Nov 12, 2013, 10:15 AM EDT
They’re top of the league and a squad that most agree will challenge for the Premier League title, and – dare I say it – the Champions League crown.
A large reason for those possibilities – Olivier Giroud.
The French striker, who so many cast aside last year as being slow and unimpactful, has been a revelation this season scoring 8 goals and handing out five assists.
He’s lead the offense as the only striker, doing wonders holding the ball up to allow the attack to build, while also dropping deep to join in on oil-slick interchange that is the Arsenal midfield.
He’s shown us skill (recall his role as the centerpiece of the ‘Jack Wilshere goal’), pace on the counter-attack, strength, creativity and an eye for goal, especially on first-time shots off the run.
But now, Giroud is beginning to show what Laurent Koscielny describes as “a bit of fatigue.” Playing in all 19 of Arsenal’s matches this season – as well as two international contests for France – in 89 days will do that to a man.
And therein lies the most pressing issue for the Arsenal: Buying a new striker to provide Giroud with a bit of a rest so he doesn’t tucker himself out before the key late winter/early spring stretch.
If Arsenal are to charge forward and claim their first piece of silverware in eight years, a move for a striker in January is a must.
But don’t the Gunners already have players who could do the business up top?
The problem, however, is two-fold. First, when Walcott and Podolski do return to the squad it will be coming off an extended injury absence. So putting them into the bruising role up front – opposed to a less confrontational role on the wing – isn’t the brightest idea. Second, both are better equipped to join the attack from wide positions rather than operate alone in a central one.
Ideally, the Gunners need a player who, like Giroud, can handle the physicality of the striker role. By putting a big man up top, opposing defenses focus on putting bodies on him, which in turn releases pressure on Arsene Wenger‘s more diminutive midfielders. This is a key component to the Gunners attack.
Finding that kind of player, of course, is easier said than done. The market for big men with skills is limited and those who do qualify are in the midst of helping their current clubs in Europe, meaning they’re unlikely to move.
The most talked about player who could fill the role is Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who is believed to be more open to a move to the Emirates after snubbing Arsenal’s advances last summer. The success Mesut Ozil has enjoyed in North London has apparently swayed Benzema.
The issue is that Benzema has 18 months left on his contract meaning it’s unlikely Real Madrid would sell the striker in January. The more likely scenario would be for the Spanish giants to wait until the summer when they are expected to move for Liverpool star Luis Suarez.
Juventus striker Fernando Llorente is another player who could fit the bill. The Basque behemoth struggled upon moving to Juventus last summer but is now playing more regularly and scoring goals.
Other big man options include a Premier League move for Demba Ba or Christian Benteke.
Ba has been used sparingly by Jose Mourinho but may see more time now that Fernando Torres is injured. Selling the Sengalese striker to a fellow title-contender, however, is a mistake Mourinho looks unlikely to make.
Despite re-signing with Paul Lambert‘s side this summer, Benteke’s days at Villa Park inevitably feel numbered. Lambert will try hard to hold onto his prized asset, especially since Aston Villa’s up-and-down form this season means they aren’t entirely assured of staying in the top-flight.
On the other hand, the money Lambert could command for Benteke in January would arguably be higher than what he could ask for this summer, as the Belgian striker has the unique feature of not being cup-tied for the Champions League.
While going big seems the more likely scenario, Arsenal could foreseeably go small if Wenger deems that to be the best option.
There’s been a lot of talk that Javier Hernandez is looking to move away from Old Trafford but David Moyes, fearful of making a decision that could come back to haunt him, seems unlikely to sell within the league.
And then there’s today’s news of Marco Reus‘ $46.7 million (£29.4m) release clause. The Dortmund winger/striker/attacking midfield hybrid possesses the speed, skill and guile that seems tailor-made for Arsenal’s style but – is Wenger is ready to drop that kind of coin for the second time in six months?
Given the frugal nature of the Arsenal, most would say ‘no’.
But, if Arsenal do win the race for Reus (Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain are all rumored to be interested) what a massive statement of intent that would be from Wenger that this is the year his club returns to greatness.
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