Sunday 22 July 2018

A striker is not the Holy Grail for Gunners

For Wenger, success is more about the team than any individual, says Jacob Steinberg

Arsene Wenger believes that his midfielders can provide the goals needed for a title push
Arsene Wenger believes that his midfielders can provide the goals needed for a title push

Jacob Steinberg

Arsene Wenger describes himself as a natural optimist. Arsenal's manager is the romantic who always believes in a better tomorrow and, when he was asked whether his squad is strong enough to win the title for the first time since 2004, his succinct answer was heavy with trademark conviction. "Yes, I believe that," Wenger said, his tone firm.

Thierry Henry is less sure. He believes that his old club still need to sign a top striker if they are to topple Chelsea. Henry is adamant that signing Real Madrid's Karim Benzema would swing the balance of power towards Arsenal.

Naturally, Wenger disagreed. "I respect Thierry Henry a lot for his football knowledge, but it is not as mathematical as that," he said.

Or is it? Every team which has won the Premier League since 2009 had a player who scored 20 goals or more. Chelsea's killers were Didier Drogba in 2010 and Diego Costa last season; Manchester City had Sergio Aguero in 2012 and Yaya Toure in 2014 while, for Manchester United, it was Dimitar Berbatov in 2011 and Robin van Persie in 2013.

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal's top scorer with 16 league goals last season, and Olivier Giroud, who missed three months with a broken foot, scored 14. Wenger, who did not comment about the links with Benzema, argued that Giroud would have scored more if he had been fit for the entire season.

Yet Giroud's finishing nightmare against Monaco in February furthered the argument that he is a commendable but unreliable striker at the highest level and, for all his classy link-up play, Arsenal looked more fluid when Theo Walcott was used in a central role when they beat Aston Villa 4-0 in the FA Cup final in May. Walcott, who scored the opening goal against Villa, started instead of Giroud in last Sunday's win over Chelsea in the Community Shield, and Wenger is likely to stick with him for the visit of West Ham this afternoon.

For Wenger, however, it is less about the individual and more about the collective. Giroud and Walcott will contribute in different ways, and Sanchez is superb, but Wenger wants more from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil. "We look like we can score goals when we go forward," he said.

"Even when we were dominated in the second half by Chelsea, every time we crossed halfway it looked like something can happen there.

"I think that we have to develop our collective game. I think we have to depend less on one guy who can come in and score all the goals, but develop the players and the collective aspect.

"I don't see why a guy like Chamberlain should not have an ambition to score 10 goals. Sanchez can score goals. I think Ozil has to fix himself a target of at least 10 for a guy who plays behind the striker. You want more from him in goalscoring. We can share that, more than when Thierry played. You knew before the game he would get you a goal."

The general consensus is that Arsenal must sign a striker. But who is there, aside from Benzema? The lack of top-class strikers in Europe means Wenger's thinking has changed.

"One of the basic reasons that we produce fewer centre-forwards is that we produce fewer centre-backs," he said. "Because before the teams practised in the park in winter - when you had to lift the ball to go behind. Today the pitches are all perfect. We develop only midfielders now.

"The education is about passing on the ground on perfect pitches. The conditions have changed. We have not adapted in our education. It is evolution. Look across Europe now, many centre-forwards are South American.

"Maybe we have to create specific schools for centre-forwards. In Europe, we produce plenty of good technical midfielders.

"When I arrived in England, in every single club there was a guy who, before the game, you'd say: 'Be careful, he's good in the air. Or else: 'Be careful, because he's aggressive'. Every club."

But, of course, Wenger thinks the European striker can thrive again. "You can coach everything," he said.


Arsenal v West Ham, Sky Sports 1, 1.30

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