Sunday, 26 August 2012

5 Attacking Targets for Arsenal

Arsenal's summer striking signings have not made the best start to their careers, after firing blanks in the opening two fixtures of the Premier League. Robin Van Persie was always going to be a hard act to follow, and the pressure was clearly on the shoulders of Giroud and Podolski, which has left Wenger still in the market for "top top quality" signings. Here are 5 possible targets that Arsene could go for should he wish to strengthen that area of the field.

Fernando Llorente - Llorente has been linked with elite clubs all over Europe this transfer window after yet another stellar season in Spain with Athletic Bilbao. The 6ft 5in Striker particularly impressed during the Basque sides Europa League run, when he excelled, scoring 7 goals on the way to the final.

Despite his height, he is not an archetypal "big striker", and as is expected of any Spanish international these days he is extremely capable of playing beautiful, free-flowing football on the ground and making runs through the lines of defences. Yet also given his height he can be deployed as a plan B by Spain when things are not going so well, this was the case when he came on for the last half an hour in the world cup quarter final against Portugal in 2010. Llorente has an impressive record internationally, and has represented Spain on 21 occasions, scoring 7 times.

Last season was easily Llorente's best for Bilbao, and his 29 goals in all competitions have seen him go down as a "Bilbao legend". Those 29 goals included 17 in the league, one less than his tally the season before - although he played 4 less games. Llorente is widely regarded as one of the best players outside of the top two in Spain, and in August he fuelled speculation around a possible exit by refusing to negotiate a new contract.

The 27 year old has already struck up a partnership with Cazorla at international level, which would help him settle at the club, and has been deployed in a similar position to that he would take up at Arsenal by Bilbao for many seasons. His price tag is a possible stumbling block though, with estimated valuations of 30 million euros, not to mention a bumper contract. Also Juventus are said to be in pole position to sign the Spaniard. Yet he does represent the "top, top quality" that Wenger has mentioned, and could be allowed to leave his club before the transfer window expires, also his agent has previously stated that a move to England is “very, very possible”.

Robert Lewandowski - Lewandowski enjoyed an amazing season at Dortmund as he helped the club to a league and cup double, the most notable contribution being a hattrick against Bayern in the cup final. The polish striker finally earned a starting position in his second season, having earned a move from Lech Poznan for £3million and ended up with 30 goals in 46 matches, with 22 goals in the league.

Lewandowski went on to represent his national side on home soil in the European Championships, yet after a great start which saw him score in the first half of the opening game against Greece, Lewandowski failed to shine in a side which could not supply him bullets to fire and Poland were knocked out of the group.

The 6ft striker is deceptively quick and had great movement which gets him in areas which he can exploit his pin point finishing. He also has an eye for a pass as illustrated by his 6 assists in the Bundesliga last season. Lewandowki still remains to be tested on the highest level with only sparse experience of the Champions league so far. Also having only joined Dortmund from the Polish league 2 season ago there would be question marks as to whether he could succeed in the Premier League. 

Yet anyone who saw Dortmund play last season would quickly dismiss these questions and would argue that Lewandowski is one of the brightest players in Europe at the moment and will probably see his stock rise this season. Although he was linked with a move away from Dortmund earlier this summer, the likelihood of them selling another of their star players straight after the season has started is highly unlikely unless the cash on offer is ludicrous. Lewandowski is still young at 24 years old, and is happy to continue his journey at Dortmund - who will aim to do better in Europe this season.

Stevan Jovetic - Jovetic is one of the most improved players in Serie A in recent years, after becoming an out and out striker for Fiorentina he has been one of the only shining lights for the club in recent years and has drawn comparisons in style to none other than Roberto Baggio.

The Montenegrin international has flawless technique and a lethal left foot, which is similar to Robin Van Persie. At 6ft he would be able to handle the physical side of the Premier League too and has a good scoring record, netting 14 last season as a poor Fiorentina side limped to a 13th place finish.

