Ranking Arsenal's Rumoured Options for a New Striker
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
I often feel Arsenal fans tend to act like a perennially crotchety old man: unhappy unless they have something to moan about. Now that we've stopped leaking goals like the Titanic, have a nearly injury-free squad, and haven't been subjected to the tyranny of Jon Moss recently, the pickings for Twitter rants have been slim to say the least. As a result, we've reverted to an old favorite: How should Arsenal repair their striker problem?
We're lucky to have a wealth of attacking talent at the centre-forward position, but nothing quite hits the sweet spot. Between a former world-class goalscorer, a former almost-world-class goalscorer, and two young prospects without the cutting edge to make a move on the first team, we're still struggling to put the ball in the back of the net. As a result, the Arsenal board has started rooting around for fresh options.
Five goals from seven matches isn't an awful record on paper, but we've been held scoreless in four of those, and that type of strike-rate is simply unsustainable if we plan on moving up the league table. Furthermore, we've scored those goals from 7.4 xG, which hints at an inability to finish chances, rather than an inability to create them.
And so, the hunt for a new striker is on the minds of many Arsenal fans, but it's a hunt that comes with some strict criteria. With two front men past their prime, and another two unready, long-term security is at a premium, along with raw goalscoring talent. Tactical flexibility and technical proficiency in possession are also preferable, and a finished product is a must, which installs the additional criterion of an age limit—too young and they'll need some time to develop, too old and they'll be past their peak.
With such a simple and inexpensive list in mind, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this article: here is my ranking of the five main contenders for the starting centre-forward role at Arsenal.
#5. Dušan Vlahović
Dušan Vlahović: Player Profile
Fiorentina's Serbian hitman has been linked to Arsenal since his breakout campaign in 2020/21, where he scored 21 goals, assisting a further three. There's one phrase that comes to mind when describing his player profile, and that's 'bullyball.'
He can certainly lack finesse at times, but he makes up for it by being an absolute nightmare to play against. Physically dominant, and standing a shade under 6'3" tall, he's a frustrating combination of quick off the mark and unbelievably strong, his instinctive left-footed finishes drawing comparisons to an early Romelu Lukaku.
Although he's not quite at the same level of physical mastery, he is a trickier player, and more well-rounded than his nightclub-bouncer frame might suggest. Adept at turning with the ball between the lines, and bringing teammates into play, his direct style of movement tends to free acres of space for teammates, and he has thrived in a two-striker system alongside Franck Ribery, though his recent performances for Serbia suggest an adjustment to a lone-striker role could be a quick learning curve.
Though he is left-footed, he's no slouch with his right either, and while he's a very neat header of the ball, he typically prefers to finish with his feet. His height makes him a natural option in holdup play and an excellent target for a cross, and while his reading of the game could use some work, all of the building blocks of a complete forward are firmly in place.
He's a pest off the ball too, and is unlikely to stop moving or get frustrated if possession is lost. Although his exuberant, terrier-like pressing can get him into trouble positionally, he also has a habit of harrying defenders into mistakes, something Arsenal have had particular difficulty with of late.
It's important to note that he does tend to rely on partnerships—before Ribery, Federico Chiesa was his primary target in the attack, and Arsenal don't tend to play with a second striker. Additionally, the space afforded him in the Italian league could cause a culture shock upon a move to England.
Dušan Vlahović: Statistical Profile
When reviewing Vlahović's statistical profile, a few key things stand out. Chief among them are the goals, both standard and expected—he earns 0.63 goals per match from 0.53 xG, which is a strike rate most European forwards would kill for. He's remarkably effective at finishing from open play, and also functions as a penalty specialist, having never missed from the spot in a competitive fixture.
In contrast to that, however, are some of his underlying metrics. He's not a particularly efficient finisher, placing fewer than 40% of his shots on target. For a player who averages less than one shot on target per 90 minutes, that's not exactly groundbreaking, though it also demonstrates that if he does place the ball on target, he's exceedingly likely to score, which works in his favor.
Moving past his scoring, there are a few more positives to the Serbian's game. Due to his overpowering height, he rarely loses an aerial duel, winning 3.32 per 90 minutes, and he's quite adept at drawing fouls, averaging 2.48 per 90 minutes. Due to his penalty prowess, he also has a high proportion of goal-creating actions resulting from drawing fouls as well.
However, if you're looking for a creative or well-rounded striker in the 21-year-old, you're wasting your time. His passing stats are rock bottom among centre-forwards in Europe, as are his creation and dribbling stats. While he rarely concedes possession, it's clear his tendency to lay the ball off to more creative teammates has greatly stunted that portion of his development.
