The major news this week from an Arsenal perspective, is obviously, the serious injury suffered by Olivier Giroud which if current reports are correct will leave Wenger without his main centre forward for most of the pre-Christmas football. This is a reasonably important period with the Champions League group stage games and our Premier League fixtures which include tough matches against Chelsea, City and Spurs. Though we cannot win either competition in this period of time we can certainly, at the very least, cause serious damage to our chances and potentially end any hope of winning them.
The problem Giroud’s injury creates is multifaceted; firstly it means we are without an important player who contributed 22 goals last season and whatever his faults is a vital part of how we play as he provides a battering ram to play off when trying to break teams down. Secondly, replacing him is going to be problematic as his main backups are the raw Sanogo, the adapting Alexis, unfit Walcott and options such as Akpom, Campbell and Podolski should not really be considered for there are either inexperienced or not really centre forwards or both. Thirdly the team itself seems to be transitioning towards a new system of 4-1-4-1 this removes the attacking mi and puts a greater emphasis on the players to interact well with each other to fill that void created and Giroud would have aided this as he is a familiar player for the midfield to play off as shown in the second half against Everton.
These problems though come together to create an overarching issue which will be called the centre forward time gap. This is the time between now and when either Giroud returns or Alexis/Sanogo are capable of leading the line without harming how the rest of the team is able to function. During this time period the team is likely to struggle, and whilst this means it can, and still will, win quite a few games it will not be able to play our best football.
With Giroud unlikely to return for a while it is down, to Alexis and Sanogo to fill the void. Alexis is not naturally a centre forward and has spent most of his career playing behind them as a 10 or out wide. However as has been discussed at length he could be turned into one; this however will take time as it means that not only does he, and his team mates have to get used to each other to create the, almost telepathic understanding needed with Wenger’s Arsenal, he needs to adapt to a new position and the different challenges it poses. Whilst it is true that the idea of a fixed centre forward, and thus the fixed idea of the skills they must have, is an anachronism it does pose different challenges to a player such as holding the ball up for team mates and providing more runs into the box. His struggles against Everton do not prove that he cannot adapt to this role as it was just 45 minutes, and the team as a whole struggled. His performance was not particularly worse than his ones from the right wing as he and his team mates have failed to get used one another.
Sanogo whilst much criticised has plenty of talent and has proven to be quite effective. His performances have mostly been quite encouraging as he has shown some intelligence in movement and use of his excellent all round athleticism. However he does have a very hit and miss technique as he can move from truly sublime moments to some more hideous ones. This rawness means Sanogo requires patience and time if his game is to ever truly come together. Two things which cannot be given whilst Giroud is injured and Alexis adapting. This therefore creates the aforementioned centre forward time gap.
There are two obvious directions to go from here the first is how did this problem arise and secondly is it solvable and if so how. The first point is a result of a failure to purchase sufficient centre forwards dating back to the 2011/12 transfer window debacle, Park quite simply does not count, in which the club failed to deal with many of the problems till the last moment. There have been potential CF solutions which have come and gone in that period including those that have been chased including Higuain who the club failed to pay the increased asking price for and other options such as Bony, Benteke and Martinez who Wenger did not and has not so far moved for. This is not to say these were appropriate solutions to the problem, but that there have been options to deal with the issue. It also is not right to argue that just because there is and has been a shortage of elite centre forward talents that we are justified in not purchasing one as we could do with at the very least a squad player who would have been able to help alleviate the centre forward time gap.
Purchasing a solution with a week to go is difficult as clubs are more unwilling to sell their best players as it is harder to replace them furthermore these players will need time to acclimatise and will not have a pre-season to help them with this. The advantage of bringing someone in is that it means we would have a more recognised centre forward which is better than two players learning the role however this advantage should be balanced against that the players we currently have are more integrated into the team. It will also help relieve the pressure in case the time gap takes longer or Alexis and Sanogo do not develop into tangible options.
However the club would not want purchase a player, at high expense, who in three or four months’ time would become a bit-part player as the time gap ceases to be an issue. This therefore leaves two options; firstly to bring in someone who would supplant our current options as a centre forward in the short and long term, the only really plausible option is Cavani and it is not that plausible with Ibrahimovic’s injury and Di Maria off to Manchester United. Or secondly a cheap option which the club is not tied to and can easily get rid of so a Kallstrom type signing however it would be quite difficult to bring in one of these type of players who is sufficiently good enough to really aid the team other than to be marginally better than what we have
The other option Wenger has is to disregard our current striking options and bring in a more permanent competitor for Giroud such as Welbeck however this would mean putting aside either Sanogo in the short term or Alexis up front which seems unlikely given that Wenger did not previously see the need for a centre forward. Furthermore options such as Welbeck are likely to be difficult to get at a price which is commensurate with their overall quality.
To conclude Arsenal have an issue at centre forward in, the very least, the short term. This has been brought about by transfer market inactivity and it could cause serious damage to our chances to compete in the Champions League and Premier League. However this issue could easily be solved if Alexis adapts as Sanogo though promising and endearingly hard working is unlikely to be able to develop quickly enough to deal with the time gap. The transfer market does not seem to have many solutions either therefore Arsenal need to hope that they can solve it from within or get lucky in the transfer market.
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