Why Arsenal shouldn't give up on signing perfect fit Vucinic
Arriving at the training ground, he collected his belongings and said goodbye to the team-mates with whom he’d won consecutive Serie A titles. Leonardo Bonucci and Simone Pepe posted farewell messages on Twitter and Instagram as Mirko Vucinic left Juventus for a medical with his new club Inter Milan. Passing that check-up, the striker headed for Inter’s headquarters on Corso Vittorio Emanuele to formally sign with the club.
Yet he would never put pen to paper. Fan protests led to the Nerazzurri ducking out of a swap deal that would have seen midfielder Fredy Guarin move to Turin. The bitter rivals exchanged official statements blaming one another for the failed deal, while Juve director general Beppe Marotta held a press conference to explain his version of events.
"These two players have been mistreated by Inter,” he insisted, going on to add: “never in the history of football had a player emptied his locker only to have to come back!" In truth, it would always be impossible for the Montenegro captain to retake his place in the squad and it is not surprising he has trained alone ever since.
But now it seems a loan deal to Arsenal has been agreed, a solution which works out perfectly for both parties. Rather than lose him to a team they face this weekend, Juventus have moved the player away from Serie A, while the 30-year-old striker looks set to join a high-profile team challenging for domestic and European honours.
But what of Arsenal: could Vucinic help them end their long wait for a trophy?
Looking at the bare statistics, it would appear so. He scored more goals than any other striker in the hugely successful Antonio Conte era, netting 21 times in 71 league appearances for Italy’s grandest club. Fitting with his reputation as a man for the big occasion, ‘Big Game Mirko’ would raise his performance when faced with a worthy opponent. Whether it was netting an incredible goal against Milan in the 2011 Coppa Italia Semi-Final, a man-of-the-match display in the Turin Derby or a goal and two assists in a thrashing of Fiorentina, Vucinic would not disappoint whenever he and Juve were under the spotlight.
Where Zlatan Ibrahimovic is labelled a bully for his visible contempt towards the league’s lesser sides, Vucinic has no interest in padding out his stats against weaker opponents. Even so, in 24 starts last season – with a further seven appearances off the bench – he scored 10 goals and was credited with six assists. Another two goals in eight Champions League matches made him the one striker Conte could depend on in an ever-revolving cast.
Then, this summer, Marotta and Juventus finally ended their quest for a big name, bringing in not one but two top strikers. Soon – but unfortunately not in time to prevent their disappointing European exit – the form of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente saw Vucinic relegated to the bench. He has made just five starts this term, dropping further down the pecking order in an injury-hit campaign.
It was a very different situation to last year, when the emergence of Paul Pogba and lack of striking options saw Conte field the former Roma star alone in attack. There, with a plethora of midfield options behind him, Vucinic led the line remarkably well and helped the team secure their second consecutive league title. While he did so in a way entirely different than Olivier Giroud does for Arsenal, he could comfortably fill in for the Frenchman without Arsene Wenger needing to make major changes to his tactical approach.
The 6ft 4in Giroud – who wins 4.3 aerial challenges per game, according to Opta – is capable of playing as an out-and-out target man, yet is rarely asked to do so. Indeed, where Juventus average 62 long balls and 22 crosses per game, the Premier League side register 55 and 20 respectively. Living up to their reputation for a patient and considered approach, Arsenal mesh well with the attributes Vucinic possesses.
Indeed, if we compare the Montenegrin’s statistics last season with Giroud this term, the two men average remarkably similar numbers. In 2013/14, Vucinic took 2.9 shots per game while making 1.7 key passes, against Giroud’s 3.4 and 1.1 figures respectively. Analysing the number of times each man turns the ball over (1.9 to 2.2) or is fouled per game (1.4 apiece) also draws further parallels.
With Arsenal concerned about having only the injured Nicklas Bendtner in reserve, signing Vucinic would represent a significant upgrade, despite his reputation for being a poor substitute. That was reinforced by some excellent displays from Fabio Quagliarella off the bench, but a little research easily disproves the narrative.
Earlier this month, Vucinic netted a penalty against former club Roma, shortly after coming on for what would be his final appearance for the club. That goal marked the seventh time he has scored in a match he has not started, meaning he may well be able to fit alongside Giroud if Arsenal were chasing a game.
Perhaps Serie A is also where Arsenal will find a note of caution, however, and one which one of their own former players can highlight. Gervinho was openly mocked by the Emirates crowd, yet has gone to Roma and shone when playing in front of an adoring fan base.
The hyperbole and attention surrounding almost every Premier League game will undoubtedly draw the best from a man who, when faced with a tough challenge or a storied rival, is a brilliant goalscoring forward. Capable of terrorising the world's best defences, many of his displays for club and country are truly breathtaking.
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