Transfer Window Analysis Part Five- Forwards
Updated: Jun 15
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst) and Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
This is the fifth and final part (phew!) in a series analysing the current players at the club in each position and the difficult decisions that need to be made as well as potential targets the club must target in the upcoming transfer window. On paper, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette at the club and the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah waiting in the wings, it seems pointless to talk about potential additions to the forward line. But with the two experienced forwards entering the final year and last two years respectively, the club has to start planning for all possible outcomes including both of them leaving or one of them leaving. In this piece, we focus on the two cases: either the Frenchman departs or the Gabon international departs.
Disclaimer: The possibility of both of them staying has not been ruled out but with the financial future of the club uncertain, it doesn’t seem very likely.
Case 1: Auba leaves/Laca stays
This scenario would mean that Arsenal need someone for the role of an ‘inside forward’. If Auba leaves, a replacement who would provide a consistent goal threat from wide areas while also displaying the typical traits of a winger like dribbling and creating chances etc.
For those who have been following the Bundesliga since the restart in May or more specifically, watching Borussia Mönchengladbach, there is no need for an introduction. For others, the name Thuram should be enough to make an association. After impressing at now-relegated French side, Guingamp, the French Forward moved up to Gladbach in 2019 and has been one of the best players in the league this season. Popular data analytics Statsbomb earmarked him as one of the Ligue 1’s Breakout talents back in 2017 and give a pretty accurate description of his playing style.
“The biggest reason for optimism with Thuram is the versatility in his game, the potential to be something of a unicorn as an attacker. He’s 6’2, strong like an ox, and could be used as a stereotypical target man. You can even see it with his shot distribution, with over 36% of his shots coming via headers. He’s got all the traits needed to be the type of player who you can play long balls to and hope he can box out his opponent so he can lay it off for upcoming teammates. But he’s also got the athleticism and skill set to played out wide when needed. In the Under-20 setup, he played for the French national team on the wings with his ability to beat opponents via his trickery and burst. He’s just as comfortable being able to beat defensive lines with his timing and having passes come to him on the ground. There will even be times where he combines both: the ability to stiff arm a defender and blow past him.”
Signing him would give Arsenal the ideal mix of a target man and a wide forward. The radars we plotted, shown in the Figure above, using both the striker model and the winger/AM model highlight how good a dribbler he is and the quality in front of goal. He’s already got 10 goals and 8 assists in his debut season in Germany and the xG and xG assisted highlight how big an impact he’s had on the team.
While the likes of Haaland, Minamino, Szoboszlai hogging the limelight in RB Salzburg’s Champions League exploits, one name that goes under the radar is the South Korean Hwang Hee-Chan. In the high-pressing, incredibly fluid style played under head coach Jesse Marsch, Chan was positioned up top as a second striker to Haaland. He had a major role to play in their 4-3 defeat to Liverpool back in October contributing a goal and an assist. The Korean ended up with a tally of 3 goals and 3 assists in the group stages as the team failed to qualify for the knockout stages.
There have been comparisons to his compatriot Son Heung-Min thanks to both of them starting their European careers at Hamburg. He’s incredibly quick and a very direct playing style which is the kind of attacking player that Arsenal have been lacking and with just 1 year to go on his contract, Arsenal can sign the 24-year old for a cut-price fee.
As Alfie wrote in his Bundesliga players to watch out for,
“If Aubameyang and/or Lacazette are to leave this summer, it may be a wise strategy to replace their goals with a wide range of players playing in different areas of the pitch, and Rashica could be a hidden gem for this. He’s certainly enough of a goal threat, and according to the people over at Statsbomb, he just needs to learn when to shoot, with his choice of shots generally quite poor. This sort of development in his game should come with better one on one coaching (something Arteta is supposedly very good at), as well as just more game time in a better offensive side.
Not only is he a goal threat, his dribbling ability could add some much-needed penetration to our offensive play. He manages around 2.8 successful dribbles per 90 in the Bundesliga, bettered only by Nicolas Pepe in our side. Definitely, definitely worth a watch.”
The Kosovo international has been battling in a relegation-threatened Werder Bremen side and his high release cause would certainly come down if they get relegated.
