Tammy Abraham: Arsenal Transfer Target Scouting Report
It’s only a few days until Arsenal’s season opener away at Brentford on Friday night, and the Gunners are still looking to fill a number of qualitative and quantitative gaps in their squad. Multiple media outlets including Fabrizio Romano, London Metro and Sky Sports are now reporting on Arsenal’s interest in Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham – some even going so far as to say that personal terms have been agreed.
So, is Abraham the man to spearhead the Arsenal attack into a new era? Let’s take a look at Tammy Abraham the player, Tammy Abraham the person, and Tammy Abraham the deal.
Full name Kevin Oghenetega Tamaraebi Bakumo-Abraham, Abraham rose through the Chelsea academy, joining in 2004 aged 7, and was part of the Chelsea youth team which recorded consecutive triumphs in both the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup in 2015 and 2016. A remarkably successful loan spell at Bristol City followed, being named Bristol City’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer, becoming the first ever Bristol City player to earn all three awards in the same season. A less successful loan at Swansea the following year preceded another breakout season, this time at Aston Villa, with Tammy netting 26 goals in 42 appearances as the Villains regained their Premier League status.
Despite 34 appearances in the league under Frank Lampard in 2019/20 and being handed the number 9 shirt previously worn by the likes of Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao and Gonzalo Higuain at Stamford Bridge, Abraham has since lost his place in the lineup, not even making the bench for the FA Cup final. Thomas Tuchel’s tenure has seemingly changed Abraham’s fortunes, and with the imminent arrival of Romelu Lukaku, it could be argued that Abraham is as far down as Chelsea’s 3rd or 4th choice now for the central attacking zone, behind Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner. Abraham actually finished last season as Chelsea’s top scorer with 12 in all competitions, tied with Timo Werner, but now finds himself at somewhat of a crossroads in his career.
Abraham’s most unique characteristic is his height and gait. At 6ft 3ins (191cm), Tammy is the 2nd tallest forward in the league, only behind Jean-Philippe Mateta (192cm), Crystal Palace’s on loan Frenchman. However, this height does not necessarily translate into a prowess in the air. While team play style caveats have to be taken into account, Tammy scored exactly 0 headed goals in 22 appearances in the league last season. However, Tammy’s height does help him defensively, where he is reasonably effective, with the 23 year old making 1.35 clearances per 90, putting him in the top 6% across the top 5 leagues for players in his position, and profiling in the top 7% for shots blocked.
Abraham is surprisingly upright for such a tall player. Players of his stature in forward positions tend to stoop slightly or have slightly rounded shoulders in motion (think Erling Braut Haaland), but he is able to make full use of his body to great effect, often reaching round corners and retrieving the ball from tight spaces, as well as using his size to help him to get ahead of defenders on the run, or reach cut backs and balls flashed across the goalmouth. He also does well in aerial duels, as would be expected.
Going forward, Tammy’s most efficient and effective work happens in Zones 14 and 17, in and around the penalty area.
In those zones and slightly deeper, you would anticipate Tammy being a good hold up player, able to use his physical presence to dominate defenders and hold off tackles, while bringing others into play. While this is true to some degree, and Tammy plays some excellent one touch stuff, it’s probably worth not overstating how good he is at that based on reputation and what he looks like he should be good at. Once he has the ball with his back to goal or around the box, his goal creating actions, key passes and assists do not profile particularly well, he does not attempt many through balls, and his pass completion rate is fairly low – though some of this could improve with some coaching and better off-ball running. What he does have though, in bucket loads, is striking instinct.
Something that probably doesn’t get picked up on particularly in the stats is how often and ruthlessly Tammy pounces on situations from second balls, weak clearances and other poor defensive and goalkeeping work. He is acutely aware of potential opportunities, making him a nightmare to play against in the 18 and 6 yard box. A large proportion of his goals come from spilled shots from goalkeepers, and he has a seemingly innate ability to be there to clean up. Here’s an example against West Brom in the Premier League
And another against Bayern Munich.
He’s also very good at finishing off team moves, being in the right place at the right time with his predatory instinct for a side footer into the net. Tammy’s in-box movement is really superb – he is an out and out poacher. Look at these two examples of his good movement.
One for Aston Villa.
And another internationally, for England.
