“If you want a defender, you buy him, if you want a striker, you make him”
It’s not the exact phrase Wenger once used, but the idea is the same. However, we shouldn’t extrapolate it and assume that by “making a striker” Arsene meant only academy graduates. In fact, I don’t remember the last time a striker came through our academy to make the grade at senior level.
On the other hand, take a look at the strikers we’ve had in the last decade. When was the last time Wenger bought a ready-made product? Even the great Henry was a winger at the outset. Van Persie too was a winger.
True, our target-men came in as centre-forwards. Bendtner, Chamakh and Giroud were all brought in as such, however all of them were far from the finished articles upon joining. Reyes and Alexis stand out, but I have a very fleeting impression of the Spaniard to pass judgement, while Alexis has so far played around 5 games as a CF. They have something in common though, both were young when they joined. Things didn’t quite work out with Reyes, but I have a feeling Alexis is not viewed by Wenger as someone who doesn’t need further guidance in his development.
Way I see it, by saying that “we make strikers” Arsene rather meant that he buys raw material to work with. He buys a young player (or a player in the early stages of his development) and then converts him into a forward or shapes his style of play to suit the team. It’s a long process, but one which brings about the desired effect.
With summer fast approaching the more and more often I hear cries how we desperately need a “world class” striker to challenge, names like Benzema and Cavani are thrown around. Arsenal fans say we need someone like Henry, but are quick to forget that Arsene made Henry into a goalscoring machine. Thierry was bought in at 20 years of age and as I’ve stated above, he was bought as a winger, not a forward.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger doesn’t buy a forward this summer. In fact, I’ll be hugely surprised if he does, as to my mind we already have the personnel we need. Let’s take a look at these unsung heroes.
The Frenchman upped his game drastically this year. In his debut season he scored only 17 goals in 47 games. His second saw a slight improvement: 22 goals, but it’s important to keep in mind he played 51 games and started 46 of those (he only started 33 in his first season, thus Ollie played considerably less then. He has actually gone back in terms of goals-per-minute ratio).
This season he has already netted 18 times in just 28 appearances and look at the variety, he scored with his left, with his right and with his head. From inside the box, from outside and against big teams (including the big four away). His performances have been nothing but short of brilliant this season.
I think it’s the result of hard work, Giroud’s emergence as a clinical finisher is down to putting in real effort over two years. Arsene bought a striker with potential and converted him into a true forward in that time. Right now Ollie has the best minutes-per-goal in the entire league. He bested Aguero, Costa, Kane etc. The Frenchman has become undroppable.
“He can make himself a better player [here] because I can help him. He’s a young boy, he’s not 24 yet and let’s not forget that some players who arrived here at the age of 23 made huge careers here so I hope we can contribute and help him.”
I think this phrase by Wenger kind of flew under the radar, but it really shouldn’t have because Arsene used it intentionally, both to take the pressure off the new signing and to focus everyone’s attention on a simple fact Welbeck is not a complete package.
However, most seemed to have forgotten about this in a hurry. Danny is still learning his trade and even this year he showed noticeable signs of improvement.
The Englishman reminds me greatly of Giroud when Olivier just joined us. He possesses the raw ingredients to become great and he’s only 24. I’m pretty certain that in a year or two, Welbeck will become a true successor of the Frenchman. Moreover, I think he can become an even better striker, since he has that electric pace and is more dangerous with the ball at his feet.
Imagine Giroud with pace and the ability to dribble past opponents. That’s what Welbeck can become and he can reach these heights by say, 25 at his peak years. A mouth-watering prospect.
Chuba Akpom & Yaya Sanogo
Wenger puts a lot of stock in both these players. With Chuba he demonstrated it by offering a new five-year deal.
While with Sanogo we have seen something else, something Akpom might not yet be ready for. Namely: the Frenchman featured in some key games in 2013-2014. He started matches against Liverpool and Bayern, was thrown on in the Cup final and scored his only goal against Borussia, after getting a surprising nod ahead of Alexis Sanchez.
These are the sure signs Arsene rates his younger compatriot highly. Although Sanogo was subsequently shipped out on loan, for me he represents the next step after Welbeck.
We have a compete striker in Giroud, Welbeck on the brink of becoming one and then Sanogo and Akpom, one of whom will succeed Welbeck if all goes well. I say “one of whom” because I don’t think there’s room for both.
They are approximately of the same age and more or less in the same development phase. So it’s either one or the other.
When I look at our strikers, I see a project in the works. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. If everything goes according to Arsene’s plan, we’ll be stocked on strikers for ten years maybe.
Buying someone ready-made will disrupt his grand plan and we all know how Wenger: a) likes to see his projects through b) puts a lot of faith in his players. So I’ll be hugely surprised should someone come on this summer.
One last thing, I haven’t mentioned Alexis Sanchez and where he fits in this picture, that’s because I really don’t think he does. He cannot perform the role of the target man and we’ve been reliant on a system involving a target man for maybe ten years. Bendtner, Chamakh and then Giroud. Van Persie looks an exception to me, an exception that only confirms the rule, so I don’t think its likely Wenger will abandon the existing model unless forced to.
Sanchez can become our plan B, but he’s not your lone striker in a 4-1-4-1, at least not in the Premier League. He’s a good winger, a decent CAM, just not a focal point like Giroud. The Chilean lacks the physicality, and the crucial (for us) ability to win aerial duels.
Right, enough said. Voice your opinions in the comments section below.
Russian Gooner. No, it’s not always cold in my home country 🙂
A staunch Arsenal supporter since 2004. Started writing about the Gunners in 2013.
Currently in London to get a degree in journalism.