Is Dusan Vlahovic the Right Striker for Arteta’s Arsenal?
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
It’s widely accepted that Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal will level up if an elite centre-forward is added to the Gunners’ squad.
Right now, Arsenal are playing their best football under Arteta to date, with Alex Lacazette leading the line. He’s offering everything Mikel Arteta wants from his centre-forward - apart from goals. The Frenchman is connecting things together beautifully up front, but has notched just 3 times in the league this campaign.
Mikel Arteta is thus still yearning for a striker who can do everything Lacazette does, and hit the back of the net frequently. Such a player would simply have to be a marquee signing for Arsenal. The complete striker profile is often hard to find in the modern age - but there are players out there who fill Arteta’s suspected criteria.
It’s been reported heavily in the media that Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic lies at the top of Mikel Arteta’s wish list. The 21-year-old Serbian is in the form of his life, scoring at a truly astounding rate in Italy, with 16 goals in 19 games for Fiorentina this season. He’s substantially outperforming his non-penalty expected goals tally of 0.4, currently performing at a rate of 0.58 non-penalty goals/90. Impressive.
Simply put, Dusan Vlahovic would add goals to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. In addition, he’d add variety to Arsenal’s attack with his presence in the box, evidenced by his 7 goals from within 12 yards this season, 2 of which have been headers. Not a single one of Mikel Arteta’s current striking options offers a genuine aerial threat in the box, often wasting Kieran Tierney’s excellent wide delivery.
With a bulky build and standing at 6 foot and 2 and a half inches, Vlahovic would thus add physical presence to Arsenal’s front line. He would therefore also be able to be used as a regular target of Aaron Ramsdale’s superb long-distance distribution, another feature of the current Arsenal team which feels a tad wasted at times.
And yes, as has been noted by many on social media, Vlahovic has scored 5 of his 16 goals this season from the penalty spot. However, there is a genuinely enticing aspect to this stat. Arsenal have scored just one penalty goal in the league this season, evidencing the nuance of the skill that is penalty taking. Vlahovic can nullify that issue which currently stands before Arsenal.
But will Vlahovic be able to replicate the aspects of Alex Lacazette’s game which have complimented Arsenal’s exhilarating attack in recent weeks? That is where I’m less convinced. The 21-year-old very much strikes me as a penalty-box striker. This could prove useful for Arsenal, but I worry he’d take away more than he’d give in a collective attacking sense in north London.
What Lacazette has done so brilliantly for Arsenal recently is quite simple, it’s a tendency which comes quite naturally to him, but not for most centre-forwards - dropping deep. He’s found himself between the opposition’s defensive and midfielding lines, allowing the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and most notably Gabriel Martinelli, to burst beyond him.
This suits Arsenal and it suits Arsenal’s best attacking players. Regarding my comment above about Vlahovic giving less than what he’d take away, the situation of Gabriel Martinelli acts as the perfect example.
It would not be exaggerative to suggest the Brazilian has been one of the best players in the Premier League since his re-introduction to the Arsenal starting XI. This in large part has been down to the system Arsenal are operating in as of this moment, a system Vlahovic wouldn’t be able to be seamlessly slot into, adjustment would be required. Martinelli would likely suffer as a result of this.
And this isn’t just a hunch of mine - it’s evidenced in Vlahovic’s stats. Lacazette sits in the 84th percentile for progressive passes when compared to other strikers in Europe’s top five leagues, while Vlahovic lands in the 14th, averaging 0.93/90. He also regularly takes less than 20 touches/90. This elicits the Serb’s reluctance to drop deep and move the ball forward to runners ahead of him.
Arguably more worryingly, Vlahovic just doesn’t really press for Fiorentina. He’s made 0.24 tackles/90 and performed just 10.96 pressing actions/90 in Italy this season. Considering the striker ignites and leads the press for Arteta’s Arsenal, this is concerning.
Now, I’d love to be proved wrong. After all, the Arsenal recruitment team certainly shocked many with the surprising quality of a few of their additions last Summer. Maybe Vlahovic can drop deep to link play, maybe he can press effectively. Ultimately, no one knew Aaron Ramsdale could distribute the ball as well as he has done for Arsenal this season prior to his Summer arrival.
However, at the reported £70 million, it feels like a gamble. It almost feels Nicolas Pépé-like. Vlahovic appears a brilliant goalscorer, but elsewhere his profile is limited, indicating that like Pépé, he could ghost through games before adding a moment of magic. That isn’t the sort of striker this Arsenal team needs.
When speaking to my colleague and Chief Editor Alfie Cairns Culshaw about Vlahovic, he referred to him as a “Pure Aubameyang replacement.” As Mikel Arteta’s men have shown in recent games, this isn’t a player profile Arsenal require in their side to play their best football. The recruitment team’s task is to find an Aubameyang-Lacazette hybrid - Dusan Vlahovic isn’t that player. Dusan Vlahovic isn’t the right striker for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal.