Thierry Henry left Arsenal in 2007. Ever since that day, Arsenal have attempted, and failed, to replace what the legend bought the time. Pace, power, height, assists and goals. Whether it be by lack of ability, lack of desire, lack of physical attributes or lack of heart, Arsenal have not, in 6 years, got close to replacing the Frenchman.
First to attempt to replace him was Emmanuel Adebayor. He seemed to have it all. The pace, the power, and the technique. unfortunately, he is footballs answer to Audley Harrison. All the technique and physical ability to be one of the best, but none of the heart or desire.
Robin Van Persie was next up to attempt to replace the great man. He came closer to anyone else, with 59 goals in 2 seasons. However, leaving for Manchester United meant he became nothing in the eyes of Arsenal fans. And at the age of 29 when leaving, and with a history of injuries, it is unlikely he would ever become a true replacement for Henry. More like a short term option. He also did not have the dynamism of Henry.
Next up was Theo Walcott. He took Henry’s number 14 shirt. With pace to burn and a fantastic eye for goal. He could have had it all. Except the stature. 5 inches shorter than Henry, he does not have the ability to play up top on his own.
Finally, Olivier Giroud. The polar opposite to Theo Walcott. All the physical attributes, but none of the pace. Whilst he is important in the way we line up, there is a worry that he does not have the natural gifts to be a game winner. What he does is work well for the team, but when push comes to shove, he does not strike fear into a defenders heart the way Henry did. He is also not an individual game winner.
For 6 seasons, Arsenal have struggled with their forward line, with none of the attempted replacements being ideal, however, Arsene Wenger might be about to sign the man who could well replace him on a long term basis. Julian Draxler is top of his shopping list for summer 2014.
Julian Draxler is a 20 year old German player currently plying his trade for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. A midfielder by trade, he is comfortable playing anywhere behind the striker. Left wing, right wing or central. He is a talent. Arguably the most talented under 21 year old in Europe at the moment.
Looking at the German, he seems to have the ideal attributes for Arsene Wenger to turn him into a top young midfielder into one of the world deadliest strikers.
It is well known that Arsene Wenger likes having his strikers ‘learn’ how to play out wide. His theory is that wingers having less space and less time on the ball, whilst also receiving more of the ball then a striker. He is of the belief that playing on the wing when younger is a good learning curve to become a striker in the future. At 20, Draxler will be a year younger than when Henry signed from Juventus.
Looking at the two players, it is clear that Draxler ticks so many of the boxes which Henry also ticked (or tuck?).
At 6 foot 2, he is the same height as Henry, meaning that he has the frame to bulk up and bully defenders. In a world where 1 up top is the favoured formation, the main man has to have the physical capabilities to occupy 2 defenders. Draxler might be 10kg lighter than Henry, but at the age of 20, he has the time to bulk up – he is not a wirey frame – and be fully physically prepared to be the main man up top.
Draxler, like Henry, also has pace to burn. Whilst he might not have the raw pace of Thierry Henry, he is very similar to Gareth Bale, in that he has the ability to run away from players over the longer distances.
One of the most important factors in Henry’s game was his assists. It is something that no other striker has got near to matching. Being able to provide to others as many as you score. He originally broke through for Schalke back in 2011 where, at the age of 17, he became the 4th youngest Bundesliga player, and a week later, the second youngest to start a Bundesliga game, behind Nuri Sahin. Draxler originally started playing in behind the striker, but was often pushed wide left to accommodate other players.
This positioning has meant he has the eye for a pass. Whilst his vision is not Bergkamp or Ozil level, it is certainly better than any other striker in the Premier League at the moment. He has played much of his career on the left wing, similar of Henry at Monaco and Juventus.
On top of his vision, he is also technically brilliant. Whilst Henry had to work on his technique, Draxler is more naturally gifted. He also has fantastic dribbling skills, making him the double threat that only Ronaldo, Bale and Henry have had in recent games. Being able to run with the ball whilst maintaining a high pace.
The main question over Draxler is his finishing. Unlike Henry, he has not spent his entire childhood as a striker. Henry’s trademark finishing was learnt with hours of practise playing up top for CO Les Ulis, US Palaiseau, ES Viry-Chatillon and Monaco, as well as refined at the Clairefontaine academy. Henry was always destined to be a striker.
Draxler does not have the same history. Always a midfielder, he does not have the background of playing upfront. So whether he has the coolness that is ingrained with hours of training at a young age, the instinctiveness that playing upfront from the age of 7, that Henry has is questionable. With just 25 career goals it will be a question mark over his head.
However, comparing both of their early careers, Draxler has shown an equal ability to finding the back of the net:
When Henry was 20, he had played 122 games for Monaco, scoring 27 goals. Draxler, currently 20, has played 122 games for Schalke 04, and scored 25 goals.
Draxler ticks so many boxes that Henry also ticked. And at 20, he also has the time on his hands to become a legend at Arsenal, not become just another player.
Having failed to qualify for the Champions League last season, Schalke 04 are currently sitting 5th, 8 points behind joint leaders Borussia Dortmund & Bayern Munich, with Bayer Leverkusen sitting in 3rd, also on 22 points. Just last year, they had debts over £248m. Add in a rumoured €45 million release clause, Draxler is very gettable.
Yesterday he indicated that he turned down a Premier League move in the summer. Arsenal were the club rumoured to be looking at him, with an offer of £26m plus Lukas Podolski being on the table before he picked up his injury. What is for certain it is highly likely he will join a Premier League side next year after stating:
“I have my favourite team, but I am at Schalke and I don’t want to talk about other clubs.”
Mesut Ozil took Arsenal to another level. Julian Draxler would take us a step further, and would finally be the man who replaces Thierry Henry.