Arsenal Writers’ Roundtable: the forward situation, Martinelli’s future, and how to replace Pepe
Each week, a few of the writers at You Are My Arsenal will answer questions regarding recent matches, transfers, squad developments, and other goings-on at Arsenal Football Club. This week, Justin Fisher (@jtfisher34 on Twitter), Cruciateblog (@CruciateBlog), Pabst the Physio (@GamingPabst), and Dope Gooner (@dopegooner) have tackled a handful of Arsenal-related questions below.
What will our forward setup look like next year? Do we sell the likes of Auba, Laca, and Eddie in January and hope Martinelli’s form continues? Or do we spend big on a Vlahovic or Calvert-Lewin?
Cruciateblog: I think Arsenal’s forward line has been unbalanced since the Summer of 2017, when in my opinion, because of the failure to finish in the top four for the first time in 20 years, there was a concerted effort to recruit without a plan. All too often there has not been a set plan as to how the attack works. Alexandre Lacazette was followed by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the winter window and 18 months later, Arsenal had invested almost £200 million pounds in individuals that were not compatible and seldom played well together. I think we muddle through with the current options, Lacazette and Nketiah go in the summer…Auba probably (temporarily) goes next month. I think in the summer, two things can be required and there does not need to be a sense of either or here. Aubameyang needs upgrading, the number 9 position at Arsenal requires upgrading. I’m unfamiliar with options in the market, but an attacker in the mold of Diego Costa in his Atletico heyday would be a dream…who is that? Rumours are we are looking at Ivan Toney at Brentford, Dominic Calvert Lewin and foreign media keeps using the Arsenal name for Dusan Vlahovic. Any of these would fit the bill. I would go for whoever the analysts at Arsenal feel fits perfectly. That’s the best thing about the summer, because all the signings were well researched and well scouted, there is a feeling of hope and trust in whichever direction that the backroom team decides to take the attack into.
Dope Gooner: I’ll start with the outgoings since there’s more certainty there. I would be shocked if we sell any of our strikers in January. Lacazette and Nketiah can and probably will leave on frees in the summer, and while Aubameyang is the most likely to go next month, his age and wages would make him quite difficult to move on. However, for all intents and purposes, none of those three are likely to be part of our forward setup next year, leaving us with Balogun and Martinelli as our remaining options. Balogun, to me, needs a couple loans before he’s ready for top-level Premier League action. And as much as I love and rate Martinelli, it would be irresponsible to rely on him as our most senior striker. Arsenal will probably go out into the market and buy a striker. How much or how old that striker is depends on where they think our in-house options are by the summer, but my guess is we go for a big name. Vlahovic or Calvert-Lewin might be on our shortlist, but I’m hoping for someone like Jonathan David.
Pabst the Physio: I’d expect Arsenal to be needing some outgoings before they can get their ingoings done. Especially if they look to get DCL over the line.
We all expect Laca to be gone by next season, possibly Auba as well. I don’t think we’ll see more than some outgoing loans during the winter though.
Justin Fisher: I’m not sure anyone will leave in January because I can’t be convinced there is a market for Aubameyang given his wages. I think there is a big chance of us extending one of Lacazette or Nketiah (I would prefer Nketiah given his age obviously) to deputize alongside an incoming striker with the other two of our current strikers leaving in the summer.
How happy have you been with Martinelli’s movement and instinctive finishing in those games? And do you think he has a future at striker or at left-wing?
PtP: Martinelli is buzzing at the moment and I think it’s important to let him steam ahead and gain some confidence right now. That being said, I still think he needs the smart movement of a seasoned forward to really shine through. Perhaps with time, if he can add the ability to hold up play and play with his back against goal, he could very likely claim the number 9 shirt.
He’s doing work as an inside forward right now, but I don’t think that will be his permanent role.
JF: Martinelli is a player who I think may have a higher ceiling than any of our current first team players- which is saying a lot given the stardom of ESR and Saka. I think the past few games have cemented my thoughts of Martinelli as a wide forward. Not only is he devastating around the box (his technical quality has been under-appreciated until now), but he has a defensive work rate that I think Arteta really appreciates. It will be fascinating to see the profile of striker that Arteta and Edu target in the transfer market. If it is a hold up player, similar to Lacazette, then to me that signals Martinelli will stay out wide. If they target a sprinter, then it certainly seems that Martinelli is well suited for a future through the middle.
DG: Like Saka did a couple years ago and Smith Rowe did last year, I think we are witnessing Martinelli’s breakout. His runs inside give opposing defenses a decision to make, especially when Lacazette drops back and pulls a defender up with him. His constant pressing in matches make him a massive pest to play out against, and it improves our offense overall by giving us better field position to start attacks from with that increased likelihood of snatching possession high up the pitch. And his finishing is so inherently good – when Martinelli gets 1-v-1 with a keeper, I never find myself worried that he’ll bottle it. I think striker is a position that he will learn to play, but with the way we like to overload on the left flank and use the center forward in buildup, I think the role of left inside forward suits Martinelli quite nicely for the foreseeable future.
