If it is at the entropy of his fledgling career though, and he has a chance elsewhere?

He could well move on. Just look at Chris Willock and Marcus McGuane at Benfica and Barcelona respectively.

Our pre-season tours are the perfect chance to give Eddie his shot up top. They may be friendlies, but they will give Emery a great chance to gauge his men on the pitch.

Eddie’s career at Arsenal could hinge on his showings in Singapore and the Champions Trophy.

Let’s hope now that Jack has departed the club, we can have another Arsenal youth talent to pin our hopes to.

Welbeck the Team Player

We Gooners can be an affectionate bunch.

The term ‘fan favourite’ is one that can be applied to many of our past and present players, and the parameters to attain this level of adoration – for Arsenal players – are wider than most fanbases.

Remember John Jensen? The Dane came to Arsenal off the back of an incredible Euro92 campaign with Denmark, and proceeded to score a solitary goal in his four years as a Gunner. Yes, he was a decent tackler, but in the cold light of day, it wasn’t his performances that keep him memorable.

The same can be said of a few others, where their skills on the turf may not have been made tangible for all of us to see, but the mere mention of their name brings forth a nostalgic grin.

Danny Welbeck is not one of those players who never showed us what he can do. On the contrary, ‘Dat Guy’ was full of nifty touches in and around the box, with a decent awareness and a hell of a tank on him to boot, that allowed him to mercilessly track up and down whatever flank he was tasked with.

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The bottom line for a striker though, is goals – and Welbeck never got close to what was needed in this one area.

Welbz did however, score some memorable and important goals. Who can forget his Cup goal versus his former team? Or his goal after returning from a nightmare injury – a five minute cameo that gave us a late win over Champions-to-be Leicester?

Welbeck came up with the goods in so many ways, just not the way that a striker is judged on – and now with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and young upstart Eddie Nketiah all vying for a striking spot in this new regime – do we have room for affection?

Olivier Giroud was a prime example of this. The Frenchman gave so much more than goals – his hold up play and touch to bring in others were superb. When compared to Welbeck he could even be described as prolific – but his lack of a killer edge in the box meant he was surplus to requirements, despite the love we had – and still do – for him.

Welbeck has scored 15 goals in 80 appearances in our shirt. Yet for England, he has a ratio of nearly a goal every other game. The way he is utilised is key – when donning the three lions, he is first and foremost a striker – but at Arsenal, he is so much more.

Welbeck’s performances and talents for our club benefit the whole team. Play him on the left or the right and you keep it far tighter than if you were to play another wide forward, and your attack is knitted together that little more succinctly too. He constantly runs, stretching defences who are forced to track his tireless darting, and this means space that our more ruthless attackers can profit from.

Sometimes, you need players who are selfless. Welbeck in the eleven means better cohesion. Doesn’t it speak volumes that he can play across the whole forward line and still make a massive difference? Welbeck is a squad player we can trust – and one we have faith in – just not in front of goal.

If an offer comes in for the England man, no one could have any qualms with him moving on in search of minutes on the pitch.

Still, if we could offload Joel Campbell and a few others rather than Welbeck, then our squad – especially when the games come thick and fast – would wholly benefit and be stronger for Welbeck’s inclusion.

He is Dat Guy for a reason.

Joel Campbell – Arsenal’s Forgotten Man

Did you know that Joel Campbell is now our fourth most capped player – ever?

He earned his 72nd cap as an Arsenal player in the 2-0 loss to England in a pre-Cup friendly which made him our 4th highest at the club, level with David Seaman.

Looking at it from a distance, this is quite some achievement. Yes, Costa Rica doesn’t have a plethora of competition for places like other nations, but a fine injury record and a maintenance of form has seen Campbell rack up the appearances for his home nation.

What really puts it in perspective though, is when you consider how little he has played for his club – and the lengths he has had to go to in order to get gametime.

Campbell has been with us for seven years. That’s a mighty long time, and yet his Arsenal appearances amount to just 23 – most of those during 2014-2016.

To get that crucial time on the pitch, Campbell has gone on loan spells to Ligue Un with Lorient, La Liga with Real Betis and the Greek SuperLeague with Olympiacos – in all of those seasons he earned more starts than in his combined and lengthy Arsenal career.

What has the Costa Rican done to be shunned like this? Is it a limitation on talent? Certainly not. He may not be a permanent starter, but in his time in an Arsenal jersey he showed exactly what he has to offer. He has incredible strength, he can adapt across the forward line, playing wide and cutting in, or ploughing a lone furrow up top. He has an assured touch and isn’t terrible in front of goal. Campbell is more than good enough to be an option in the squad.

Joel Campbell, the forgotten Gunner

And yet we will never see him wearing an Arsenal shirt again. After seven years as an Arsenal player in nothing but contract, Campbell will never play on our Emirates turf.

This will be his second World Cup at just 25 years old. He has amassed experience across many corners of Europe and still has potential, but Campbell has worn an Arsenal shirt for the last time.

If he did manage to assuage Unai Emery to grant him a squad place – a place on the bench would be tough enough to acquire.

As a wide forward, he faces competition from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As a centre forward, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah are his opponents.

With our attack well stocked, it is likely we have seen the last of Joel Campbell, despite it being unconfirmed as I write. He can consider himself unlucky to not have been given a fairer crack of the whip, but the Costa Rican can hold his head up high when he did play for us.

Chances are that Campbell will join Galatasaray, and a lengthy Arsenal career that never truly threatened to take off, for whatever reason that is, draws its curtains.