Jovetic's upturn in form has attracted interest from European elite such as Man City and Italian Champions Juventus, and apparently the Fiorentina asking price is around £20 million, which for a 22 year old with bags of potential is not too big an amount in today's market. With Bendtner rumoured to be heading in the opposite direction and possible deal could be made between the clubs too.

However in recent days the Fiorentina president has become confident that he will hold onto his man now the new season has started, saying "Jovetic will definitely stay here,I told him that in nine months we sit down and see what to do with his future."

Still, money talks in today's game, and Arsenal are a side with money to spend at the moment, and they would not be going wrong in spending it on Jovetic.

Leandro Damiao - Damiao has been heavily predicted as the man to wear the number 9 shirt for his national side when the world cup arrives in 2014 for many years now, yet the pressure and expectation have not hindered the development of the 23 year old so far and he is one of South America's star prospects right now.

Damiao, at 6ft 1in, is a classic number 9 and is described by his national boss as "strong, intense, and fast." His physicality would certainly endear him to the Premier League and he could be set to follow his former teammate and compatriot Oscar to Europe to develop his game before the World cup comes along. Damiao is very talented in the air, with a strong leap on him, but is perhaps most strong in and around the box, where his pinpoint, powerful finishing make him deadly.

Damiao has scored over 70 goals for Internacional in the last 3 years and last season managed 38 goals in 58 games, whilst this season he already has 20 goals in 30 games. The striker also impressed in the Olympics this summer where he kept a certain Alexandre Pato out of the side and scored 6 goals, helping Brazil to the final and a Silver medal.

The 10 times capped striker is said to be keen on a move to Europe in the near future, and is attracted to the challenge of the Premier League. However his buy out clause of 47 million pounds may put buyers off, although he is said to be available for around £24million. He would be a great buy but a risky one too, especially given the inability to settle in England for most Brazilians, and the high price tag he would command.

Edinson Cavani - The man nicknamed the bull is probably one of the hottest talents in the world right now. Cavani has had another great season last term with 33 goals in 47 matches, including 23 in the league.

The Uruguayan went on to have a disappointing Olympics where he looked rather disinterested and lacked great supply from teammates, something he may have to get used to after Napoli sold his strike partner Lavezzi to PSG.

Cavani would command an amazing transfer fee would he leave, although he would represent a truly world class addition to the club and a great replacement for Van Persie. His pace, power and creativity would thrive in the Premier league and he has already shown his quality in the Champions League and World Cup previously.

Also the 6ft 2in striker is said to be uncertain over his future following Lavezzi's exit, and an argument he had with the club over allowing him to go to the Olympics. However, the forward is expected to have at least one more season at Napoli, where he has scored 66 goals in 94 games. At 25 he certainly can wait a year or so before his next move, but having tasted Champions League football last season, he may want to join a side that can offer him another chance to challenge himself among the best in the world.

Do Arsenal need attacking reinforcements

Yet another 90 minutes today where Arsenal failed to score, a similar stat to last season where we drew 0-0 with Newcastle and lost 2-0 to Liverpool. Whilst we were able to sort out our goalscoring options, and only both Manchester clubs ended up scoring more than us, that is largely down to a certain player who is now at Manchester United. But does Wenger need to make a panic induced foray into the transfer market?

This season we have a much changed front line after the additions of Olivier Giroud form French champions Montpellier, Lukas Podolski from FC Cologne and the attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla from Malaga, whilst Wenger is still hinting at more additions as we enter the last weak of the transfer window. These additions will certainly take time to adapt, but do we have enough time to let them all bed in? We are already  looking up the table at club we are meant to be competing with and even lesser teams are looking very impressive and could challenge for European places this season.