CB: Martinelli just screams inside left forward to me. He is continuously making the right decisions time after time in all phases of the play. Mikel Arteta has spoken about his increased composure, and if you combine that with the energy he has always displayed when pressing, you have a terrific player. The Brazilan forward is probably best suited to facing towards goal at the moment and focusing on making dangerous runs. When he is in the box, you realise you want him there as much as possible and it seems well suited for him to continue as the left winger. One thing is for sure, however, this is an immensely talented footballer, who will develop the skills to play across the line.
If we replace Pepe should it be for somebody who is arguably better than our current wide forwards or promising so that our current three options don’t lose significant playing time?
PtP: Saka is basically undroppable, so whoever comes in for Pepe has to see themselves fight for game time. I wouldn’t be surprised if we go for a seasoned back up, that could come in and take some load off both of our wingers.
Alternatively, as we see rumours of Kulusevski take wind, it might be we’re looking to do the same with the wings as we’ve done with left back, and add a direct competition to each place.
JF: When I think of squad building, I love having competition for places especially in attack. Yes we have four players (Saka, ESR, Odegaard, Martinelli) who are competing for three places but I would love Arsenal to add a fifth player of the same quality for competition. This season without Europe there are less minutes to go around, but we do not expect that to be the case next season. When we finish in the top four this season and secure Champions League again (yes I am wish-casting) we will be better off having the ability to rotate to provide rest, but also keep an attack of players who are all in good form through the increased fixture list.
DG: My thinking is that you should always try to sign players with starting-caliber ceilings. For me, the perfect balance is what we did with Tavares. When we signed him, we all practically wrote him off as the backup, but after the run of games we saw from him I think there is a genuine conversation to be had regarding whether he can start at left-back for us in the not-too-distant future. If you specifically sign someone to be the backup, it’s more likely than you think that you just have a player you don’t feel comfortable using. We should go for someone with a similar profile to our current wide players – young with a high-ceiling, and good enough to come in and compete for a spot immediately. The worst case scenario is that we end up with a player better than Bukayo Saka is, which doesn’t sound all that bad to me.
CB: I don’t necessarily believe it is a quality issue. More so, an ability to continuously carry out the instructions of the coach consistently to a high level on the pitch. At the moment the players in the forward positions that are young are delivering according to the tactical blueprint. It is simply a case of procuring a player (promising or established) capable of doing that week in week out, that can give the other players needed rest, in what will likely be a return to playing in Europe next season. I would not rule out another Hale ender breaking through in the near future and changing the picture once again.`However, I must add, I wouldn’t say no if Serge Gnabry suddenly said he wanted to be back at Arsenal!
At the moment we are in a Champions League position, obviously not the same as being a Champions League club. Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait until the end of the season to purchase or sign on a free a better 9-type player than in the January window?
PtP: I’m wary of more free transfers or signings meant to “game the system”.
I feel like the last couple of seasons is evidence enough that we’re not gaining anything for signing veterans. Right now it looks very certain that we will push for DCL, which looks like the obvious addition. If not in January, then the serious push will come during summer.
Now I do have a hunch that we will try to look at bolstering midfield though.
JF: Based on how difficult the January market is, I doubt the striker that Edu and Arteta want will be available. However; if they are, I see the club making the move now. I would be interested in a 6-month loan deal for a player like Luka Jovic who has a similar career trajectory as Martin Odegaard. It is hard to tell, I am very curious given Lacazette and Nketiah both being in form now if the club think that is enough for now. I agree with the notion of a midfield addition as most likely though!
DG: I think being in a position to hold on to a Champions League spot is even more reason to make a move for a striker in January. Our current situation at the position isn’t great. Aubameyang is out of the team, perhaps permanently, and wasn’t contributing much when he was in the side. Lacazette is doing pretty well currently, but he isn’t a 90-minute player, sports a concerning lack of shots, and has been known to go missing from time to time. And then you have Nketiah, Martinelli, and Balogun who are rather unlikely to be reliable enough to get us into the top four. The striker who can be relied upon like that will definitely not be a free transfer (I wouldn’t be surprised if our next striker is also our next record signing). If the move can happen next month, Arteta and Edu will pull the trigger.
CB: We are probably going to finish somewhere in the top 6 this season, I do not believe we want to do business in that area of the pitch until the summer. Of course, the Auba situation complicates things and brings the possibility of a temporary transfer happening there. The verdict on both Lacazette and Nketiah is that they are here till the summer, so you would expect both to be given ample opportunity to prove they are worth extending or more realistically, prove to other sides that the potential Bosman transfer is value for money. As others have pointed out, midfield is very light, a big chance that is the main focus ahead of next month’s window.