Klaas-Jan Huntelaar recently gave Arsenal supporters a first-hand account of his lethal finishing ability in and around the penalty area. It wouldn’t have mattered too much had Arsenal been able to put together something of equal threat on the Schalke goal. But Huntelaar’s attitude and ability of take-your-chances-when-they-come, despite missing an earlier opportunity, prompted Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness to question once more why Arsenal didn’t have a player like Huntelaar in their team.
For Arsenal fans, it stretched a little further than that: why was a player of Huntelaar’s quality in the Bundesliga when a host of Premier League clubs, including Arsene Wenger’s team, would love to have him in their squad. Ruud Gullit gave a little insight into the whole situation. It would be wrong to remember Huntelaar’s time at Real Madrid as a total failure. He racked up a total of 20 appearances for the Spanish club, scoring eight goals, while he clearly couldn’t adapt to AC Milan’s game during his time in Italy.
But that has been his problem, as Gullit mentioned. The player doesn’t fill many managers with confidence, primarily because he is a goal poacher and nothing more. He hangs on the shoulder of the last defender waiting to be released, he hovers around the box expecting service to be provided from the flanks which he’ll no doubt convert. In contrast, he’s not a player who will hold up the ball and he certainly won’t drop deep to help in his team’s advance towards goal.
In many respects, Huntelaar is the traditional front man that the game is forgetting.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t want a player like him, although Arsenal fans and the team have been crying out for a player of his quality. Olivier Giroud’s run, or lack thereof, in the team since he’s arrived at the club should tell us everything we need to know about Wenger’s stance towards players of that mould. Giroud is a goal scorer as well, a player who will always be the most advanced and who can convert aerially just as well as he can with the game played on the deck. There’s also no doubt that he a better option than Gervinho for the lone striker role, not least because he is actually a striker.
But Wenger doesn’t go for the obvious when the team needs it. He dismissed any idea of an approach for David Villa in 2008 when the player was still at Valencia, getting right to the point that he was not interested in bringing the Spaniard to the Emirates. He’s failed to properly address the goalkeeping position since Jens Lehmann left the club in 2008 and remains committed to the idea that he can convert players into something they’re not.
It becomes increasingly clear that Giroud was not Wenger’s choice to be the starter at Arsenal, rather he was brought in to provide an alternative and back up. Marouane Chamakh is a similar story, although Giroud appears to have much more about him than the former Bordeaux striker.
Wenger pursued Kevin Mirallas for that reason and he now has been heavily linked with Atletico Madrid’s Adrian Lopez; the Spanish club’s signing of Deportivo’s Pizzi, also a forward, probably gives us an indication that one of the attackers at Atletico is on their way out.
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Mirallas and Adrian are smaller, much more mobile options for the striker role. That’s why Gervinho has been put in that position over Giroud. Players like that will take up bigger roles in the team rather than just acting as a someone to put the ball in the back of the net. As ridiculous as it sounds considering Arsenal need someone like that, Wenger just doesn’t go for the obvious.
Fernando Llorente may only be linked to Arsenal due to his contract situation—coincidently the same situation that Huntelaar is in with Schalke—but he’s another that is too close to Giroud’s style and frame and someone that Wenger doesn’t appear to fancy.
Yes, Marcelo Bielsa has allowed Llorente to take his game to the next level, giving him room to become a complete striker over the seemingly limited target man he once was. His goal scoring record for Athletic has also been very good over recent seasons, and again there’s no doubt that Arsenal could do with a player like him.
But both Huntelaar and Llorente are far too central in the minds of big clubs across Europe. They’re players who would command plenty of attention and bidding wars and it’s well known that Wenger doesn’t get involved in situations such as that.
It’s important to look at the recent striker purchases that Wenger has brought to the club. Eduardo, Emmanuel Adebayor, Nicklas Bendtner and Lukas Podolski. These were either players that needed moulding into good Premier League players or whom Wenger faced little competition for from other clubs. The signing of Eduardo seemed to materialise out of nothing without even a hint of the transfer from the English media. Podolski was bought during last season and didn’t have a host of teams chasing his signature, while even Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry were converted from wide players into strikers.
Arsenal have good players who know how to create chances and put the ball in the box. But this trait of having no one on the other end to put the ball in the net appears to be something that will continue beyond the availability of Huntelaar or Llorente. It just isn’t Wenger’s style to go out and do the obvious and bring the obvious fix to the club. For him, it’s possibly the lack of a challenge that comes from buying Huntelaar now or Nicolas Anelka in 2008 prior to his move to Chelsea.
But it’s disappointing, as Arsenal aren’t too far away from being a greater threat than with the addition of an obvious striker.