Arsenal’s Forwards Are Backwards; How to Solve Gunner’s Issues Up Top
Hindsight is 20/20, and reacquiring Aubameyang’s signature after his golden boot and his “leading by example” heroics to keep Arsenal afloat seemed, at the time, to be the right idea.
Though everyone knew he wasn’t getting any younger, there was always the notion that Arsenal – of course – was looking into ways to maintain the xG provided by the Gabon forward, while also giving him the chance to do the one thing he’s really good at.
It’s been a year since the contract extension, and 3 years since he joined the Gunners, and I, for one, still consider if we ever really used him for what he’s good at.
If you look at highlight reels of the prolific striker from his BVB days, there’s a very clear picture forming of how he enjoys playing. Running off the shoulder of defenders, staying just outside defenders eyesight and timing his runs, moving into space on the opposite flank. He’s a poacher, hunting goals from the shadows.
So slapping him up top and asking him to wrestle defenders and “do that goal thing with your feet alone” just doesn’t work.
Maybe that’s why Arsenal is looking at players like Vlahovic and Calvert-Lewin. Neither is as silky or consistent as Aubameyang has been, but they both have a lot more power and drive. Both are able to wrestle with defenders… and win.
On with it
But – if anyone followed my charades during last season, you’d know I always like to scour the leagues for alternatives that could give you some of the same – sometimes for less cost. And while DCL is the obvious choice – just as Tammy Abraham was the obvious choice in the summer, chances are he’s going to be another heavily expensive target from a club not willing to strengthen a direct rival.
As thus, I created a list of names (plus one outsider) that I felt could give Arsenal some of the qualities Arsenal needs, based on the types of shot creations we do. Mainly, Arsenal uses their wide areas much more than what you expect from a team with no clear target. Arsenal mainly float or whip in crosses toward the near post more than you expect from a team with no clear target. They also like to use the forward as an escape route when under too much pressure, more than what you expect from a team with no clear target.
What I’m saying is we play as a team in need of a Michail Antonio type, without anyone able to be a Michail Antonio type.
So what I wanted was to find targets, preferably from the Premier League, who excels when playing as the lone striker. They must be able to hold onto the ball and muscle defenders. They must be able to win aerial duels inside the box, and be prolific doing so. And they need to be in an age category where they have room to grow even better.
It would also be a bonus if they show to be adept at following multiple instructions, of course.
My list contains the following:
- Che Adams
- Marcus Rashford
- Patrick Schick
- … And wildcard, Martin Terrier
My inclusion of Martin Terrier was mainly because of his height and his ability to score. You could argue for going for Diallo or Amine Gouiri from Nice, though Gouiri is 21, and could potentially be an expensive option if he doesn’t hit the ground running.
To begin with, let’s see what stats these guys are up against. I’d be checking different statistics from last season that seem relevant for what Arsenal needs. This includes goals, shots on target, passes and pass completions, pressures per 90, and passes received percentage.
Aubameyang, last season, managed a 0.39 goals per 90 and 0.12 assist per 90, giving him a 0.5 goal contribution per 90 minutes.
Calvert-Lewin, by comparison, managed a goal per 90 of 0.5 flat. With no assists last season he hit the same goal contribution as Aubameyang.
Aubameyang manages about 2.16 shots per 90, in which 0.73 is on target – meaning about 33.9% of the shots taken per game hits the target. This means that about 0.42 of Aubameyang’s shots on target, per 90, goes in. The xG of Aubameyang’s shots accumulate to 0.41 xG or 0.35 non-penalty xG.
Calvert-Lewin hits around the same stats, having 2.54 shots per 90, in which 1.44 hits the target. With that amount of shots on target, he manages around 0.35 goals per 90 form his shots on target. The xG of Calvert-Lewins shots accumulate to 0.48 xG, since he hasn’t taken penalties.
Aubameyang attempts around 26 passes per 90, in which 20 are completed, giving him a 75% completion rate.
Calvert-Lewin attempts around 21 and only completes 15 per 90, leaving him with a 71.6% completion rate.
Aubemeyang pressed 13.3 times per 90, last season, in which 3.2 pressures resulted in a turnover of possession for Arsenal within 5 seconds of pressing.
In comparison, Calvert-Lewin pressed 10.9, in which 3.04 pressures resulted in a turnover of possession.
Aubameyang was the target of 48.3 passes per 90. Of those, he received 27.6. He miscontrolled the ball 1.24 times per 90 and was dispossessed 0.73 times per 90.
Calvert-Lewin was passed to 50.3 times per 90 and received 25.8. He miscontrolled the ball 3.54 times per 90 and was dispossessed 1.57 times per 90.
