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SCOUT REPORT: IS DARWIN NÚÑEZ THE ANSWER TO ARSENAL’S STRIKER WOES?

It is no  secret that Arsenal are screaming out for a goal scoring striker. While Alexandre Lacazette has been a loyal servant to the club and works hard, his lack of goals and his contract situation make it essential for the Gunners to bring in someone this summer.

Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta has been very clear on his needs for this position:

“To be with the top teams in this season you need to score 90 to 100 goals at least,” said Arteta. “Somehow you need those goals in the team, don’t ask me how, but you need them.

Arteta has also been quite clear that in the striker and midfield the players they bring in while fitting the overall makeup of the team in terms of character, will likely need to be be ready made, exceptionally talented players.

In January, the Gunners were knocked back in their open pursuit of Fiorentina’s (now Juventus’) Dušan Vlahović. Its clear that Arsenal felt that the player was that type of transformational player they wanted. Sadly, he is plying his trade in Turin and not North London.

That means all eyes turn to this summer and moves Arsenal could make.

One name being linked with a move to Arsenal is Benefica’s Uruguayan striker, Darwin Núñez. At 22 years old, the young forward is rapidly making a name himself as a rising star.

He rose to prominence in 3-0 win against Barcelona in the Champions League earlier this season. He netted a brace and would eventually score the winner against Ajax to advance to the quarter-finals. Since then, his name has been linked to quite a few clubs in England including West Ham (whom he turned down in January), Manchester United, Newcastle and now Arsenal.

The big powerful forward while still young is a physical presence with speed and technical ability that sets him apart from his peer group. He is just adept at scoring magnificent goals as he is setting up partners. He still has some work to do in his overall hold up play but as a young player there is still time to work with him on that.

A big physical forward, he doesn’t shy from contact with opposing defenders. While La Liga centerbacks aren’t often known for their aggressive, physical play, when watched, Núñez isn’t afraid to use his size and strength to hold off defenders. However, it has resulted in 7 yellow cards being issued this season.

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 Darwin Núñez player profile and key stats over last two season (image courtesy of Instat)

Attacking/Offensive Profile

Núñez operates  primarily as a traditional center forward for Benfica but has experience operating either as second forward just behind a primary striker or as a left sided wide forward in a system like a 3-4-3.  But it is his ability to operate up top that makes this young striker such a hot commodity.

As evidenced by the heat map above, Núñez will primarily stay up high and use his excellent movement skills to run the channels from the left side of pitch. What immediately sticks out to you when watching Núñez play is his awareness of where the defenders are around him. The awareness of space is readily evident as he typically likes to pull off the back side of the defender and find space to run into.

With his movement, he also uses subtle changes of pace and direction to find space in the central channels and latch on to a pass for a shot. As seen in the image set below.

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 Nunez movement centrally, finds the space between two defenders, he uses a subtle movement back to the ball to get back onside and then makes a slight diagonal run onto the ball for his shot and goal. (Images courtesy Instat)

What really sticks out to you about this young forward is his ability to score goals. So far in the 21/22 season he has 28 goals through 40 matches in all competitions. He currently has a non-penalty goal per 90 of .69 which places in the 96th percentile of forwards.

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 Shot and goal location for Darwin Núñez (courtesy Instat)

While most of his goals come from within the 18, he is fearless outside the box as well scoring some wonder goals that leave you scratching your head. He’s right foot dominant and his shot reminds me a little of Lukas Podolski in terms of sheer power.

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 All of Núñez’s best attributes come into play in this one moment – movement out wide, isolating defender in 1v1, close ball control to create separation and getting on to his preferred foot. The end result, shot and goal. (Images courtesy InStat)

The flow of play leading to the goal identified above is typical of what we found in Núñez overall play. What’s not seen in the clips is his opening position which is in the half space between the centerback and fullback. He drifts out wide and receives the ball dribbling to the end line. His movement does a couple of things – first it isolates him with the fullback in a 1v1 situation. This is important because for a big player, Núñez has exceptional ball control skills and is always willing to take on a defender. Second it opens space centrally for a possible cross if that option opens up. However in this instance, Núñez decides to create separation with a touch inside which brings him on his dominant foot to shoot cross goal for the far post.

This is a shot and movement Núñez likes a lot and he’s quite good at it.

As we mentioned previously this is a big, impressive young man. He works extremely hard on the ball and off it. He combines explosive pace with physicality and close ball control skills not typically seen in big forwards. In some way its reminiscent of what Harry Kane brings to Tottenham or how Edison Cavani played in his more healthier prime.

Its not all roses though for the young Uruguayan. Let’s not forget he’s still 22 and as a footballer has yet to come into his prime. There are still things he has to work on. With his big physical presence, he is able to distribute the ball however, there are times when his passing choices and overall technical quality let him down. Additionally, while he will cross the ball its not an effective trait, though as a center forward I am not sure how much he’d be called on to that for Arsenal.

Finally, he has to work on his overall awareness of being in an offside position. He understands the movement required to run the channels but there are times when you watch him that he’s not aware enough of the play around him to get back into an onsides position. No, he’s not always offsides but there was enough to be seen in some of the video we watched to identify it as an area he needs to work on.

Defensive Profile

By now everyone knows what Mikel Arteta expects from his players when they are defending. He expects everyone to be a 2-way player. Darwin Núñez will fit in nicely with that expectation. When watching video of him there are so many instances of him coming back deep to help win the ball, using his body to get between attacker and the ball in order to win it and start the transition. One of the things that stands out about this is that you don’t typically see him dive into these types of tackles. He typically uses his speed to recover and gets his body in great position to act as leverage.

With his speed he is also effective in closing down space in the press. However, consistently in the press, his body shape when approaching the man is usually too square to the attacker that means there are times when he can be beat with a feint or passed around. With his aggressiveness and pace, just a slight fixing of that body shape could make him a very valuable part of our initial press.

Comparatively Speaking

We’ve alread mentioned that we see similarities to Harry Kane and Edinson Cavani. You wouldn’t also go wrong if you compared him to Salzburg’s Noah Okafor, Atletico’s Joao Felix or Dortmund’s Donyell Malen.

Its looking at him compared to the man he’d likely replace, Alexandre Lacazette that most people are interested in. Obviously on sheer output – namely goals – Núñez wins out hands down.

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 Average Per Game stats comparing Núñez to Lacazette and Osimhen of Napoli

In terms of attacking out put, Núñez is clearly has an advantage over Lacazette and in some areas edges out Osimhen of Napoli (another player Arsenal are linked to.) He still has deficits in the areas we outlined in our overall scouting report. Simply stated the addition of Núñez would likely be a significant upgrade on output from the striker position over any player Arsenal has now.

In Summary

The fees being linked to the young player are astronomical, with one source saying it could be upwards of around 135 million Euros. While we’re not sure that’s a true number its indicative of the type of talent Darwin Núñez . He is a big, physical imposing presence that can score. And he’s 22, which means he still hasn’t peaked.

Its clear that this is a player who will feature in one of the big 5 leagues next season. The question will be whether or not Arsenal are an attractive enough proposition for the player. The Gunners have shown a willingness to throw out the funds if they believe a player is transformational (see Dušan Vlahović.)

He not only checks off on all the attributes related to the culture of the team but he has the transformational nature about him to be a significant piece of Arsenal’s return to competitive football.

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