Winger or striker – what should Arsenal be looking to recruit in January?

Morning!

So yesterday we discussed how Arsenal will need a Reyes-esque signing in January to keep things fresh, to re-energise the crowd after the World Cup, and keep our title challenge on track.

It does not take a genius to work out that Arsenal could do with a new attacker in January. Someone who can potentially play both out wide and upfront. Providing further cover and competition for Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.

But what should we predominantly targeting? A striker or a winger?

Gabriel Jesus is clearly our undisputed number one striker.

Whilst we are not too concerned with his current goal drought, it is something that we need to keep an eye on.

The gap between Jesus and Eddie Nketiah is perhaps to large, and this has lead to Mikel Arteta starting Jesus in every league game so far.

Jesus’s game is such high energy.

He never stopps running. Always closing down defenders. Drifting out wide to help create and make space for others.

There is a concern that he will not be able to keep this up for an entire season.

For Manchester City, he was not a regular starter.

The most Premier League minutes he played for them in a single season was 2060 (2021/22). He has already played 1226 minutes in the league for Arsenal.

At current pace, he is due to pass his record minutes in a league campaign after 24 games. That will still leave 14 games to the end of the season. 14 games into the unknown for Jesus.

The worry is, has he built the “old-man strength” needed to keep going whilst playing so little.

A bit like a boxer who always knocks out their opponents in the first 6 rounds, questions will always be asked about their stamina beyond this, and into the Championship rounds.

You often hear boxers speaking about the “need to get more rounds in”, otherwise, by the time they fight for the big belts, those round 8-12 are still an unknown.

Prior to recent news, a case could easily be made for us to go out and get an Ivan Toney.

The Brentford striker was many peoples favourite to be our 2nd choice striker.

But realistically, would someone like Toney leave playing week in, week out for Brentford to be our 2nd choice? The same argument is there for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Saying that, Arsenal would be a huge step up for both. And in DCL’s case, would it be better to sit on our bench than be in yet another relegation dog fight with Everton?

As for their England ambitions, Gareth Southgate has shown he does not really care if you are on the bench for your club – Callum Wilson made the squad having started just 66% of Newcastle’s games.

Joining Arsenal might actually increase both men’s chances of being in future England squads.

Of course, Toney and DCL both have their negatives.

Toney’s betting and general attitude and DCL’s injury record both count against them.

Both men would also command huge transfer fees for “2nd string” players. And neither resolve Arsenal’s lack of widemen cover.

Whilst Toney and DCL have both played wider throughout their career, this has more been in a 2 striker system rather than as an out and out wide forward.

The logical step would then be to utilise Jesus as that “3rd choice winger”, and playing the new striker down the middle (lets start getting away from Toney / DCL and talk more generally about a striker – this is not a debate over Toney or DCL).

But this would not resolve the issue over Jesus’s game time.

A new striker coming in should be to take the strain off Jesus, not to then have him as an option out wide.

We want to be able to rest and rotate Saka and Martinelli, as well as Jesus. Not be in a position where everytime Saka or Martinelli takes a break, Jesus still needs to play.

And this is the issue with finding someone to cover Jesus. It just means the Brazilian is then the cover for the wideman.

The only other solution is finding a Danny Welbeck type striker. Someone who is primarily a centre forward, but has the attributes (pace) to play outwide. But I am not sure that exists?

Ultimately, in January it feels like we need to sign a winger who can also play up top rather than a striker to cover Jesus.

That way, the new man covers 3 positions, 3 men. Allowing us to rest and rotate one of Saka, Martinelli and Jesus every game without reducing the quality.

In the modern game, versatility in the front line is so important.

Saka can play across the 3 behind a striker (and I think he would do a job at “8” as well). Martinelli can play on each flank and down the middle. Jesus can play down the middle and on either flank.

We therefore need someone in a similar mould in January.

Rather than a new striker, go for someone who is a wideman, but can also play down the middle. Cody Gakpo is an obvious candidate. As is Wilfried Zaha.

Both have spent most of their playing career out wide, but have also played centrally to good effect for their clubs.

I also think a winger that can play down the middle is “easier” to find in the modern game than a central striker who can play outwide.

Post Thierry Henry, many modern wingers play both centrally and wide as they come up through their clubs youth systems.

Unless you are a 6ft 4in lump (Erling Haaland), your pace will be utilised across the front 3 (there are more Neymar’s and Mbappe’s in the modern game then out and out centre forwards).

Going for a winger then increaees the pool of possibile candidates, and the likelihood of us being able to find someone of sufficient quality who is happy to sit on the bench.

That player will also be cover for 3 positions, where as a new striker will probably only cover one. The result is they will see more game time.

Final thought: Do not discount Arsenal moving for Dusan Vlahovic and using Jesus as the winger / striker.

So what do you think? Should Arsenal be looking to sign a striker or winger in January?

