Arsenal FC are at the top of the English Premier League and top of their Champions League group as well. Olivier Giroud has played a large and unique role in this success, and that makes finding and signing the right striker in January critical if Arsenal wish to finish the season with silverware.

Arsenal

A combination of contribution to play and lack of cover makes Giroud Arsenal’s most important player, with Per Mertesacker coming a close second

While the signing of Mesut Ozil and the growth of Aaron Ramsey have captured most of the headlines, Oliver Giroud has played an integral role in Arsenalai??i??s success. This poses a problem. Arsenal have little to no back up for the Frenchman, depending on how you feel about Mesut Ozil as a false nine (a tactic that is not principally flawed, but should be used only against weak opposition, as a false nine system must be drilled for a while before it is usable against good teams), Lukas Podolski (a player who needs to operate with a lot of space and in a counter attacking side to be really effective), Theo Walcott (a player with pace and finishing only), Yaya Sanogo (at this point calling him ‘raw’ might be an understatement and he is possibly made of glass), and a player whose head has been turned by the existence of Real Madrid and Barcelona. This would be fine if Olivier Giroud played as lazily as Dmitar Berbatov, but that is not the case. Giroud consistently works hard regardless of whether Arsenal have the ball or not. For a player that works this hard for the club, it would be unreasonable to expect him to play 50-60 games without substantial fatigue or injury, especially given that he has never played more than 40 in any season. So regardless of what Arsene Wenger says publicly, Arsenal need another center forward. The question is: what kind of center forward do they need?

If One Is Good, Then Are Two Better?

Arsenal have often played five central midfielders, one being a holder, behind Oliver Giroud. While the fluidity in Arsenalai??i??s midfield makes their attack potent, these components need a reference point. Even in a false nine system, there is a reference point in the attack; the reference point just occupies a deeper position and the responsibility for this role may rotate among the midfielders. Olivier Giroud is Arsenalai??i??s reference point. His ability to win balls in the air gives Arsenal an aerial outlet. This is crucial for bypassing pressing fronts who want to close down the back line and keeper. It lets him play in his teammates by knocking the ball down or flicking the ball for his teammates to latch onto. His strength and size allow him to hold up possession, allowing his teammates to join in the attack or make runs in behind. With surprisingly good technique for a player of his size, he serves as a potent creator of goals, especially with his first touch. His intelligence and movement, along with his aerial ability and technique, make him a potent goalscoring threat as well. Pace and acceleration aside, he is close to being the complete center forward.

So does this mean that Arsenal should go after a player similar to Giroud? Given the critical role that Giroud plays in Arsenalai??i??s attack, an injury to him could prove devastating. Signing a player like Giroud helps to mitigate the damage caused by such a situation. It also allows for the signed player to have a smoother transition into Arsenal, as his role would not differ much from his role at his former club. In the case of injury or rotation, it also makes switching from Giroud to this new center forward easy for the rest of the team. The center forward changes, but the system does not, allowing the rest of the side to keep the roles they are comfortable with. This benefit should not be underestimated, as there is little to no time for Arsenal to adopt a new system. The time, games, and, more importantly, the potential points dropped, in trying to get multiple players to fit into new roles in a new system, probably represent too high marginal cost given Arsenalai??i??s legitimate opportunity to win the Premier League. If Arsenal were a team that expected to finish top 4 or mid-table, without much variance in the expected outcome, then the cost of implementing a new system and integrating a new piece mid-season is low. This is not the case for Arsenal. A net marginal cost (so including longer term gains in this season of having another way to exploit their opponentai??i??s weaknesses) of three points could cost them the title. So given the need to have a Giroud-type center forward in the current Arsenal system, the minimal on-pitch adjustment the signed player needs to make, and the minimal on-pitch adjustment the rest of the team needs to make, it seems a Giroud-type striker is the way to go.

Arsenal - What kind of striker do they need?