It’s important to remember that Everton doesn’t play the same type of football as Arsenal, and as thus, some stats might look very different. That being said, it’s very clear that Calvert-Lewin is a much more prolific striker, shooting more and hitting more on target. That being said, he doesn’t look to contribute much else. Doesn’t pass as often and hasn’t pressed as prolific either. He also looks like he has a habit of miscontrolling his touches or being dispossessed. This isn’t because he attempts more dribbles either, but seems to be a byproduct of his position.
If Arsenal could find someone able to hold the ball with more success or be more tempted to take on the defenders, we’d probably be in a better position.
So I could decide to go through every individual target and see who did better or worse, but instead I’d like to try to convey a rank from best to worse in each category.
|Goals per 90||Assist per 90||Contribution per 90|
So, my preliminary thought is that Rashford is going to swing this out the park. While his goal scoring isn’t amazingly good, his contribution to goals is sound. He’s able to play both centrally and as a wide forward, which would also give room for interchanging movements with both our wingers.
Granted him, and Terrier are both forwards who play on the wing who can play through the middle.
|Shots per 90||SoT per 90||% SoT||Goals of SoT||xG||np-xG|
I decided to rank the table based on non-penalty xG, as it felt like this had the most weight behind it based on Arsenal’s needs. Amazingly, Patrik Schick just seemed to blunder forward like a train here. No doubt he’s the most out-and-out lone striker of any of the players on the list, but I did expect Adams or Rashford to somewhat follow suit.
But while Adams biggest problem was he’s not that prolific of a shooter, both seem to hit the keeper, more than hitting the back of the net.
|Passes attempted per 90||Passes completed per 90||Pass completion|
Unsurprisingly, the two players who also operate as wingers, attempt and complete a lot more passes than the rest. What’s even more unsurprising is the vast majority of these passes are short, with the highest total distance being 488.9 yards.
That being said, again Rashford shows his talents, attempting almost 10 passes more per game than second place. He also progresses the ball far more, with over 30yards more progressive distance than Terrier.
|Pressures per 90||Successful pressures per 90|
One thing to keep in mind is that PPDA is a team responsibility, and different coaches want different levels of pressing, or presses at different sections of the pitch the most.
That being said, having a forward that is ready to keep the water boiling through 90 minutes can help the rest of the team with more predictable choices.
Terrier, who’s played both as a wide forward and as a striker, has an obvious lead, but I’d expect Rashford to be up there with him as well. Seeing him beneath Schick in pressures per 90, and sporting the lowest success rate does lend you the idea that his work rates would have to heavily improve, was he to join Arsenal.
Che Adams’ pressing numbers do stand out in this mix though.
|Target for passes per 90||Received passes per 90||Miscontrols per 90||Dispossessed per 90|
I debated myself on how to rank this, but I decided that the thing Arsenal needs is a forward who shows for the ball – and Rashford seems to always show for the ball. Receiving about 72% of the passes he’s targeted for, you get a sense that he knows where and how to position himself. He also has the lowest amount of miscontrols of any of the players on the list. That being said, he is dispossessed a lot, which could allude to his desire to take on defenders, or the fact he has played as a wide forward.
What interests me is that, again, Che Adams pops up in second place. He doesn’t receive as many of the passes he’s the target for, but his security on the ball looks okay. He’s much more secure on the ball than Calvert-Lewin, according to these stats, but obviously less prolific of a goal scorer.
I made a simple point system, trying to figure out who might fit our bill the best – out of the 4 I’ve chosen. This is, of course, a moot point, since none of these players are on our wish list, either for winter or summer, but it does raise a point about how other teams are doing on this front compared to us.
|Points||Value (via Transfermarkt)|
It comes as no surprise that Rashford runs away with the price. With his price tag, you’d expect him to do well. I’m sure Rashford would be a good signing for any team, and if Arsenal can find a way to drag him away from Manchester United, the same way Tammy Abraham was drawn away from Chelsea, I would, no doubt, pay what would be necessary.
That being said, finding out the availability of Che Adams this winter, wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea. He’s been playing well, and is in that age bracket, that he very easily could morph into a senior presence on the pitch.
Personally I’d still let my eyes accept that Schick is a very sound option as a goal scorer, but the fact that he doesn’t play in the premier league, there’s a question to be raised about the amount of time needed to acclimatize to the tempo.
In the end it doesn’t even matter which player might be pushed higher or lower on this imaginary list. None of us have a direct connection to the powers that scout players, and the information the people have is probably vastly superior to what we can find on our own.
But let this be a thought experiment to how you could data to find players that you wouldn’t expect fitting into the lineup.
… And let’s hope we can beat the Saints.