Strikers, wide men, and output

Strikers, wide men, and output


Morning, a quick Saturday round-up for you.

Mikel Arteta was asked about Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and whether they are feeling the strain at the moment. He said:

I don’t know. Obviously, there are a lot of games but they looked really good, they looked fresh. When you win, you don’t look at that. They are young, if they are 35 maybe it’s a different question but they have a lot of energy and they can keep going, that’s for sure.

Part of the reason the centre-forward discussion wasn’t as prevalent last season was because these two took on a lot of the goalscoring burden. Martinelli scored 15 Premier League goals last season, Saka 14, and they chipped in with assists too – 5 and 11 respectively. This time around the numbers are down.

Saka leads the way with 5 goals and 7 assists (18 appearances), but Martinelli is on 2 and 2 (17 appearances). Arteta’s ideal of sharing the goals around is a good one in theory, but when two of the players who do a lot of the heavy lifting in that regard go through a relatively fallow spell at the same time, it’s more impactful. Saka has just 1 goal in his last 11 appearances (albeit with 4 assists in that period), while in the 11 games following his big winner against Man City, Martinelli has just a single goal too.

It is a bit of problem, and it’s exacerbated a bit by a lack of quality depth to maybe take them out of the firing line a bit. Quite how the manager solves this goalscoring roadblock I’m not quite sure, other than to trust in their ability and hope their relatively barren spells come to an end. What else is there right now?

Another reason the centre-forward discussion didn’t happen with such frequency last season was because Gabriel Jesus was such a step-up on what we’d had previously. Compared to the much less mobile Alex Lacazette, he was a big improvement to our all-round attacking play – and ultimately our issue last season turned out to be defensive. When we lost William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu at the same time, we lost our chance of winning the title. Efforts were made in the summer to address that, but the unfortunate injury to Jurrien Timber on his Premier League debut means we haven’t seen the benefit.

There’s no question in my mind that he would have been a key player at this point, and we’ve been relatively fortunate in that Oleksandr Zinchenko’s fitness hasn’t been an issue this season. He usually has a problem at some point, and I do wonder if some of his recent form issues are down to a kind of fatigue he doesn’t usually experience. Not to make excuses, I’m just trying to understand why such a talented and experienced footballer has made some of the mistakes he has in recent weeks. We need him switched on though, and somebody has to have a word about the speed with which he uses the ball.

Back to centre-forward, and Jesus should have taken big chances against West Ham that would have changed the complexion of the game. He’s got 3 goals and 1 assist in the Premier League this season (14 appearances), which means there are 5 players in the league who have scored more goals than our front three combined (Haaland, Salah, Bowen, Solanke, Hwang, and some other twat). And yet – here’s our goalscoring output:

I think it’s fair to say that we can expect more from three or four players on that list, and also that they are well capable of it. We’re also second in the league, not second from bottom, so while I completely understand the discussion and some of the angst after a game where we were fairly toothless, I don’t think it’s quite the crisis it’s being made out to be in some sections of the media.

If you were to ask me my ideal signing this January, I think I’d go for another effective wide forward rather than an out and out striker. I say this taking into account the market mid-season, the difficult of persuading a club to let go of their main goalscorer, and the cost of that. Not to mention I think there’s a better chance of finding an available wide player than the kind of striker we actually need. Those are in short supply, they are extremely expensive, and if you are going to spend that money, you can’t really compromise when it comes to your target.

If X is who you absolutely want, don’t sign Y as a stop-gap. Don’t, for example, spend £50m on Lacazette and then 6 months later spend £60m on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang because there are repercussions both financially and on the pitch. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t enjoy a gift-wrapped centre-forward for this team, of course I would. Who wouldn’t? But I do think it’s important that discussion of this is grounded in reality, rather than the emotional hand-wringing we’ve seen after the West Ham game.

We all want a forward, but we want the right forward. Do a deal that will benefit the club for years to come (hopefully), and not for just a few months. Which is difficult to reconcile in the short-term world of football, but to me that makes more sense. And, I suspect, it’s more aligned with how the club/manager/sporting director etc might view this situation.

Anyway, let’s hope there’s been plenty of shooting practice in training over the last couple of days, and that last season’s leading scorers can find their range against Fulham tomorrow.

Speaking of which, we’ll preview the game over on Patreon later on, and there’s also a new episode of our Premier League round-up podcast (The 30) there for you right now.

Have a great Saturday folks.


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