Ask fans of the French national team how effective a Giroud-Benzema partnership has been

However, should you play Giroud and a Giroud-type at the same time? At the end of a match where Arsenal need to get a goal and they have put their opponentai??i??s goal under siege with crosses, additional aerial ability certainly helps. But over the course of 90 minutes, this is not an ideal way for Arsenal to play. The lack of pace and acceleration of a Giroud-type striker makes it difficult for them to play off one another. Giroud could knock a ball down to his strike partner, but his partner does not have the dribbling ability to put pressure on the defense. Giroud could flick it on, but his partner is unlikely to get to the ball first and maintain or increase the separation between him and the other defenders. The same scenarios play out with the strike partner winning the aerial duel and Giroud playing off of him. The similar scenarios also play out when either of them is holding up possession. Also, playing two center forwards means Arsenal sacrifice fielding another midfielder or wide pacey outlet. Given that Arsenal will have Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini in a holding role (ignore the two holder formations) and will play with a back four, that leaves three spots for central midfielders Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Tomas Rosicky and wide players Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Serge Gnabry, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (who can also operate centrally). The opportunity cost imposed by playing two center forwards seems to outweigh the marginal benefits of a redundant strike partnership where both strikers have a substantial lack of pace. That conclusion comes even ignoring the marginal costs of a two striker formation. Unless Arsenal bought a player substantially better version of Olivier Giroud, it would be unwise to pay a significant transfer fee for a center forward of this ilk.

Bayern Munich

Mario Mandzukic is just what the doctor ordered if Arsenal want an Olivier Giroud-type center forward, except they would have to wait until the summer to sign him.

There are not many center forwards like Olivier Giroud. Players like Christian Benteke and Jackson Martinez represent a standard of athleticism more in line with former Arsenal strikers like Thierry Henry or Ian Wright. However, they do not have the technique to play the role Giroud does as a creator for Arsenal, and, for their prices, each represents an extreme overpay given their value to their current sides (leading to a high transfer fee) and what they could add to Arsenal, in the second half and going forward. Edin Dzeko and Karim Benzema represent superior goal scoringAi??potential compared to Giroud, but lack the consistency and playmaking ability of Giroud. The one ideal fit that comes to mind is Mario Mandzukic. However, Bayern Munich will likely wait until Robert Lewandowski moves to them on a free transfer. That makes him an ideal option in the summer, but an implausible signing in January. If Arsenal look to go after a big physical center forward who offers some, if not all, the skills of Giroud, then a loan seems the best option, as it fills a need without a large investment, while allowing them to go after the right big money purchase in the summer.

Pace: A Blast From the Past

The first half of Arsene Wengerai??i??s reign at Arsenal saw the pacey Ian Wright and then the all-around athlete Thierry Henry as his most advanced man in the Arsenal attack. This current Arsenal side lack front men who have that standard of pace and acceleration, let alone the all-around athleticism of Henry. This is especially problematic against sides who employ a high line against Arsenal. It allows them to push Olivier Giroud further away from goal and limits the space between the opponentai??i??s lines of defense. This was particularly problematic in the first match against Borussia Dortmund. Without that threat to get behind the high line, the costs of the strategy are low for the opponent. While Wenger could play Theo Walcott out wide to offer that threat of pace, it does come at the cost of a more creative central midfielder. If Arsenal could have that threat from their center forward, they could have the best of both, the ability to have the threat of pace and the ability to play five central midfielders.

While Theo Walcott offers a substantial threat of pace out wide, as a center forward he represents a homeless man's version of '98 Michael Owen.

While Theo Walcott offers a substantial threat of pace out wide, as a center forward he represents a homeless man’s version of ’98 Michael Owen.