Today's game against Stoke only illustrated the dearth of out and out striking options. Giroud huffed and puffed and looked quite bright at times but certainly tired towards the end, whilst Podolski played out wide and suffered a similar game where he failed to properly control the match. It is early days in their careers, and to be fair to them both the chances on offer were not brilliant or in any great quantity, but it is fair to say that neither player is near the same league as Van Persie - who we became so reliant on last season.

The main lesson from the opening two games was the lack of chances created as well as lack of attacking options to come off the bench. With the reported exit of Chamakh to Malaga whilst Park and Bendtner certainly seem to have played their last games for the club (wait, did Park ever play actually?), then we definitely need more options up front. Multiple options if possible.

Looking at our rivals' squads, they are all packed full of very talented strikers. City have Aguero, Balotelli, Tevez and Dzeko. United have Rooney, Van Persie, Wellbeck and Hernandez. Chelsea only really have Sturridge, Moses and Torres but may still be in the market and certainly have players who can supply ammunition for the 50 million pound man. Even Newcastle have Ba and Cisse who almost guarantee 30 goals a season between them and rival almost any strike-force in the league. Whilst high flying Everton have Jelavic, Naismith and Mirallas.

All of those teams seem to have someone (or multiple people) who can reach 20+ league goals, which is something that is vital if you want to challenge for the highest positions in the league. They also have other strikers which ably back up the main men, or can help fill in when necessary in case of injury. Do we have that in our strikeforce right now?

Podolski and Giroud had very successful season last year for their respective clubs. Giroud was the star man for Montpellier whom he helped to the League title by scoring 21 league goals and even setting up 9 others for his teammates. Overall in his 2 seasons in the South of France he scored 39 goals in 86 matches which is very impressive, even if it is at a level much lower than the Premier League. Podolski was the main man for Cologne as they tried - unsuccessfully - to fight relegation, and he scored 18 goals in 29 appearances. Podolski is also world renowned for his talent at international level and has 44 goals in his 101 appearances for the German national team.

Yet despite the positive signs from both players, there are still question marks surrounding whether they can regularly score 20+ goals a season. Podolski has only managed that feat once, and he did it in the 2nd division in Germany, although injury problems have limited the 27 year old to only around 25 games a season, and he has played some of his career out wide as well. Similarly Giroud, who is seen as a late developer, has only scored over 20 goals once before last season at Tours in the French 2nd division. Giroud is also relatively inexperienced at the highest level, only featuring 10 times for France and never playing in the Champions League.

There are similar questions over Podolski, who has only been a success at Cologne - nothing more than a mid table side. Even when he earned his move to Bayern, a young Podolski struggled to adapt and soon moved back to Cologne.

So far neither player has greatly impressed in the Premier League either, especially when compared to Van Persie who rarely - if ever - missed a clear cut chance. Yet those comparisons are a bit premature. Sure, they are bound to be compared to the departing Dutchman, but he was never prolific until his last 18 months. In fact, whilst we are looking over Podolski and Giroud's stats to see how many times they have scored over 20 goals lets look at Robin. The only season where he managed that feat was last season where he smashed in 30 goals. We know about all the injury problems etc. but still he only has managed that feat once.

Van Persie was able to become a clinical marksman under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger as well, who crafted the enigmatic Dutchman's technique and guile into one of the worlds best players, before being betrayed by his protege this summer. Wenger has lost world class striking talent before though, and has always been able to rely on a new breed to step up and take over the goalscoring mantle.

Robin created a great partnership with the likes of Theo and Song in midfield, which seemed almost telepathic at times, as well as with Cesc and Nasri beforehand. Those partnerships take time to develop, so it is only natural that Arsene is telling the fans that the partnerships between Cazorla Podolski and Giroud and the others need patience and time to become like the fluid Arsenal partnerships of old.

There have been some positive signs too in regards to the on-field relationships with Podolski and Cazorla exchanging passes neatly as many times during the game today. Cazorla's beautiful reverse ball to pick out the run of Giroud last week also springs to mind as something can can be built on. There is also the return of Chamberlain to first team action and Theo is yet to impress this season, even though last season he was so key to so many of Van Persie's goals. That's not to mention the return of Wilshere in a month or so too.

