I have always been fond of Nwankwo Kanu. Inter Milan had cast doubt on his career after heart-problems that were diagnosed after the 1996 Olympic Games, and he played just 12 matches for Inter in three-and-half seasons before signing for Arsenal in February 1999.
Arsene Wenger had faith in Kanu and the Nigerian striker did his best to repay it. His goals in 1999 almost helped the Gunners to retain the title in England while his first full season in a red and white shirt was best known for his speedy hat-trick against the Chavs when he overturned a two-goal-deficit single-handily. His goal against Deportivo La Coruna in the UEFA Cup campaign was something special – a brilliant nutmeg from the 1.97 meter tall striker was followed with a cool finish.
However, despite his qualities that included a likeable personality, Kanu was never able to transform into the world-class striker that can clear the path to the trophies with a lot of goals. That transformation happened to his team-mate Thierry Henry and Kanu was condemned to be the substitutes bench. The highly decorated striker produced goals for two titles in the Premiership and three victories in the FA Cup.
It is hard to add more about the current likeable striker Olivier Giroud than mjw did in his article two days ago. He is excellent in the air, his ability to hold the ball is decent as well as his ability to link-up with team-mates, he can shoot from every position but his lack of pace combined with his missed sitters – especially in big matches – have haunted us ever since he joined Arsenal. Two points missed against Sunderland, the decision to take the shot from an awkward position against Stoke instead of passing the ball to Ramsey on the counter-attack, missed chances against Liverpool when we were chasing victory, sitters that could (and probably would) change the final outcomes in away matches against the Chavs and the Spuds… I am afraid those misses will be noticed at the end of the season. The Frenchman is a very good striker and I am happy that we have him in our squad but – just like Kanu – he needs someone like Henry or Van Persie alongside him.
Lukas Podolski also possesses certain qualities we need – he has a rocket launcher in his left foot (seriously, they should make a First Person Shooter with a Podolski left-foot-shaped weapon), he usually works his socks off, he brings German directness to our attack which is something that our game desperately has needed. However, just like Giroud, Podolski has problems with consistency, he doesn’t have defensive skills to help the left full-backs against overlapping teams (which leads us to the next question – should he play as a left winger at all?) and he didn’t do much in big matches this season.
Theo Walcott has been our top goal-scorer this season but despite his ambitions to play as a central forward and relative success in that role, his physical abilities are the ones of either a right winger or second striker. He has had problems with consistency throughout his whole Arsenal career and – despite the fact he has been improving every season – the same thing is happening this campaign as well.
Which leads us to the next question: what kind of striker do we need? That is a question that has been asked for a long time. What we had in the early 2000’s was something that happens rarely or never – we had two statue-worth-attackers in the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Despite Emmanuel Adebayor stepping up after the departure of Henry and scored 30 goals in 2007-08, Arsenal didn’t have a world-class striker before Robin Van Persie won his long-term battle with injuries and provided a season-and-half of brilliant performances. Players who were signed to replace him failed to do so (Giroud and Podolski combined have scored 17 goals and created 12 more while Van Persie himself has scored 19 goals and made 12 assists for FAnchester United this season). Prolific world-class strikers are the most expensive players out there and it is hard to expect that our management will dare to spend 20+ million pounds on that kind of player. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every 20+ million pound striker is actually world-class. Expensive flops like Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan to Chelsea), Fernando Torres (Liverpool to Chelsea) and Andy Carroll (Newcastle to Liverpool) have been laughing stocks after their huge transfers sent out a warning that splashing tons of cash on one player – no matter how promising he looks – can’t guarantee success. However, if you don’t have a world-class striker, it is hard to expect you will compete for major trophies. Given that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy for 8 years now, Gooners all over the world have their own short-lists with the usual suspects such as Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao.
So, let’s take a look at some of the prolific strikers that might cure our problems with goal-scoring in big matches and winning trophies.
The 26-year-old Uruguayan striker has already shown to Manchester City and Chelsea that he is capable of scoring goals against English clubs. His best performances have been against big opponents. His scorpion-kick goal against Juventus two seasons ago that concluded his brilliant hat-trick has been probably the most impressive from his vast collection. He has scored 18 goals in Serie A this season in 24 matches (0,75 per game) and 27 goals in 33 matches in all competitions (0,82 per game). His price tag is apparently 60 million euros which is an amount that Arsene Wenger would never pay. Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG or one of the rich Russian clubs (Anzhi, Zenit) will probably lead the chase for Cavani although there are also rumours that Real Madrid are favourites to land him. If Napoli play Champions’ League next season, it will be thanks to their talismanic striker who scored a hat-trick against rivals Lazio in their 3:0 victory.
