Six strikers that could finally fire Arsenal to the title next season
Like Nicklas Bendtner’s crotch to an uptown Copenhagen taxi driver, Arsenal’s problems in attack this season have been clear to see. Arsene Wenger was widely expected to address the situation in the January transfer market, but the Gunners boss once again opted to play it cool, and continue with the hand he'd been dealt.
Olivier Giroud has been forced to soldier on despite obvious signs of fatigue – the Frenchman has started 31 league games, more than any other striker in the Premier League – and anyone who witnessed Yaya Sanogo lumber around Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic probably realises the lanky youngster isn’t quite ready yet. Arsenal need a new striker, and fast. But who? Here are some of the options that could be available to them this summer….
Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich)
“I always affectionately say that he plays like an animal,” enthused Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer as part of his hands-off spiel to any club sniffing around Croatian international Mario Mandzukic. "It is simply amazing how much work he does for the team and how much running he does during a game.” The problem is that this will – or should - read less like a warding off signal for Arsenal and more like a flash of lower thigh. Hard-running? Fierce, bordering animalistic commitment? This is exactly the kind of striker Arsenal need.
An absence of hard chasers in forward areas has long been a problem for the Gunners, representing one of many reasons why Arsenal regularly struggle against the top sides. Signing Mandzukic would help resolve this flaw almost immediately, and with 17 goals in 28 Bundesliga games this season, not to mention a goal in a Champions League final last season, he knows where the goal is too. Bayern can deny it all they like but the impending arrival of Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund only complicates Mandzukic’s position at the club, which could be to the Gunners’ advantage.
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan)
It hasn’t quite gone to plan for Super Mario in Milan. Balo’s return to Italy to join his boyhood team was greeted by almost unprecedented fanfare last January, with Gazzetta dello Sport’s famous Balo is Back! headline iconic enough to be reprinted and sold on T-shirts. This was more than just a transfer, it was a status signing – a sign that there was life in the old dog AC Milan – and, by association, Serie A, yet. Through Balotelli, Italian football was reclaiming some of its old razzmatazz having annexed off one of its crown jewels in north east Manchester for two and a half years.
It hasn’t worked out. For a variety of reasons Milan just aren’t ready to compete at the moment, and that could benefit Arsenal should they opt to pursue of one of the most naturally talented yet frustratingly inconsistent strikers in world football. His 13 goals and 4 assists in 25 Serie A appearances this season show he's still got it. Forget Balotelli’s questionable temperament, Wenger has built a career on turning base metals into gold. Balotelli would bring the unbridled self-confidence and charisma that Arsenal often lack and could therefore be the perfect signing.
Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
He couldn't, could he? Robin van Persie scored 132 goals in 278 appearances for Arsenal during an eight-year spell in which he left ‘an indelible mark on the club’ according to the Gunners’ own official website. Van Persie left to join Manchester United for £22.5million – a fee which rose to £24m after he won a career first league title in his maiden season at Old Trafford. Things haven’t quite gone so well since then, though. Injuries have hampered his second season in Manchester and Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and United’s subsequent (and significant) drop in performance has also impacted on Van Persie’s own form. And morale, if rumours are to be believed.
Eleven goals in 18 league appearances show that Van Persie still retains much of his old class when fit, and with United at times looking better without him, could a surprise return to the Emirates be in store for the 30-year-old? He wouldn’t be the first to rejoin his old club, just ask Mark Hughes, Ian Rush or Robbie Keane. Were Arsenal to make a cheeky and nostalgic bid, who knows what the little boy inside Van Persie might scream?
Josip Drmic (Nuremberg)
If there’s one thing Arsene Wenger values in his forwards above all else, it’s quick feet. Think of Arsenal greats of recent times and they’ve all had that nifty knack of being able to bamboozle a defender, either through a dazzling piece of footwork or by switching on the afterburners. Even some of Wenger’s flops had this in their favour – Gervinho possessing such speed in his size 11s that it often looked to be confusing his own brain. It’s no surprise therefore that Josip Drmic has been heavily linked with a move to the Emirates.
The Nuremberg striker ticks many of Wenger’s traditional transfer target boxes: he’s quick, high in potential, unknown enough to still be considered exotic and, importantly, cheap. The Switzerland international has a €3million Euro release clause should Nuremberg go down, and at present they’re nestled snugly in the relegation zone. 16 goals in his debut Bundesliga campaign ably demonstrate Drmic’s goal-getting ability and although he definitely does not have a wife in London looking for houses (he’s not even married), Arsenal are apparently very interested.
Javier Hernandez (Manchester United)
If Manchester United Option A is out of the question (see above), how about Option B? A proven goalscorer and penalty-box poacher extraordinaire, Javier Hernandez has looked less and less his normal chirpy self at Old Trafford in recent months and, displeased at being continuously disregarded by David Moyes, is thought to be eyeing a move in the summer. The Little Pea has only made one Premier League start in 2014, despite consistently looking sharp in his rare cameo appearances.
With every cryptically vague Instagram post and moody celebration (see the 4-1 win over Aston Villa) Hernandez looks increasingly like a striker seeking a new place to call home. A total of 59 goals in 148 appearances for United - 66 of them from the bench - show a striker with all the ability to improve Arsenal’s forward line, and his winning mentality – plus the fact he’s an all-round good egg – would make him a welcome addition to Wenger’s side.
Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid)
It seems strange to think that Real Madrid would be willing to let Alvaro Morata go, considering his standing as one of the pearls of their cantera. While Barcelona have regularly fielded first teams consisting almost entirely of players from their academy, Real’s galactico policy has meant few opportunities for their kids, leading them to look elsewhere to build their careers. It didn’t work out too badly for Roberto Soldado, Juan Mata or Alvaro Negredo. mind.
In Morata’s case, the rumours just won’t go away. After scoring at the weekend in Real Madrid’s 4-0 win over Almeria, the 21-year-old was once again forced to clarify his future amidst rumours he could be Arsenal-bound this summer, stating: “I am happy here and as long as they want me to stay I will.” His record this season shows a player with real goalscoring potential. Morata has seven goals in all competitons, with his six strikes in La Liga working out at a rate of a goal every 48 minutes on the field. Watching him play, there’s an obvious nervousness about Morata at the Bernabeu, as if he’s trying too hard to impress, too desperate to succeed at his boyhood club. A move to Arsenal would take away that anxiety and, possibly, allow Morata to thrive.