The Missing Killer – Arsenal’s Perpetual Miscalculation
History has proved to us that essential to every football squad in the world is the killer striker who taps in a number of goals, excessively more than anyone else in the team. While modern football has shown us that goals can be scored excessively by wingers and midfielders, this does not necessarily apply to every type of team.
The last time Arsenal won the English Premier League, they were led by talisman Thierry Henry who tapped in twenty to twenty-five goals almost every season. They employed the famous 4-4-2 formation which served them very well for almost a decade. They had players of very high caliber including Denis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, and Robert Pires who were routine goal-scorers in their own respect and added a vital aspect to the overall dynamics of the team. However, it becomes almost obvious to us that the Arsenal invincibles could’ve done without any one of these players (perhaps not Bergkamp) but definitely not without Thierry Henry.
In a league that has been influenced by so much foreign money over the years, several traditional strategies have changed and the need to adapt to the world environment has been vital for teams in the EPL. While sides like Real Madrid and Barcelona have relied heavily on their midfield (this includes wingers) for goals, we have seen that teams in the English outfit have relied heavily on their central strikers. There have been seasons when teams have seen their midfielders score several goals, in some cases even more than their central strikers, however, it has been inevitable that a team without one killer central striker has never won the English Premier League in the last decade.
How do we define a killer central striker? He is a player who obviously strikes in a central position for the team (Luis Suarez, Diego Costa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, etc.) and scores on an average of at least 0.75 goals per game. This number might vary but let’s hold on to it for the context of this article. In the last ten years, we have seen three different winners in the Premier League – Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City (with Liverpool showcasing Suarez almost getting their hands on the title.)
United’s earlier titles in the last ten years had Wayne Rooney playing in a very central striking position and even though Cristiano Ronaldo was slotting in most of their goals, the vitality of Rooney’s striking force could never be denied. Manchester City had Aguero and Chelsea had Didier Drogba doing most of the netting with strong support from behind. At the peak of Robin van Persie’s career at Arsenal, we saw the gunners with a couple of third place finishes and the team seemed to be more formidable. The last few years have seen the vital additions of Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez to the side. While these have strengthened the Gunners to a large extent, the inevitable question looms endlessly over the Emirates Stadium, can this Arsenal side become the champions of England? Well, no.
Without the world-class killer striker who can assure a goal tally of 25 goals or more, this Arsenal side will not win the Premier League. But then again, I might be mistaken as my opinion is more based on the analysis of recent history as compared to an analytical evaluation of infinite possibility (a realm from which the gunners have operated on several occasions.) While Wenger’s philosophy rotates on his traditional approach of working with young players to develop a team throbbing with elegance and chemistry, somehow the aspect of the killer goal-scoring instinct has been excluded from his philosophy.
I agree that the Arsenal holding midfield and defense (which included the brilliant Jens Lehmann) were as important as their striking force, but with more comparison of that year with the recent years of Arsenal football, it only becomes clear how important a formidable striking force was and always will be to this North London outfit. The Arsenal midfield is arguably one of the best in all of the country showcasing a delicate balance of pace, skill, and goals, from Cazorla, Sanchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, recently returned Walcott, the almost always injured Jack Wilshere (who is phenomenal in every right, if he’s playing that is), and the flamboyant Aaron Ramsey. While the defense has been lacking in stability and consistency, we have seen them improve in recent times (excluding the dastardly display of football in the recent European fixture against Monaco.)
While Arsenal lurk just one point behind Manchester City in the EPL, we can safely assume that the deficit of points that separate the team from Chelsea is a result of the inability to score goals in several matches in which they looked very confident to win. One example is the tie against Manchester United at the Emirates which they dominated boasting possession for almost 70% of the 90 minutes and more than double the number of shots on goal compared to the opposition but conceding a sloppy own goal and another on the counter-attack. The goal from Giroud toward the end of the game was fantastic, but it was a game the Gunners should’ve scored at least three or four.
These observations lead to one very undeniable conclusion i.e. the Gunners lack the killer striker. While Sanchez and Cazorla have netted quite a few this season, it just doesn’t do enough to get a team the championship title. Olivier Giroud is a magnificent player, but he is not the striker who can bring the gunners the title. Danny Welbeck is an important asset to the team, but he is not the striker who will lead a side to domestic league glory. The Arsenal youth academy has got an endless supply of young talented strikers, but again, not the ones who can lead a side.
The reason is simple, money has leaked into the Premier League in sinful quantities and Arsenal’s traditional approach to victory can bring them little tokens of silverware but not the big ones that matter. This club is a great club, one that has crowned the History of England with great players and unforgettable performances. At the end of this season, Arsene Wenger needs to set aside his traditional philosophy of growing talent within the borders to bring home the silverware and throw 60-70m pounds for that killer strike force who can bring home the twenty-five goals.
This money is available, there is nothing to lose but everything to gain. With the present team and its growth, Arsenal can be certain that they can hit 2nd spot from next season and with recent results perhaps this season itself. But they need the team to revolve around a hitman who can bring consistent victories in important games and strike fear into opposition defenses. Olivier Giroud does not strike this fear neither does Danny Welbeck.
While elegance and flair are traits a team can cherish, they are not necessarily the features of football that bring silverware to the stadium museum.
And yes, for a historically ornamented team like Arsenal, winning does matter. With all respect to my favorite manager and one of the greatest in English history, I hope Wenger considers this important fact before he dips his doubtful hands into the next transfer market.
Arsenal need a twenty-five goal-scoring central killer strike force!