Dušan Vlahović: Final thoughts
Frankly, there's a reason he's fifth on my list. A cost-effective option and proven goalscorer, he could use a season or two more at Fiorentina to hone his craft. Signing him as a 23 or 24-year-old would be a delicious prospect, but at the moment, it barely passes palatable, especially for the elite profile Arsenal are looking for.
Furthermore, while the club have shown interest in the 21-year-old hitman, and his name is one of the shortlist, he is further down their list of priorities at the moment, especially in the mind of head coach Mikel Arteta. Given how successful this past summer was, with Arteta in direct control of recruitment and player selection, that's a good enough reason in my mind to have caution.
I'm a big fan of the player in his own right, and think he could do a job at most lower-tier Prem sides—he'd tear it up for Burnley, for example, and could do a job for Newcastle too—but he simply does not check enough boxes to make him a viable option for Arsenal at present. But keep his name on your lips, because he's going places.
#4. Alexander Isak
Alexander Isak: Player Profile
One of the more stereotypical former "wonderkids" on this list, Alexander Isak has been a future superstar since he came up through the ranks at Borussia Dortmund. Now with Real Sociedad, he has flitted from success to success over the years, converting a successful end to his Dortmund campaign into a barnstorming single season at Dutch outfit Willem II, before a move to San Sebastián presented itself.
To call him a wonderkid, though, is a gross misrepresentation of his skillset and maturity. Isak is one of the top strikers on the continent, on both club and international level. His recent goal against Kosovo is a testament, as are his 17 goals and 2 assists last season, but most crucially, he has made Sweden's transition away from Zlatan Ibrahimovic as silky smooth as it could have been.
And though he stands at the same near-6'3" as Vlahovic, their respective styles of play could not be more different. Isak is lightning-quick in short-spaces and over distance, and while he lacks the same raw power, he's a much trickier player, and is far more adept in possession to boot. He's typically less involved in possession, though he has a penchant for dropping below the defensive line to link up play, and freeing up space for teammates in behind.
Above all, Isak specializes in quick, decisive movement. He likes to play on the shoulders of defenders, making rapid vertical runs to unknit defense and free up space. He also has the IQ to regularly pick up dangerous spaces in the box, and finish with aplomb. He's technically brilliant, rarely dispossessed, and extremely hard to dislodge from the ball.
His biggest drawback is his relative inexperience, and the price tag that comes with his services. Rumoured to be worth upwards of £60m, his long-term deal at Sociedad has him under contract until the end of the 2025-26 season, which means Arsenal will struggle to pay less than full price for the Swede.
Alexander Isak: Statistical Profile
Isak has shown his talents as an elite goalscorer throughout his entire career, but his 0.55 xG and 0.53 non-penalty xG (npxG) per 90 minutes rank among the best in the world. Better still, he averages a whopping 1.45 shots on target per 90 minutes, at a strike rate of 50%, and he converts 20% of his total shots, all of which is ridiculously impressive.
Elsewhere, he completes around 75% of his passes around all categories and distances, which isn't incredible at shorter range, but can be a total game-changer when he drops deeper to collect the ball, as he has a penchant for a lovely, driven long pass, which can take entire defenses out of a game. He also. loves to play a through-ball, often to a deep-running midfielder in transition, averaging 0.19 per 90 minutes.
He creates a decent number of Shot-and-Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes, most notably on the dribble, from set pieces, or when getting fouled. That, combined with his tendency to draw penalties, and the frequency with which he completes dribbles and drives into the penalty area—0.09, 1.42, and 1.04 respectively per 90 minutes—makes him an exceedingly difficult player to play against.
Defensively, he's cut from an Alexandre Lacazette-esque cloth, rather than in the style of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He completes 7.65 pressures per 90 minutes in the final third, and is dribbled past a mere 0.25 times per match, and generally likes to play football on the front foot.
Unfortunately, he's also far from perfect. His defensive workrate out of the final third is poor, and he tends to struggle under heavy physical pressure, despite his frame and size. He's also not the most involved in possession, completing around 20 total passes per 90 minutes. An excellent goalscorer, yes, but still unproven.
Alexander Isak: Final thoughts
Much like Vlahović, I greatly enjoy watching Alexander Isak play football. However, I don't believe that his current level of talent works on par with the price tag on his head, nor do I believe he'll be a good system player for Mikel Arteta's preferred style of offense. He tends to be best-used in transitions, and though he is an adept finisher, his direct, counter-attacking style might compete with the squad. Though I think he'd be an excellent option in that regard, I don't believe Arsenal are likely to switch to that style of play.
