Alexander Isak: A Player Arsenal may not Need, yet a Player Arsenal should Sign
By Rob Worthington
Arsenal need to strengthen in a plethora of positions across the pitch this Summer if they are to significantly progress their team. According to The Athletic, the club have identified goalkeeper, right-back, right centre-back, left-back, central midfield and attacking midfield as primary areas of apprehension. It is said improving the quality of the frontline is less of a concern. The emergence of Alexander Isak should change that.
Scoring 17 goals for Real Sociedad last season and scooping LaLiga’s young player of the season award, Isak caught the attention of many avid football fans around the globe last season. However, he truly hit the limelight with a fantastic display for his national side, Sweden, against Spain on Monday evening. He was superb. He created the best two chances of the game out of the game out of absolutely nothing and the fear of the Spanish defenders’ when he was driving with the ball was blatant. An all-star performance.
Much has been said lately about Arsenal needing to bring in a player who can singlehandedly change the course of a game in a second. It’s the reason Arsenal fans are so desperate for their club to somehow persuade Jack Grealish to make a move to north London this Summer. Although Isak is still very much in the mould of a rough diamond in need of refining, if his 20/21 campaign performances are anything to go by, he could be that player for Arsenal in years to come.
Against Spain, it was Isak’s close control which stood out as one of the stronger areas of the youngster’s game. His capabilities in regard to being able to hold on to the ball for that split second longer than one would expect him to were indeed helpful in the making of Sweden’s two biggest chances of the game.
Just before half-time, a cute body feint enabled Isak to escape a scrambling Aymeric Laporte prior to his shot being blocked on the goal line by Marcos Llorente. Then, in the second half, some dazzling footwork allowed Isak to evade 3 Spanish defenders and swing in a dangerous ball across the face of goal which should’ve been converted. In comparison to Arsenal’s current striking options, Isak is head and shoulders above all of them regarding close control.
His capacity to perform in this respect is rather striking. To see a striker of Isak’s build, relatively tall at 6 ft 2’ and notably skinny, lanky one might say, manipulate the ball so consistently and effectively is a rarity in world football. A truly unique forward profile, especially when his neat turn of pace is taken in to account. Isak’s distinctive playing style certainly makes him more difficult for opposing defenders to contest with making him all the more attractive as an asset.
Over the course of the 20/21 season, many commented on the fact that none of the forwards in Arsenal’s possession possessed Mikel Arteta’s ideal striking profile. Indeed, Alex Lacazette often came closest to meeting Arteta’s centre-forward demands, but he had to adapt his game somewhat to do so. Isak fits the bill perfectly.
What Isak offers is apt attacking versatility. He can spin in behind to stretch a backline, he can beat a man to transform an attack singlehandedly, but arguably most importantly for Arteta, he can drop deep and link up play expertly. Playing alongside talented technical players such as David Silva, Mikel Oyarzabal and Adnan Januzaj, Isak played the important role of tying things up for Real Sociedad last season, and tie things up he did, completing 24 passes that led to attempts on goal for the Spanish side, just under 1/90.
Players who boast such versatility in their game as centre-forwards are often hard to come by in the modern game, so when they’re exactly what you’re after in the long-term and they pop up on the market, you can’t miss the opportunity to make a move. While Isak would no doubt cost Arsenal a considerable fortune this Summer, he’d likely cost the club double that in the next if he has another successful season with Sociedad. Signing someone with the potential to grow into a top, top player like Isak would be a clear sign that they mean business with their rebuild this Summer.
From a statical perspective, Isak stood out as one of Europe’s more dangerous strikers despite his youthful age of just 21. His 0.49 non-penalty expected goals landed him in the 85th percentile of European strikers, considerably higher than Arsenal’s first-choice centre-forward Alex Lacazette, whose 0.37 non-penalty expected goals ranked him in the 62nd percentile. Not only would Isak be an upgrade on Lacazette in regard to his work in deeper areas, but also in front of goal. Furthermore, at 21, Isak is only going to get better and better.
By no means is Isak the ready made solution to Arsenal’s issues in forward areas. His pressing needs some work, Mikel Arteta would no doubt like to see the youngster improve his security on the ball and there’s room for improvement concerning creation. However, despite this, he’d be an improvement on Lacazette already.
Without needing to arrive and immediately claim the centre-forward role due to the option of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the middle, now feels like the perfect time to sign Isak. Next season, the Swede can provide an alternative option up top, continue to progress and refine his game, and thereafter become Arsenal’s first choice no. 9. The pathway is clear. Isak will become a star. Arsenal need to ensure his rise to such stardom occurs in north London rather than anywhere else.
All stats courtesy of FBref.com.