Overall there are additions needed at Arsenal in attack as we head into the last few days of the transfer window, but not wholesale changes driven by fear due to us not scoring in our opening two games. Experienced, quality back up players who can challenge with Giroud and Podolski would be much welcomed and hopefully the chief scouts have a target in mind.

Is missing out on Sahin a mistake?

In a week where we have lost Alex Song, a key member of the squad in the last few seasons and the 3rd highest assister in the Premier League last season, the blow has surely been compounded by the fact we have lost out on Turkish international Nuri Sahin, who is set to complete his season long loan to Liverpool.

In his press conference, Wenger was keen to stress that it was completely up to the club to not sign Sahin, yet was it the greatest decision the Frenchman has made?

Sahin was voted the player of the year in the Bundesliga only two years ago, where his cut and thrust in midfield helped Dortmund to their first title in almost a decade. The 23 year old Turkish international made 40 appearances in all competitions that season, and contributed to 21 goals for his side with 8 goals and 13 assists.

That season he had built on his excellent form of the season before where he managed 9 assists in his 36 matches. Sahin was seen as the main dynamic cog in a midfield which included the likes of Manchester United midfielder Kagawa and German wonderkid Mario Gotze. Whilst he was not as attacking as those two player, he was still the creative hub of the side from a deeper role and dictated the tempo of many Bundesliga matches.

The German born midfielder is by no means weak either, and is well built in his 5ft 10in frame which would suit the Premier League's fast pace and physicality. Looking at the two matches Arsenal have played this season, they have certainly lacked some creativity, which has meant that chances have been few and far between for Wenger's side. Against Stoke in particular the Gunners completely controlled possession but did not work Begovic much at all. Perhaps had Sahin been in the midfield instead of Diaby or Arteta, or even Cazorla who faded as the game went on, then he would have laid on the chances for the strikers.

There are also more positives that would have been taken from signing the man who has 31 caps for Turkey. Alongside Cazorla and Podolski he is very much seen as an elite player in Europe and would significantly soften the blow on the Arsenal fans which have seen Van Persie, Song, Fabregas and Nasri all leave the club in little over a year. Perhaps he could have been a signal of intent about where Arsenal want to finish this season, as we have already been left behind by the Manchester club and Chelsea and even find ourselves a couple of wins behind Swansea. Moreover Sahin is believed to have been very keen on a move to the club, which is a welcome feeling after the transfer sagas in recent year involving world class players who don't want to play for us.

Yet there is understanding behind Wenger's decision to not go for Sahin. Nuri struggled with form and fitness after his 10 million euro move last summer, and only made 4 league appearances with no goals or assists. Arsenal have struggled with players who have perennial injury problems in the past and Sahin even failed to make his debut for Madrid until the 6th November, and consequently failed to fully regain his fitness all season.

Similarly there were problems surrounding the transfer negotiations with Real. The players' wages are around 4 million euro per year and it is believed that Arsenal were not willing to pay the full amount during a season long loan. Also Arsenal were very keen on a deal involving an option to sign Sahin permanently after the laon was concluded which was very difficult to negotiate with the Madrid representatives. In fact the behaviour by some Madrid staff is said to have been so unwilling to negotiate with Arsenal there were even some rumours that Mourinho was trying to deny a deal with his former foe Wenger.

Also consider the talent in place in central midfield, including Arteta, Cazorla, Chamberlain, Diaby, Wilshere, Coquelin, Ramsey and Rosicky. Whilst even the youngsters such as Aneke, Henderson and Eisfeld knocking on the door after impressive pre-seasons. There are plenty of players who can occupy the deep lying playmaker role/ box to box midfielder that Sahin prefers, whilst we are certainly lacking proper, experienced options in the free role and in defensive midfield. Maybe Arsene is waiting for other, more necessary reinforcements in midfield.