Keenos

The big reason Declan Rice is NOT an Arsenal target

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen plenty of chatter about Declan Rice to Arsenal. The majority seems to be fan driven who are calling for Edu to make the Englishman our number one transfer target.

Declan Rice should not be a player Arsenal are targeting. and there is a big reason. Thomas Teye Partey.

The Partey is not over

Fans seem to be very quick to write off Thomas Partey’s Arsenal career, following a period where the Ghanaian has struggled with injury.

Since joining the club in 2020, hje has missed 39 games through injury. A huge chunk in a season and a half.

Injuries have also hit during the crucial run-in of the last 2 seasons, with many pointing to his absences as the reason why we failed to get European football in 2021/22 and missed out on Champions League football at the end of 22/23.

This was not blaming Partey, but more pointing out that we needed quality cover, and potentially a replacement. Many fans sit on that second fence and view Declan Rice as a man to replace Partey.

This season, Partey has largely mainted his fitness – helped in part by his mid-week game time being managed. And he is a key reason why we are top of the league.

We win 62% of our Premier League games when Partey starts. That drops down to 42% of games when he does not.

It is clear and obvious that Partey is our most important player. And in my opinion he is the best in the world at what he does – the single pivot defensive midfielder.

No one comes close in terms of positioning, awareness, strength, power and ability on the ball when playing as the lone defensive midfielder. Rice is good, but not yet that good.

Partey is also just 29-years-old, so lets not start writing off his Arsenal career yet!

Can not accomodate both

It would make little to know sense to sign Rice whilst Partey is still at the club.

You would expect West Ham to command a fee close to £100million for their captain. It makes no sense for Arsenal to spend that, only to then put him into a job share arrangement.

We also do not play with 2 defensive midfielders. Partey plays deep, with Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard ahead.

This midfield make-up is a key reason we are top of the league.

I can not see Arteta returning to 2 defensive midfielders, sacrificng Xhaka for Rice.

Rice is also not an “8”, so he would not be a replacement for Xhaka in that more advanced position – and if we have £100m to spend we would be better looking at Jude Bellingham to replace Xhaka (or just snap up Youri Tielemans on a free!).

Reality is, Rice and Partey in the same squad makes no sense.

Partey is the better player, but Rice suffers less injuries. I would prefer we play the better player.

Better to buy younger

What we should be doing is looking to buy a younger, cheaper pretender that can be cover for Partey, and be a long term replacement. This solution solves all of the above.

We have been linked with the likes of Moises Caicedo and Danilo of Palmeiras over the last few months. They would make better options than Rice.

You could easily accomodate Partey and one of the above, with both men good enough to come in for the 33% of games Partey is out.

Both men would be a fraction of what Rice costs, and have a huge ceiling.

That would allow us to continue managing Partey’s game time – ensuring he is fit and available for the toughest, biggest, most important games.

As discussed, you can not really have a squad containing Rice and Partey. So even if you signed Rice, you would still need to look at getting in a 2nd player in that position.

Given the choice between Partey and Rice, I would go for Partey every day of the week.

Do not expect Declan Rice to be joining Arsenal any time soon.

Keenos

Juventus crisis opens door for Arsenal to return for two former targets

Morning all.

The big football news concerns what happened in Italy last night.

The entire Juventus board resigned last night following a charge of false accounting. Last season saw a year of record-breaking losses published by the Turin club – £220million.

Reports in Italy are that the accounting scandal could be as big as the 2006 match fixing scandal, which saw Juventus relegated.

A Turin prosecutor had alleged that the club misrepresented financial losses in the period 2018-20, with prosecutors investigating the amount ascribed to player sales.

Up to 15 individuals, including club president Andrea Agnelli, are reported listed as suspects following an investigation and could face a legal trial.

Football is a vulture sport. Clubs are quick to take advantage of another’s demise and lick the bones clean.

In 2006, a lot of Juve players stayed despite their relegation – Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Perio, David Trezeguet, Pavel Nedved and more. But these were club legends who clearly get they owed the side something. I do not think that can be said about many of the current squad.

Two names stand out as potential Arsenal targets – former targets Manuel Locatelli and Dusan Vlahovic.

Could Arsenal return for the pair? Or having been turned down by them, should we move on to other targets?

Manuel Locatelli

I have been a huge fan of Locatelli for years.

A couple of years ago I did a bit of scouting work to try and establish a Granit Xhaka replacement (this was for myself, not paid work for Arsenal!). Locatelli came out as the number one target.

He had the passing, defensive work rate and youth to be a long term Xhaka replacement. He ended up joining Juventus on a 2-year loan deal, with the Italian side obliged to pay €25million at the end of this season.

With what is going on, they may not have the funds to make the deal permanent. That would put him back into the open market.

Two years ago, when I was doing my research, it was Xhaka I was looking to replace. A lot has changed since then.