Furthermore, he's not exactly an aerial threat, and tends to get caught offside quite often, which is a more unforgiving in the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League. Could he do a job for Arsenal? Yes, absolutely. Is he the finished article and near-perfect option we need to cement this attack together? Not on your life.
Speaking of unfinished articles, you're almost halfway there! On to #3.
#3: Ollie Watkins
Ollie Watkins: Player Profile
Ollie Watkins first burst onto the scene with Brentford two seasons ago, heading the iconic "BMW" line that ensured the Bees competed for their first-ever promotion spot, eventually falling in the semi-finals. However, his 25 goals and 2 assists were enough to attract the attention of Aston Villa, who snapped him up and threw him right into the fire, starting him in 37 of 38 Premier League matches last season.
Having played over 40 league matches for three seasons in a row for Brentford, it should be no shock that Watkins plays older than his 25 years. He's physically dominant, defensively aggressive, and is the first true "complete forward" on this list, given his skill in the passing game.
As talented on the left wing as he is at the No. 9 position, Watkins combines incredible strength with jaw-dropping stamina and electric speed, and an exceedingly deft first touch. Effectively, he provides a younger, more versatile alternative to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and I would argue the recently-capped England international has a higher ceiling than the Gabonese, due to the well-rounded nature of his play.
Watkins is also an available option, given that Danny Ings has begun to lead the line for Aston Villa, shunting Watkins to a second-striker role, or placing him on the left-wing, which is another risky prospect given Villa's former reliance on Jack Grealish. Were Watkins to become unhappy with his role at the team, I would be more than glad for Arsenal to swoop in.
Ollie Watkins: Statistical Profile
Watkins led the Aston Villa line with distinction last season, scoring 14 and assisting 5 from 98 shots and 14 goal-creating actions, implying he would yield an even greater return if he had better weapons surrounding him, as he would were he to join Arsenal. Though he's only scored one this season, he is playing a more limited role, and is likely to grow into the season, as he did last campaign.
Interestingly, Watkins is by far the worst statistical goalscorer on this list, and that is actually his biggest drawback—0.3 goals and 0.4xG per 90 minutes is a significantly lower scoring rate than either of his predecessors on this list, or either of the players after him. The Premier League, of course, hampers his production numbers, but the stats are clear: Watkins is not an outright goalscoring forward—that is, you should not place him into a team and expect scoring to be his only output.
Elsewhere, though, the 25-year-old thrives. He completes 8.45 passes under pressure per 90 minutes, exhibiting his abilities in the buildup, and his overall numbers, in terms of attempts and completions, outstrip over 75% of forwards.
Making up for his poor goalscoring numbers are his Shot-and-Goal-creating actions, which primarily come from shots of his own, at 0.26 and 0.11 per 90 minutes respectively, the latter of which is 91st percentile. He also places 47.5% of his shots on target, averaging 1.26 shots on target per 90 minutes, which sheds his low goalscoring numbers in a much better light. He also earns 0.13 shot-creating actions per 90 from defensive actions, a statistic which highlights the most unique part of Watkins' game.
He attempts 16.82 pressures per 90 minutes, 9.29 of which are in the final third. He tackles over 30% of those he presses, and also manages 0.3 tackles in the attacking third per 90 minutes, generally displaying excellent instincts as a pressing striker.
He has also functioned as the main outlet for Aston Villa's counter attacks over the past season, receiving 9.08 progressive passes per 90 minutes. However, only 51% of the progressive passes intended to reach him actually do, meaning he is targeted twice as often, even in situations when he likely shouldn't be. Combine with his 3.49 aerial battles won per 90, he's a force to be reckoned with when he has his back to goal.
Finally, his time as a winger has molded Watkins into a beautiful dribbler. While he's not ultimately tricky, he is a direct and powerful runner, and is rather graceful on his feet, using balance rather than agility to overwhelm opponents. He averages 3.59 progressive carries per 90, and succeeds at 61.6% of his dribbles, an exceptional rate for a lone forward. That combined with his 1.18 carries into the penalty area per 90 (85th percentile) and his 6.56 touches in the penalty area per 90 (87th percentile) make him an all-around threat.
Ollie Watkins: Final thoughts
Ollie Watkins is a fundamental jack-of-all trades striker. He's an above average goalscorer, an above-average creative striker, and yet his only truly exceptional ability is his stamina and pressing ability. He would be a perfect centerpiece for Mikel Arteta's defensive schemings, but there are still questions that could remain over his goalscoring based off the statistics. However, Aston Villa cracked the code last season: play Watkins as much as possible and he will earn you results.
