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Friday, 27 May 2016

Squad Review Part Four - Strikers, News on a new Arsenal Captain?

The Arsenal goals trust

The final part of the squad review focuses on Arsenal's attacking players. It's fair to say it wasn't a vintage year for any of our main goal scorers, though the most creative player in the group did have a productive season. If only we'd signed a top class centre-forward to actually put away the opportunities on a more regular basis...

Mesut Ozil
He ended up one short of Thierry Henry's record number of "assists" in a season. This, of course, is a Sky Sports created Premier League record which has only become remotely a "thing" since the invention of Fantasy Football. There was a period, however, in mid-season when Ozil was untouchable as a player in the Premier League. Undoubtedly it was his best spell at Arsenal as he dominated games week after week. From that point on it was inconceivable that he wouldn't beat Henry's mark but he regressed to the disinterested image that has been the main feature of his time with us. At the same time he was let down by those he created for at times. For me he doesn't take enough responsibility by taking players on and he certainly doesn't shoot enough or score enough goals. There was talk mid-season about him maybe moving on but that would be a massive shock now.

Olivier Giroud
Giroud scored well in excess of 20 goals again across the season, and that is easily forgotten. The reason it's forgotten is that his form after the Liverpool game in January was absolutely awful. He put in a great display against Huth and Morgan when we beat Leiester at home, but from there on wasn't worth a place in the side until the final two games. He scored a good hat-trick on the final day but it shouldn't cloud what had gone on in the preceding 3 months. At the same time it shouldn't be forgotten that he got another hat-trick at Olympiacos in the magnificent team display that got us through in 
the Champions League and he was flying at that point. With the drying up of his goals went our Premier League challenge. Giroud is a good centre-forward, but he isn't a top one. If he was our reserve striker, mostly deployed from the bench, I would be more than happy with him.

Theo Walcott
What went wrong Theo? He started pre-season really well, picking up where he'd left off the previous campaign, and did well in the early going in the Premier League. The game at home to Man Utd was a demonstration of all that can be good about Theo. His pace and movement destroyed their central defenders and made the room and goals for Alexis and Ozil on the day. Naturally he was injured shortly thereafter and didn't come back until December. Nevertheless he scored a spectacular goal in the win over Manchester City that put us five points clear at Christmas. He then enjoyed another extended run in the side to the end of January but his performances grew more and more woeful. He came on and got the important equaliser at home to Leicester but it was downhill again after that. Things got so bad that he actually had the crowd howling with laughter when he characteristically fell over the ball at home to Palace. His Arsenal career seemed to have come full circle in that moment and it was difficult to differentiate between 2016 Theo and the young boy that made his debut in 2006 on the first day at the new stadium. He has been unluckily left out by England after playing an important part in their qualification for Euro 2016 and he now stands at a crossroads. He signed a new contract last year, but his Arsenal career seems to be going nowhere. We all still want him to succeed, but is he really worth yet another chance?

He appeared knackered in the early going this season having played the Copa America (and he does so again this year) but still had enough to destroy Man Utd in October. His hat-trick at Leicester had seemed to announce he was back at his best. However, he went on a lean run before injury at Norwich kept him out for a while. This should have been just the break he had needed but when he came back in the side he was frustratingly poor, and wasn't working anywhere near as hard as he had in the past. His constant coming inside with the ball became easy to defend against as the opposition now had him well scouted and worked out. His equaliser at Spurs showed he was still the man for the big moments, however, and a move to the right-wing when Iwobi came in to the side gave him a new lease of life. His goal scoring form returned at the end of the season, and the presence of both Coquelin and Cazorla in the final game brought out the best in the little Chilean as he now had more space opened up to him. We need him to come back fit from his exertions in the USA.

Danny Welbeck
Injured for almost a year until his sensational return to the pitch against Leicester. Welbeck weighed in with a nice few goals, and his partnership with Iwobi was a real breath of fresh air late in the season, but he still misses more than his share - the last minute cock-up in the Watford FA Cup game springs to mind immediately, and he had also missed a couple against Leicester before that last-minute header. He didn't complete a full game at any time, and Wenger was clearly wanting to use him sparingly - Giroud's form made this less possible. Concerningly he was constantly having his injured knee iced immediately after every time he played, before seriously injuring the other knee at City and cruelly missing out on the Euros as a result. Like Giroud he isn't the answer, but he can play in a number of positions across the front-line and is a valuable asset. If only his knees can recover...

Joel Campbell
Surprisingly not transferred before the season started he was an anonymous figure early on. He played in the League Cup game at Spurs where his work ethic was eye-catching, and his willingness to make a tackle particularly impressive. He got a massive slagging for the Sheffield Wednesday game, completely overlooking the fact that he was actually putting in a shift on the night. When he got his Premier League chance at Swansea he took it with both hands, scoring a lovely goal in to the bargain. For some reason he never really got a proper run despite impressing just about every time he played. The Swansea home game saw him score one of our best goals of the season and turn in one of the best individual displays as well. When Wenger took him off the crowd went crazy with derision at the Manager. This seemed to serve for Wenger taking against Campbell even more as he was involved less and less, with Walcott inexplicably continually gaining selection ahead of him. I think Campbell is an excellent player. He works hard, creates goals, scores goals and is perfect as a squad man - and he's done all of this playing out of position on the wing.

Alex Iwobi
The surprise package of the latter part of the season. He actually had a very impressive pre-season campaign and scored in the Emirates Cup win over Lyon. Mostly deployed as understudy to Mesut Ozil for the FA Cup games he got a shock start in Barcelona where he combined to great effect with Danny Welbeck. He did the same again at Everton a few days later and scored a superb goal, before netting his first home goal a week after that. His style in those early games set him apart at a time when the rest of the team looked stale and slow going forward. Alex played in a few different positions as well, including a deep-lying midfield role late on at West Ham where he controlled the game in the last 15 minutes. This boy looks to have a great future ahead of him right now and he has come on incredibly in the last 18 months or so.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide
Signed last Summer he burst on the scene against Lyon in the Emirates Cup with a look of Vieira or Diaby in the way he carried the ball through midfield in to attack. He got his rare first-team appearances playing wide and impressed in doing so - not expected to feature all that much he was an unused Premier League substitute in a number of matches early on in the season. Having watched him play some under-21 and FA Youth Cup games towards the end of the season he was less impressive and I hope he hasn't started to go backwards already. Next season is a big one for the young French player where he must kick on to bang down the door of the first-team squad, and maybe secure a loan deal.

Three of the young strikers in the squad went out on loan for the season. Serge Gnabry went to West Brom and was back at Arsenal by Christmas - Pulis was not the right person to be overseeing the development of anyone from Arsenal. He was back in the under-21 team for the last couple of months without getting another chance in the first-team. I'm not sure what the future is for Serge. Yaya Sanogo went to Ajax where they very quickly worked out he was awful. He, too, returned to Arsenal at Christmas but was then sent to Charlton for the remainder of the season. He scored the luckiest hat-trick I've ever seen while he was there, as well as being sent-off for a heinous elbow (though he was being fouled at the time) resulting in a suspension. He has no future at Arsenal, surely?! Finally Chuba Akpom is at Hull and will be hoping to be in the squad for their play-off final at Wembley tomorrow. Having enjoyed a highly successful pre-season tour with the first-team he has failed to impress enough in the Championship, with questions raised on more than one occasion over his attitude. He was ahead of Alex Iwobi at Arsenal a year ago, but is now firmly behind him. This pre-season, if he is still at Arsenal, will be make of break for Akpom.

In other news Aaron Ramsey has been awarded Mikel Arteta's number 8 shirt at Arsenal. This means he is definitely staying, I would say. However, there is still no number awarded to new £30m+ signing Granit Xhaka - the Arsenal commercial team give with one hand and take away with the other! After all, why try and make loads of money out of a new major signing, eh? 
Pictures have also emerged of Laurent Koscielny wearing the armband at the photo-shoot for the new kit. I've only seen these linked on Facebook so I can't speak for the veracity of them. I can't tell whether they've been doctored to look that way, but he certainly seems favourite to be the new skipper - as I wrote the other day, the Villa game should have given us a big clue.

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