It seems that February has been a good month to be born if you are a South-American striker. Cavani was born on 14th February while Falcao celebrates his birthday only four days earlier (let’s not forget that legendary Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta was born on 1st February 1969). The Colombian striker won the Europa League twice with two different teams (Porto, Atletico Madrid) while being top goal-scorer in the competition on both occasions. His mesmerizing hat-trick against Chelsea in the European Supercup has opened a lot of eyes in England regarding his quality and he might open a lot of chequebooks as well if Atletico Madrid agree to sell. Falcao has already scored one goal against Arsenal – in the Champions’ League 2009-10 he scored one of two goals in our defeat to Porto (2:1) but he was shadowed by Bendtner (!!!) in second leg when the Danish striker scored a hat-trick in an impressive 5:0 victory. His goal-scoring record (27 goals in 29 matches or 0,93 per game) has been the biggest reason why Atletico have won every home fixture in Primera this season with a five-goal-performance against Deportivo being the best performance. Falcao – just like Cavani – won’t be sold below 60 million euros which makes Manchester City, Chelsea or PSG favourites to land him.
The Polish striker will leave Borussia Dortmund in the summer. After playing 67 out of 68 matches and scoring 30 goals for Borussia Dortmund in the two-year-domination in Bundesliga, Lewandowski decided this season will be his last in a yellow and black shirt. It seems that he is very close to Bayern Muenchen which suggests Josep Guardiola – who is going to take charge of the Bavarian giants in the summer – rates Lewandowski very highly. It’s no wonder that Bayern want to sign him – Lewandowski scored a winner against the Bavarians in the deciding Bundesliga match and sealed the double for The Black Yellows with a hat-trick in the German cup final against the same opponent. Bayern are not alone in the chase for the Polish striker who is also wanted by Arsenal and Manchester United. Given that Lewandowski’s contract is set to expire in June 2014, Arsenal would probably have a chance to sign Lewandowski for a lower price. If, however, Lewandowski indeed signs for Bayern, that could open another possibility…
The German international had been one of the most prolific strikers in Europe in past two seasons as he has scored 80 goals in 97 appearances for the Bavarian giants with particularly impressive Champions’ League tally of 20 goals in 20 matches! His goal-per-game ratio hasn’t deteriorated this season as he has scored 10 goals in 17 matches but his playing time has been reduced since Mario Mandžukić has imposed himself during the time Gomez was injured. He already shares playing time with Mandžukić and Pizarro which means Lewandowski’s arrival would make at least one of them redundant. Given that Josep Guardiola will probably use more dynamic forwards after he takes over from Jupp Heynckes, Super Mario could find himself a new club. However, it is questionable whether Wenger would splash between 25 and 30 million euros that Bayern would probably ask for. The Germans are tough negotiators – a few seasons ago Danijel Pranjić had six months of his contract and was contacted by Everton. Bayern asked two million euros for a player that was nowhere near squad rotation. A top-drawer finisher like Gomez would cost at least 25 million euros.
KARIM BENZEMA OR GONZALO HIGUAIN
Cristiano Ronaldo is the first name that you think of the words: “Real Madrid, goal-scoring”, but his side-kicks Benzema and Higuain have a lot to say on that matter too. The French international has been linked with Arsenal in the recent past and that would be my perfect signing given that a 100 percent fit and in-form Benzema is unplayable. Although he had mostly shared his playing time with Higuain last season, he managed to score 31 goals in 52 matches with plenty of assists to his name as well. His strength, mobility, technique and goal-scoring instinct make him suitable to fill the Van Persie-shaped hole in our attack.
His team-mate and peer Gonzalo Higuain has already scored 100 goals in Primera which makes him only the fourth Argentinian that managed to reach a century in Spain. Last season he had scored 26 goals in 54 matches. It sounds more impressive when you take a look at his Primera stats – he scored a goal after every 78 minutes on the pitch!
The possible arrival of Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao to Real Madrid would make either Benzema or Higuain available on the market. Manchester City have been interested in Higuain recently and given that City sold Balotelli and are prepared to offload Edin Džeko as well, they might enter the race for one of Real Madrid strikers in the summer.
However, there is another thing that should be taken into account. If we fail to qualify for the Champions’ League, we might find it difficult to persuade the aforementioned strikers to join us even if the angel on the right shoulder persuades Wenger to splash some cash. That makes the forthcoming fixtures in the Premiership even more important. None of the suggested options would come cheap but we have learned from the sale of Robin Van Persie that selling a world-class striker at any price can turn out to be more expensive thing than signing one.