Threat of pace from a center forward instead puts more pressure on the center backs and less on the full backs, compared to the threat of pace from a rather fixed wide position. Central defenders are often, if not always, slower than the full backs with whom they play. Therefore, it is less likely that a central defender can successfully recover after the center forward runs past him. Central runs also force the fullbacks to cover more ground in their recovery run, if the run is properly made. Maybe more importantly, is the common adjustment to the threat of pace from a central area. Unless the center backs have no knowledge of the center forward skills, they will often drop deeper to limit the amount of space between them and the goalkeeper. This may mitigate the effectiveness of the runs in behind, but it increases the space between the back line and the midfield. This gives Arsenalai??i??s central midfielders more space to operate (though one could keep pushing back lines to decrease the space between lines , and if one keeps doing that, it moves entire team further away from goal). When the threat of pace comes from a wide area, the opponent may respond by having their full back play a more reserved role. This could turn into a benefit for Arsenal against a side that is largely dependent on their full back to provide width. However, that adjustment from the opposition removes the need to shift the lines of defense, and if the opposition does not rely on that full back in attack, the decision to keep the full back deep does not impose a large cost. And if one has a David Alaba at full back, one does not need to adjust the system to mitigate the threat. So while it is not always superior to a wide threat of pace, a central threat of pace does offer a different, exclusive, and valuable set of benefits that Arsenalai??i??s creative midfielders would certainly relish.

While this change of pace center forward is an option Arsenal would undoubtedly like to have, unless they sign more than one center forward, it means they would likely forego signing a Giroud-type center forward (unless you found a Giroud with pace). That means an injury to Giroud or giving Giroud a rest requires Arsenal to play a different system to the one they have utilized for the whole season so far. As was said before, implementing a new system could represent a net cost to Arsenal large enough to prevent them from winning the title.Ai??Also, while a pacey striker could form a good partnership with Giroud, a two center forward system still calls for sacrificing the ability to play with fiveAi??central midfielders (Arsenal will not play a 3-5-2 with only midfielders in the five). This sacrifice may be worth it for Arsenal, but it would require that the quicker striker be willing and able to drop into midfield when Arsenal are out of possession. This would allow Giroud to stay high up the pitch as an aerial outlet, and it allows the quicker striker to make the run in behind from a deeper (and thus harder to mark) position. Keeping two center forwards high up the pitch, though it can put more pressure on the oppositionai??i??s back line, removes a defender in the midfield zone. This decreases oneai??i??s ability to cover space and men in the midfield zone, be it in the center or wide areas.

Arsenal

Luis Muriel would provide Arsenal a different option to Giroud, ability to play out wide, and world class potential

Instead, if Arsenal were to go down this avenue, it would behoove them to sign a player who can operate wide. This means that any signing should represent an upgrade over Theo Walcott as a wide outlet, if Arsenal are going to invest a large amount of resources in this signing. Signing a player who is an inferior option to Walcott out wide, brings in a player who offers less value in that secondary role, and who offers little added value as an alternate to Giroud compared to Walcott. So not only would the player need to have pace, but also strength/low center of gravity, dribbling, and/or passing ability to represent a substantial upgrade over Walcott. To satisfy these needs, Arsenal would likely have to go after a player like Luis Muriel of Udinese. Maybe, if Borussia Dortmund or Schalke fail to progress from of their Champions League group, Arsenal could make a Godfather-offer for the ideal fit in Marco Reus or the potential ideal fit in Julian Draxler. If Arsenal cannot get or are not looking for a player of this caliber, then a loan or a cheap stop-gap option to get them through the second half of the season is the appropriate choice, as it conserves resources to make a run at a top quality striker in the summer.

Conclusion

Arsenalai??i??s limited resources mean that the benefits and costs of different types, different levels of quality, and different prices of strikers play a large role in who they go after this January. Arsenal do not have the resources of Manchester City or even Chelsea. They cannot spend 30 million pounds and give a sizeable wage to a striker for six months of value, and then go buy a better long-term fit in the summer, let alone waste Fernando Torres sized money on a center forward. So unless Arsenal find a player who represents a long term fit, either as one who can operate wide and as a center forward at a high level or who represents an upgrade to Olivier Giroud, it would be unwise (and frankly unlikely) for Arsenal to spend a large amount on a center forward in January. A loanee or a cheap stop-gap option, who provides enough cover in the second half, represents the more likely outcome this January, with an eye on the summer market to acquire a longer term fit. And if that is the case, Arsenalai??i??s ineptitude through most of the previous summer transfer window could end up costing them the title.

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