Xhaka has been pushed further forward, and Thomas Partey plays as the single pivot defensive midfielder. I am not sure Locatelli is suited to either of these position.

For Juventus, he tends to play as part of a solid midfield 3 alongside Adrien Rabiot and Weston McKennie.

It is a solid, hard working midfield 3 reminiscent of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Winjaldum. Juventus also play with a back 3.

A question needs to be asked whether Locatelli can transition from being part of a 3 man defensive wall in front of the defence, to a one person army.

He is more of a Xabi Alonso, an Andrea Pirlo, than a Sergio Busquets or Gennaro Gattuso. I am not sure he is the man to compete with Partey.

And if we are considering playing him further forward, I think there are more suitable options.

Locatelli does not really get involved in the final 3rd for Juventus, although this could be by design and through instruction at Juventus. He was more creative for Sassuolo.

I just think if we are looking for a Xhaka back-up/replacement, there are more natural 8s coming on the market – I’m thinking of Youri Tielemans.

If we need a new 8, the case for Tielemans is stronger than Locatelli.

The Belgium is around the same age, but is Premier League proven in that position.

My bet is Locatelli will end up at either Manchester United or Liverpool.

I can see him doing a job in a midfield two alongside Casemiro. Likewise Jurgen Klopp loves a midfield 3 like Juventus.

We will probably miss out on Locatelli again, but this time it will be our choice.

Dusan Vlahovic

We were in for Vlahovic last January, and he ended up joining Juventus.

Reports came out of Turin early on that he was unhappy, that Juve’s style of play did not suit him.

Plenty has been written about his “struggles” and Aleksandar Mitrović has been selected ahead of him in both of Serbia’s games so far at the World Cup

The selection is not a huge surprise – Mitrovic has been first choice for 9 years and their top goal scorer with 51 in 78 games. Vlahovic only made his debut in 2020.

To Serbia, Mitrovic is their Harry Kane. A consistent performer for country even when not so consistent for club. He is undroppable for them.

But Vlahovic he still has 16 goals in 36 games for Juventus and 9 in 18 for Serbia.

After the Vlahovic deal fell through last winter, Arsenal kept the powder dry and recruited Gabriel Jesus in the summer. Despite his goal drought, he has been a huge success.

Anyone that watches Jesus regularly will know he is much more than just a goal scorer.

His movement, creativity, pressing and defending from the front has created as many as he has scored. Only Manchester City have scored more goals than us this season, and the way our front 3 are spreading the load gives us a triple threat up top.

Vlahovic is more of a central striker. What we would lose in the combination play between Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Jesus we would gain in Vlahovic’s clinical finishing.

I also have a theory that Jesus would still have been a target even if signed Vlahovic last winter.

Over the summer, after the Brazilians recruitment, we continued to chase Raphinha. This showed that Mikel Arteta wanted a trio of wide forwards.

Had Vlahovic have joined, would Jesus have been this wide forward option? He would have competed alongside Martinelli and Saka to play either side of the big man, whilst also been the first choice to come in for Vlahovic to rest and rotate.

Arsenal are heavily linked with Mykhailo Mudryk, showing Arteta still wants a wideman.

Could a solution be buying Vlahovic, and then utilising Jesus outwide?

This would solve 2 issues at the club – no top class back up for Jesus, no top class back up for Martinelli / Saka. Jesus would become that.

But that is the role that made Jesus so unhappy at Manchester City.

He was fed up of playing 2nd fiddle to Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. And in his final season – with no Aguero – he still played more outwide than up top.

Whilst he has flourished up front, Jesus has previosuly spoken about playingoutwide:

Speaking to City magazine, Jesus said: “I feel comfortable out wide and can help my teammates and my team. I can make runs in behind, control the ball, make passes, make crosses, help in defending. As I say, I feel comfortable there.

“I didn’t start to play as a winger just this season. I have played with the national team there for two years. I started to play in the first team of Palmeiras as a winger as well and I played sometimes when I arrived here as a winger as well. So I think I’m okay there.

“I can make runs in behind, control the ball, make passes, make crosses, help defend so it’s all good and suits my game.”

So maybe, even though we want Jesus to play upfront, he feels more comfortable outwide.

There is still the “job sharing” aspect we need to consider. But it is a bit different at Arsenal.

For City, he was rotated with Sterling, Mahrez, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva on the wingers. 6 players for two positions.

At Arsenal it would be himself, Saka, Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe. And Smith Rowe is a long way behind the others. He would basically only be competing with Saka and Martinelli. 3 into 2 at Arsenal against 6 into 2 at City. And he would still be that 2nd choice option up top.

Whereas I do not think Locatelli is required right now, a move for Vlahovic could be on the table.

Signing Vlahovic, and utilising Jesus outwide, would put an end to our pursuit of Mykhailo Mudryk.

Keenos