Watkins manifests in a similar profile to this summer's signings: not budget-breaking, a very solid option who would be starting-ready or very close to directly upon signing, and, most importantly, not a superstar personality. He's willing to work his heart out for the badge, which is excellent, but he also will not be a superstar of the future. For the prices being demanded—upwards of £50m, at least—that may not be worth it.
#2: Youssef En-Nesyri
Youssef En-Nesyri: Player Profile
Mikel Arteta has sourced himself a new striker. Per reports from the club, and news outlets alike, 24-year-old Youssef En-Nesyri has caught the Spaniard's eye, with our manager quoted as saying that En-Nesyri could function as the 'benchmark of the attack' in the future.
While much of the Spanish reporting on the topic has been guesswork, it has been confirmed that no fewer than six clubs were in for the Moroccan international's signature this past summer. En-Nesyri denied them all, preferring to remain at Sevilla and continue the project he has helped to develop. Arsenal would have to guarantee European football next season in order to tempt him to North London, and that in and of itself is the biggest drawback to signing En-Nesyri.
However, he's certainly a player worth signing. A bullish centre-forward, standing at 6'2," his lean frame belies his incisive quickness and football IQ. He's two-footed, excellent in the air, and specializes in tying defenders in knots in the box. Whether he's latching onto the end of a flowing move, boring a hole through a backline with a driving run, or lashing a foot at a bundling ball, he has an innate knack for scoring that simply cannot be taught.
In the sense that Arsenal would be pursuing a more well-rounded forward in Ollie Watkins, the opposite is true for En-Nesyri; the Moroccan is all about goals. Trained initially as a winger, he now rarely drifts outside of the posts, even out of possession. He's not a phenomenal passer and his dribbling is inconsistent. But oh boy, can he score.
Youssef En-Nesyri: Statistical Profile
Look no further than his stats to prove my point. He earns a whopping 0.76 goals per 90 minutes (94th percentile), nearly 0.2 goals better than the next-closest thus far in my ranking. That stat improves even more once you take his non-penalty goals, which clocks in at 0.7, a 96th percentile statistic.
Earning 0.59xG per 90 minutes, and 0.55 xG, he seems a slight upgrade on the previous scorers, but it's his ability to outperform xG that truly sets him apart—he ranks at the 91st percentile for Goals-xG, and the 89th for Goals-npxG, meaning he converts more chances than he is expected to. The first two strikers I mentioned don't better the 70th percentile in either category.
Perhaps that comes down to his nearly flawless ability to score when he does place a shot on target; earning 0.62 goals per shot on target places him in the 98th percentile. He also earns 0.24 goals per shot taken, meaning he scores a goal for every four shots, ranking in the 94th percentile among strikers. Overall, the former Leganés man is the dictionary definition of a fox in the box.
He's a safe, if unspectacular passer. His passes are intercepted 0.44 times per 90 minutes, a 94th percentile statistic, and his rate of passes offsides and passes blocked both rank around the 85th percentile as well. He doesn't tend to create shots or goals, as his six assists over the last six seasons would attest. He simply cycles the ball back to his more creative teammates and gears up for another attack on net. To his credit, though, he is also rarely tackled when attempting to do so, less than once per match.
His only other above average statistic is his ability in the air. Other than the fact that he splits his goals neatly between his head and feet, he is the only striker on this list who wins over 50% of his aerial duels, clocking in at 51.4%, and totaling 3.69 wins per 90 minutes, which also demonstrates the trust his teammates have in to win those battles.
He's honestly pretty abysmal across the board otherwise, but many of his poor statistics come from the fact that he is a true holdup striker. The only passes played into him outside of the final third and attacking penalty area are long launches intended to spur counter attacks. I think he and Aaron Ramsdale would get on well—the Englishman would finally have somebody to aim at.
Youssef En-Nesyri: Final thoughts
He is, in my eyes, a perfect replacement for Auba. He will guarantee at least 15 goals per season if he can keep up his production, and though he isn't the most well-rounded forward, he has enough experience on both the European and international stages that I have no problems trusting that record. We still need an elite goalscorer, and at 24, he can develop even more than he already has.
Frankly, the most worrying thing for me is that I think he might have been a bit of a one-season wonder. In his five professional seasons before his 2020/21 breakout campaign, he had only managed to score 10+ goals on one occasion. If he can have another year of heavy production, my opinion may change.