The other question that arises here after going through all this is, “Do Arsenal really need to sign a replacement? Wouldn’t Brazilian teenager Martinelli be a good fit for this role? The answer is yes and no. Martinelli has got all the tools in his locker to become a great player but the transition from an impact player to a consistent starter is going to take time. It would be criminal to suddenly start him in 30+ games from next season and hope for a miracle and so Arsenal definitely need to sign somebody as a replacement if Aubameyang leaves.
Case 2: Laca leaves, Auba stays
Depending on Arteta’s blueprint, Arsenal must decide if they want to sign a goal poacher, a modern centre-forward or a Firmino-type player that contributes more to the build-up rather than a pure finisher. If Auba re-signs, then the latter type of player might be more beneficial with the goal threat coming from Auba, Pepe etc. We look at targets matching the various profiles.
Victor Osimhen 19/20
The Lille striker arrived in Ligue 1 around the time Pepe’s move to Arsenal was announced last year and has been having a breakout season. Lille were expected to struggle after losing two of their brightest attacking talents last summer but the fact they ended up in 3rd after the season was curtailed tells you how big an impact Osimhen has had.
As their manager described it, “He was our priority at centre-forward. He’s 20 and full of energy. He can play in behind or be present in the penalty area when we’re playing in front of low blocks.”
He’s aerially very good and the pace to run in behind matching the profile of the modern-day centre forward. Whilst he’s no Martinelli in the pressing department, he certainly averages a really solid 2.6 pressure regains per 90 and would be a great replacement for Lacazette. The big issue obviously is the transfer fee. Lille bought him for £11 million last summer and after his stellar season, at least £60 million would be needed to prise him out of France. After last summer’s business with them, Arsenal could leverage a well-structured payment deal (cue ‘Don Raul’) but that would hurt the long-term future of the club even more.
First things first, Jovic is not a traditional Number 9 type player. In his breakout season at Eintracht Frankfurt, he was played as a second striker to Sebastien Haller and this is one of the reasons why he’s struggled at Real Madrid this season. His strengths are coming deep to facilitate play or run in behind rather than function as a target man.
The other part of his game is he is a very good finisher in and around the box. Watching YouTube highlights of the goals he scored in the 2018/19 season gives you an idea of his ability to find the back of the net. Attitude issues, especially during the pandemic, are the obvious downside but Arteta has already shown his man-management capabilities and could get the best out of him. A one-year loan should be the best option for all parties as Arsenal get more time to groom the youngsters or scout a proper replacement.
Kevin Volland 19/20
A target that most fans would immediately either show a complete disinterest in or turn their head away in disgust and shout a barrage of expletives. But you know, you’ve already read the bulk of the article so you might as well finish reading and hear out our case.
Since the Bundesliga’s restart, we have seen Kai Havertz thrive in the false nine role but the only reason he’s being played there is because Volland has been injured. The likes of Havertz and Moussa Diaby have been catching the eye but Volland plays a major, yet understated, role for Leverkusen (similar to the Ramdeuter). Statsbomb have acknowledged his value and have added him to the ‘stealth-MVPs’ of the top Bundesliga teams.
“Sure, creative and skilful talents such as Kai Havertz, Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby and Nadiem Amiri each have a rosy footballing future ahead of them. But take one guess which player in Die Werkself (‘The Workman’s Eleven) has been involved in the most goals this season? Hint: it’s the same dude who led the team in combined goals and assists in 2018-19 and 2017-18. Volland, who can also contribute as an inverted winger on both flanks or as a second striker, shines in a pretty complex role as the frontman in Peter Bosz’ playing system. He’s responsible for the first wave of pressure in the Bosz-press when the opposition has the ball, and drifts wide and towards midfield in possession, to pose opposing centre backs questions in their marking scheme. He does all this, and consistently gets good shots off.”
The issue if Arsenal choose to sign him is that he’s 27, which could deprive the younger talents of their playing time. If Laca leaves, Arteta can utilise him for a couple of seasons at least as the youngsters are groomed but more importantly, his unselfishness will allow the likes of Pepe to flourish by getting them into better attacking positions rather than being isolated out wide.
To round up, the type of skillset that Arteta would want would determine who the club pursues in the transfer window and who we let go this summer. The club seem to have realised it’s imperative we resolve the futures of our two strikers, in order to rebuild the squad as we move forward. It’s going to be intriguing.