Mar 192007
 

When Arsenal go on the rampage, firing goals in from all angles, the media marvel at the attacking flair and destructive power of the team, describing them as unstoppable.

On the flip side, when the side are passing endlessly, missing the few chances that arise, they are described as toothless and lacking a cutting edge.

In both cases, the credit or blame is laid firmly at the feet of the strikers. So, with the focus on Arsenal’s front line, is it all rosy at the Emirates, or not as potent as Wenger, the great entertainer, would want?

In each case, there is an expected, or target goal return. This is for each of the next couple of seasons, assuming no serious injury.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal’s record goalscorer, the Premiership top scorer in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006, a man who lays on almost as many assists as he scores goals, is being doubted.

In a season blighted by injuries, in which he has never run on to the field fully fit, he has still scored ten goals in sixteen league appearances. Convert that into a full season and you have a 25 goal season. Not bad for an injured player.

I find some of the criticism of Henry ridiculous. I agree that his career won’t be spectacular into his mid 30s as his pace is such an asset, but his skill, eye for a pass and finishing ability will remain. Not 30 until August, Henry is still a key man. Ignore those too fickle to realise it.

Target goals per season – 20 goals

Robin Van Persie

Will probably finish as top scorer this season despite, like Henry, it being blighted by injuries. Had a wonderful spell of form in late 2006, and in September scored one of the goals of the season against Charlton. Capable of scoring from distance, he is a match-winner, and is still only 23.

Needs to form a partnership with another striker at the club, but will score hatfuls of goals in years to come.

Target – 15-20 goals (remember he has double figures in a half-season)

Emmanuel Adebayor

A different option, he has height, power, no little pace, and has won the fans over with sheer hard work. I, along with many others, wasn’t convinced last season, and while I don’t believe he is a 20 goal a season man, he chips in with important goals, scores a different type of goal and gets into different positions than his colleagues, and with his excellent support and hold up play, the midfield should get more opportunity to score with him on the field. Recently turned 22.

Target – 12 goals

Julio Baptista

On loan, and unconvincing. He seems too clumsy, despite his Brazilian nationality, and all those clips you see on Youtube of his spectacular goals (bicycle kicks being a speciality).

Part of this is a lack of confidence, it is no surprise he is playing without it given his form, but maybe he will be one of those enigmatic players who fails to settle in the Premiership, before going back to Spain and running riot.

Target – N/A, probably going back to Spain

Jeremie Aliadiere

One with so much promise when he arrived, he looked like a young Thierry Henry. His finishing in the League Cup was excellent, but injuries took years off his career. He still only has one Premiership goal to his name, and there is one fact amongst all that makes the outlook gloomy. For all people saying ‘he has potential’, at 24 he is older than all strikers Arsenal own except Henry. He is older the Van Persie, Adebayor and all. His future is limited at the Emirates, surely.

Target – N/A, should leave, and won’t play much if he doesn’t

Theo Walcott

One of the great hopes, his season is over due to shoulder surgery due for tomorrow. Having just celebrated his 18th birthday, he can reflect on a quite dramatic year. After a big money signing, a place in the World Cup squad, a panning because he shouldn’t have been there (how was that his fault?), goals against the Germans for the Under 21s, and then his first Arsenal goal against Chelsea in the Carling Cup final.

All this at only 17, and yet he is still criticised, which goes to show how little some people know about football. Most players wouldn’t be exposed at this tender age, especially at such a high level, but he will have learnt a great deal from it.

Target – 5 goals, mostly as substitutes. Will play on the wing

Arturo Lupoli

I had high hopes for the Italian, who arrived at Arsenal on the back of an incredibly prolific goalscoring record at Parma. Continued to score freely for the reserves, but never really got a chance, and despite being offered a new contract, is chasing first team football back to Italy. Can’t really blame him for that.

Target – N/A

Nicklas Bendtner

Bendtner, 19, is an interesting one. A huge amount has been made of the Dane this season, and even Wenger has said he expects him to play first team football next season. I’m puzzled by this. The first question is over his ability – he has it, no doubt about it, but since his explosive start to the season has been quite hit and miss for Birmingham, where he is spending a year on loan. With the step up to the Premiership being considerable, it is a big ask to expect him to have an impact.

Then there is his attitude. The media may be misquoting, but he seems extremely ambitious, and suggestions have been made that he is already looking to bigger and better things.

The fans may need winning over, I know I do, and it is quite the ask. Many seem to think he is the answer though. I’ll take some convincing.

Target – will he play? 5 goals.

Carlos Vela

The dark horse. Recently turned 18, he will return to Arsenal in the summer from Salamanca, where he has been on loan all season to get his work permit (after a previous year at Celta Vigo).

There is immense excitement about this kid in his home country of Mexico. He has been compared to Hugo Sanchez, been given the accolade of the country’s ‘great hope’, yet strangely, when Wenger talks about his strikers, even those returning for next season, he never gets a mention. Perhaps he has forgotten about it, perhaps he isn’t mentioning him until he arrives, who knows?

Hopefully we’ll see him in the Carling Cup, at least, next season.

Target – impress in the Carling Cup

Summary

Let’s assume Henry and Van Persie are the main two strikers. That’s 35-40 goals in a season, assuming they stay fully fit, and that backed up by double figures for Adebayor. None of those targets should be beyond the players, and that alone would boost the potency of this side.

The young players are a mixed bag. Aliadiere looks like he’d only score three goals if he started every game in the season, Walcott’s raw, Bendtner’s going to have to live up to his own opinion of himself, and Vela never gets a mention. These players need to chip in from time to time at the highest level, otherwise the top strikers are under immense pressure. Of course, the midfield needs to score too, but I’ll address that another time.

To me, there’s room for one more. Not an out and out striker, because we have plenty of them, but a link up man, bringing the midfield forward and supporting the striker. Van Persie can do it, but I like to see him in and around the area, Walcott can cut in from the wing, and I’ve heard that Vela plays in the hole, but it’s far too early for him. I can see a spot for a player playing ahead of the midfield but off Henry, playing passes through, and lashing them in from distance.

Put like that, Baptista’s signing makes a lot of sense. On that basis, on potential alone, will he stay?

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