It also doesn't help that #1 blows everybody else out of the water.
#1: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Player Profile
Honestly, he's the only player on this list whose name speaks for itself, and I think that's rather telling. Everybody knows what can he can do, but nobody can really seem to stop it, or even slow it down. 29 goals in the past 2 seasons, and another 3 this campaign, speak to that quite eloquently.
For those who aren't aware of the Everton hitman's record, let me enlighten you. He's been playing full seasons of football since he was 17, with Sheffield United, in League One. His rise through the ranks was rapid and decisive, winning the U23 Premier League in his first year with Everton, and earning himself a starting berth at 20. 4 years on, he hasn't slowed down.
Calvert-Lewin is a centre-back's worst nightmare. Though he lacks overpowering mass, he uses hus 6'2" frame to full effect, scoring from just about anywhere in the box, either with his cannon of a right peg or his guided missile system of a forehead. That was some really violent imagery there, and I'm sorry for it, but I'm currently basking in my own eloquence, so I'd appreciate it if you would leave me be. Now, where was I?
Right! Goals. Yeah, he scores them, and lots of them, but that's not where his specialties end. He's arguably the best pure holdup man in the Premier League right now, and is nearly impossible to dislodge from the ball when it's launched to his ______ (that blank is for you to fill in by the way, your options are (a) feet, (b) chest, (c) head, (d) torso, or (e) all of the above. I'll give you a hint, there isn't a wrong answer). He's already become Lucas Digne's personal wet dream and I think Kieran Tierney would have even more fun launching balls his way.
He can play in any type of system or formation, flex as a lone striker or in a pair, and even drop deep into the midfield if called upon. He's talented in possession, incisive and precise with his running, and generally a nightmare to play against both in a possession-based system, as exhibited by his sterling record for England, and on the break, as exhibited by his sterling record for Everton.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Statistical Profile
Due to the tight-packed nature of the Premier League, his goal numbers, much like Watkins' are significantly deflated from where they would be if he played in another league, but are still exceptional. 0.5 xG and 0.45 npxG makes him a threat for a 20-goal season, every season, and his ability to win an average of one penalty kick every ten matches (he rarely misses) bridges the gap.
He enjoys lurking right around the penalty spot—his average shooting distance from goal is 12 yards—and he thrives on sticking his right peg through the ball and letting fly, as demonstrated by his 55.3% success rate in putting shots on target. That's 99th percentile, by a comfortable margin. He also manages an average of 1.36 shots on target per 90 minutes, meaning he's always a threat. His 0.18 npxg per shot certainly doesn't dissuade that notion either.
And with shooting as the crux of his skillset, it's no surprise it manifests again in his goal-creating actions. He creates 0.16 goals for other players per shot (98th percentile), meaning if he misses, tap-in rebounds are an immediate opportunity, and he also creates 0.1 goals per 90 minutes from being fouled, again implying how difficult he is to deal with in and around the box, especially with competent set-piece takers. Given the potential presence of talented scorers around Calvert-Lewin were he to join Arsenal, I can see that being a serious asset.
And, of course, who can forget about his aerial ability. He wins a stunning 4.9 aerial duels per match, with a success rate of 50%. Those numbers don't quite do his full presence justice, but I'm just going to let them sit there. No elaboration necessary.
He's a remarkably defensive forward, preferring to drop into formation rather than pressing high, which should gel well with Arteta if he begins to see reason, but he's a specialist at defending opposing set-pieces as well, with a clearance and shot-blocked rate above 85th percentile both ways. Given Arsenal's relative weakness at man-marking corners, we'll take all the help we can get.
Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Though he is more well-rounded on the whole than any other striker on this list, he has his imperfections. He's notably poor at pressing high, and has a tendency to fluff a finish if he's low on confidence, or if he gets complacent of his role within the team. However, as demonstrated by his call-up to deputize under Harry Kane at the Euros, he's the future, and Arsenal should take advantage.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Final thoughts
He's the only striker on this list truly worth paying between £50-60m for, and that's about all there is to it. His unique skillset fills many of the cracks showing in Arsenal's attack, and he. has the potential to bring a dynamism and cutting edge to our performance than nobody who isn't currently under the category of "global superstar" has a chance to, perhaps barring Gerard Moreno.
He's Premier League-proven and ready, talented, and handsome as the devil to boot. And he also fits the gentleman clause that comes inherent in nearly every Arsenal contract under the current management. Frankly, I think with the right building blocks around him, Calvert-Lewin could become a generational player for any Premier League team, and Mikel Arteta should do what he can to make sure that team is Arsenal.