Right then, shall we have a little look at the forward line and give them a bit of an assessment, eh?
This time last year we were all still enjoying the post-FA Cup glow, which had put a bit of a sheen on what was otherwise a season that appeared to disintegrate after such a fantastic start. If you will recall, it was widely accepted that defensively we’d performed well (big game mauling’s aside), but our forward line just, well, ran out of a bit of puff. Giroud needed some support, Podolski was becoming more and more inefficient and less and less trusted by the manager and we ended up seeing more of Yaya Sanogo than we’d have wanted, given his inexperience.
When the dust settled there was a World Cup to look forward to, but it was painfully obviously that we needed something addressed in our attacking part of the pitch. The over-reliance on Theo for pace was evident and with him out for the first part of the season Arsene had to act.
Boy, did he act, signing both Alexis and Welbeck for our forward line for a combined fee of around £51million (although Arsenal never disclose this so it is open to interpretation). It’s true that the Welbeck signing was born out of desperation given that Giroud broke his leg, but nevertheless it was still done by the manager. And now that we reflect on the 109 goals scored by Arsenal – ten more than in 2013/14 – we have to say that Arsene acted and acted well.
Ten additional goals seems a decent improvement if you ask me, but it is not just the statistics that I think shows the improvement in the team. We have options now. We are no longer reliant on one player for anything. Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis have pace. Giroud and Welbeck can lead the line. The Ox – who I’m including in the forwards assessment because he played more games wide right than in centre midfield this season – and Alexis can beat a man through their close ball control and dribbling. We have interchangeable players. Of course, some are better than others and one in particular has made a marked difference to the team, but overall you can say that we are stronger and can cope with the rigours of an inevitable injury crisis which seems to engulf the team each season.
But individually we’ve seen some great stuff too. Let’s start with the main man, Alexis Sanchez, who has been the Energizer Bunny for this team this season. What was fantastic about him is that he’s not only extremely talented, but he works so hard too, which immediately endeared him to the Arsenal fans. We love him. He has an explosive power that no other player in the team can match and whilst his ball retention isn’t always great, he is that player that can do something out of the blue. I’m thinking in particular the Moneychester City goal, the goal against Liverpool and the cup final goals. All examples of how he has wonderful end product. But unlike Poldi, who was all end product, Alexis does everything the German didn’t do, exemplified by the fact he must have picked up half a dozen man-of-the-match performances in the league this season alone. I’m thinking of the Burnley game at home in particular, or the Southampton game at home where we huffed and puffed but it was he that dragged us over the line to collect three points.
I don’t want to compare Podolski to Alexis, but given that Poldi was our wide left man before Alexis, it’s an easy one to make, so although we were all sad to see Lukas the personality go, Alexis the footballer is a magnificent upgrade. And that’s what we want from this Arsenal squad now. If you’re like me, then you like most of the players in the squad and would be happy to go in to next season with them all still playing for Arsenal. But if an upgrade comes along – like Alexis – who will enable us to take Arsenal to the next level, then we should be doing it straight away. Look at me, I sound like a proper Wenger convert, don’t I?
so Alexis get’s the praises for his debut season, his goals, his impact on the team and his ability to take us to the next level, but it is not just he who has contributed to this seasons success. Olivier Giroud has spent half of it injured, yet has still amassed 19 goals and before his barren spell was ended by the FA Cup final goal, he was on a rich vein of form at just the right time to see us secure third spot. That’s the difference in this team. Alexis hit a purple patch either side of Christmas and carried us through games. When the goals dried up for him, Giroud chipped in with goals in consecutive games from March onwards. Last season, when the goals dried up for him and if Rambo didn’t score, it felt like we didn’t have that extra player with Theo injured, to take us over the line and challenge for the league. My favourite Giroud goals are his trademark; the run to the near post and flick. Against Middlesbrough and in the cup final can be the perfect examples. There is plenty of talk about his replacement this summer, but I am not seeing a glut of strikers who will contribute as much as he does (and are available, I hasten to add!), so although there is a desire for a Giroud upgrade, I’d be surprised given all he has provided to us this season. He is a focal point. He is a player who will bring others in to play and unless Arsene finds Giroud mkII in terms of hold up play and overall team contribution, I can’t see him making an addition in that area of the field.
I think we’ll also get to see more of the best of Welbeck next season too. The one area of his game where everybody is focusing on is his lack of goals, but he has shown that he has it in him – just think about the hat-trick against Galatasaray as a prime example. He has also played parts of this team as a wide attacker and, whilst that wouldn’t be his preference as he’ll readily admit, his work rate to the team when flanked by Alexis on the other side gives us a dimension that we haven’t had before. He’s more powerful than Theo and contributes more to the overall team play, which is why I think we’ll see him – with a year of playing in the team and getting to know how his teammates tick – up his game next season. A special mention has to of course go to the Old Trafford goal, in which a footballer finally made a statement to the world that guess what? You can score against your old team and be happy about it.
The two remaining forward men are ones who haven’t had the greatest of seasons, but only because of disruption caused by injury. Theo has missed two thirds of the season as a result of his cruciate injury picked up last season, then a variety of niggly injuries that kept him out of the team. Arsene seemed reluctant to bring him in more readily but as any of us can testify to, when you’ve got a team winning back-to-back games for what was almost a club record, you don’t change it. But as we drew closer towards the final we saw that Theo has a place in the squad. A natural finisher and a man who set us on the way to the cup final, his hat-trick against West Brom was perfectly timed and the conversations on his new deal will be interesting ones this summer. I’d like him to stay. I think he gives us something different. But the club are holding the better hand than Theo this time around and if he tries to play silly buggers with them, they’ll offload I suspect. Arsene has said he won’t go this summer, but if we get in to mid-August without a resolution, I suspect there might be one or two teams that try their luck with a cheeky bid or two.
The second of the injury-hit players was the Ox. It’s a shame because the same happened to him at the beginning of last season on the first game against Villa, but he’s found himself in and out of the team because of his injuries. He made 23 appearances this season, which isn’t a bad return, but given his potential to nail that wide-right position because of his trickery and guile, he’d possibly have been hoping for more. He’s now had two seasons in a row in which he’s found himself injured for prolonged periods of time and I just hope that next season isn’t one in which he starts to be recognised as an injury-prone player like Jack. With a full season free of injury under his belt, I’d love to see just how good he could be.
The forward line is full of options. I haven’t even mentioned the talented Serge Gnabry, who will surely ant to get some game time next season – if not at Arsenal then on loan – and if I’m honest it is the one area of the field that I don’t think can be strengthened much, not unless we’re spunking close to £50million on one player and I’m not sure Arsene will do that this summer. But I’m ok with that. I think there are other areas of the pitch that need addressing in terms of building the squad depth, so if we go into this new season in August with Theo nailed down for another three to four years, I’d se that as a decent enough bit of business for the summer.
What do you think?