Tammy also has a powerful shot and great ball-striking technique, and can and has scored from outside the area on occasion. When he does drop deep he usually brings an opposition central defender with him, creating space, and he has a nice eye for an inventive pass, making use of the whole of his boot to release runners from deep with an impressive array of flicks, slices, roulettes and back heels that show his technical side. He wins a lot of penalties, and the disciplinary side of his game is exemplary, receiving 2 yellow cards and no reds in his entire 89 game Premier League career. He’s also a decent penalty taker.
However, Tammy has quite a few significant weaknesses.
As much as his height helps in some senses, it does mean he is quite slow over short distances where his longer strides can’t provide an advantage, and he struggles to get separation from defenders, and for a player who isn’t in that absolute top tier of finishers, you have to look to their creativity for a more well rounded game. His assist rate is pretty low – with 0.14 assists per 90, with his xA (expected assists) even lower at 0.06 per 90. Abraham can sometimes drift through games, and as Jimmy Floyd-Haisselbank identifies, his hold up play needs work, and although his movement in the box is superb, deeper on the pitch its rigidity can sometimes stunt attacks.
Ball carrying wise, Abraham offers very little. He is in the bottom 1% for dribbles completed in all of Europe, and ranks very low in terms of progressive carries and carries into the final third. Because he does not progress the ball to any significant degree, and with an average shot distance of 10 yards, you rely on team mates who have to progress the ball very high up to get Tammy into positions where he feels comfortable to take efforts, where he’s at his best.
In this graphic from Scott Willis on Twitter, you can see Abraham’s 19-20 season, where he played most at the level we would need him at, compared with the league average of players with 900+ minutes and 60% or more played at forward. Abraham does take a lot of shots and has a high non penalty expected goals ratio, but his pass efficiency, progression, and dribbles completed are below the league average, let alone other top 6 forwards.
Essentially – Tammy is great in the box and probably gets you goals if you can find him, but leaves a lot to be desired in build up. For ball-heavy/dominant teams, this is an issue.
Personality wise, however, he seems like a top professional. Seb Stafford-Bloor of Four Four Two often interviewed him in the mixed zone after England games at the 2017 England U21s European Championship, and had this to say about him:
“He had a decent if unspectacular tournament, but what endured was not how he played, but how he came across in person and how he was spoken of by his team-mates. Abraham was engaging throughout, regardless of whether he was playing well or not. Post-match mixed zones are usually quite sterile environments, full of banality and that painful shyness which comes with being young and under constant scrutiny. But he was a contrasting figure. Not because of what he said, but rather how he spoke: with an intelligence and optimism which left a lasting impression. He was impressive. He listened to questions and answered them thoughtfully and, unfortunately, that’s unusual enough to stick in the mind. Talking to him wasn’t a chore. Nathaniel Chalobah – who was captaining the side – was asked about Abraham… he described someone with a real affection for football. In fact, if memory serves, he said that he’d never met anyone who was so enthusiastic about the game or who loved it quite so much.”
High praise indeed. More recently, Lampard has described him as ‘infectious’ – a great influence who brings professionalism and positive energy. There is a confidence and leadership quality to Tammy too. Tammy fronted up and took the final penalty in Chelsea’s UEFA Super Cup loss in August 2019, unfortunately missing. Lampard said post-match: “I told him not to worry. The fact that he is confident enough to stand up and want to take a fifth penalty. I have been there, missed penalties. Anyone can. I want the confidence of a young player to stand up and want to do that. I said not to worry.”
Tammy’s goals are not to be sniffed at. Anyone who can score in the Premier League on a consistent basis should be taken seriously. He also has a lot of experience in elite competition, including the Champions League. But from an Arsenal perspective, there are many red flags in this deal.
The fee reported would be anywhere between £30-40m for a player who Chelsea ostensibly don’t need, and to be a big club, we have to start acting like one. Tammy’s game has far too many deficiencies for me for the ball-dominant side that I think we’re trying to be, and for a team hoping to improve their attacking fortunes, spending big money on a player whom you would have to support with ball progressers, creators and ball winners and build a team around seems a tall order for someone in Tammy Abraham’s bracket. There are potential positives – Arsenal could use someone who wins aerial duels and with the deliveries of Kieran Tierney and Calum Chambers, there could be a role there for Tammy. But for a team looking to redefine their attack for years to come… I think we can do better, and especially at that price point, I think we can be smarter. I think.
Perhaps a loan with an option might suit all parties (except maybe Chelsea) – if we’re interested, let’s try before we buy… for once.