There has also been a lot of positive news surrounding the comeback of Jack Wilshere in the last week, with Arsene Wenger hinting at a possible September/October comeback for the talented Englishman. The good news around Wilshere may have meant that the services of Sahin were not needed anymore, especially considering how similar they both are. But can we afford to rely on the fitness of Wilshere who has been out for over a year, and wont have had a proper pre-season.

Overall it is easy to say that we should have signed Sahin, who is clearly a very talented player, but the decision is not as clear cut as it can be made out. Even if the deal is a loan, apparently Liverpool are paying a £7million package to secure his services for a year, and Arsene is apparently on the look out for permanent deals as well. Arsene is adamant that we are the ones that pulled out of the deal so any suggestion that we are not financially capable of signing him, or we were beaten to his signature by Liverpool, are probably not true.

It remains to be seen whether we have made a mistake, but if we can sign some players equally talented players then we will soon forget about this transfer that never was. Good luck to Sahin, and who knows we could go in for him next season as we did with Cazorla.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Intriguing Arsene Press Conference reveals Song set to leave

So Arsene's first press conference of the season is finished and for me it was one of the most intriguing ones we've seen.

It's almost like we are looking at a new Arsene. He seems to be fed up of players wanting to leave his club wheras last season he looked physically drained by the exits of the club. This has meant he has become shrewd in his business plans, and even honest in his interviews.

The 62 year old admitted that Song could be on his way out of the club in the near future, answering about possible additions and Song's exit he replied:
'both can happen. We have 6 or 7 players in midfield, we have much more freedom to make decisions.'

From Arsene Wenger that basically means he's off, and probably indicates that Song has expressed his desire to leave. The depth we have in midfield can be something to worry about though, with Wilshere, Frimpong and Diaby by no means reliable to stay fit. Thats not even considering Rosicky's perennial strains, and Coquelin's many problems last season. An addition or two will be very much needed if Song makes his way out the exit door.

He also confirmed the interest in Sahin, after news that we have made a late bid to hijack his move to Liverpool. Sahin is not exactly a like for like replacement for Song, but another big name addition like the former Bundesliga best player would be welcoming.

In terms of a proper replacement for Song though, the most likely signing is probably Lucas Biglia which has been strongly reported by Sky Sports in the last 24 hours. The Argentinian international was very impressive in the pre season friendlies against us and Southampton but will have to make a big step up from Anderlecht to the higher end of the Premier League, so may be something of a risk. If that transfer does collapse we could always reignite an interest in M'vila or even Capoue.

Back to Arsene's press conference though, and he went in to confirm that Vermaelen has been appointed as the new club captain, with Arteta being vice-Captain. It's the expected decision, and probably the right decision in terms of the leaders we have at the club, although personally I might have swapped their roles around.

As it was the first press conference since Van Persie's exit, he obviously had to answer questions on the continuous outward flow of world class talent. But, as ever, he was bullish and optimistic about the season ahead, saying:
'I know it is a massive gamble but I feel we have the quality to deal with that. I can understand people are hurt'

He stressed that the Van Persie situation was not the fault of him or the club, and that they were keen for Dutchman to sign. He clearly stated:
"it takes two sides to sign a contract. If you have one that doesn't want to sign.."

This is true to a certain extent, but going back to the compete mess that was last summer and that was not ideal preparation for trying to keep your best player at the club. But still, after all of his talk of being a "fan" and even saying "I will always be a gooner" it shows that he was practically just lying to us.

Finally, in his preview of the Sunderland game, he revealed that Koscielny is not fit due to his calf strain, whilst Theo and Chamberlain will face fitness tests. New boy Cazorla will have to be assessed after his long pointless journey halfway around the world to play in a dumb friendly.

Anyway, that is all for now. Here's to 3 points in Saturday!