Olivier Giroud is likely out for three months with a hairline fracture. Yaya Sanogo has often been injured in his short spell at the club, but might just be healthy enough to participate in the midweek Champions League Qualifier. The entire world is on the fence about whether or not Alexis Sanchez can succeed playing through the middle in the Premier League.
This leaves Arsene Wenger in a huge bind. He has zero healthy, recognized center forwards in his squad right now, Olivier Giroud is probably out for a minimum of three months, and the transfer window closes in under a week. This is a better situation than if the transfer window had already closed, but there is some desperate shopping to be done.
Luckily for all of you, "desperate" is my middle name...
Arsenal need a center forward. As in a guy who plays at the top of the formation, and mostly in the middle of the pitch. Someone with enough strength to survive Premier League center backs, but they don’t have to be a hold-up player. Henry was not one of those guys, nor really was van Persie. For some reason, Wenger has gravitated toward guys like that in recent seasons, but Arsenal’s best years came when they played with a more fluid front line.
One thing is for sure though – we really aren’t looking for a wide forward. Both Joel Campbell and Alexis Sanchez fit that description already. It would be nice if the new recruit could play out wide when needed, but with Giroud definitely out for a while (which in Arsenal terms means 2 weeks to... *checks on how long Abou Diaby has been injured* infinity), Arsenal need a true CF and they need him now.
Um... it’s a bit bloody late, innit?
Here’s a list of the top NPG90 guys from the big 5 leagues and Eredivisie last season. Names highlighted in red are names that have already moved. Names in yellow are names that are not remotely possible. The blue highlights are guys who can’t play center forward.
So yeah, not very exciting, is it? And it doesn’t get that much better as you continue down the line. It’s damned tricky to find a starting forward, period, and it’s especially tricky to do it at this point in the season. Yet needs must...
Edinson Cavani has been the big name that has been rumored for most of the summer, but there are two huge problems with Big Ed. First, Ibrahimovic is injured and PSG aren’t selling without having strong cover in that position. Second, Cavani is now 27 and would cost £50M. He’s really good, but it’s hard to see this as a potential deal, especially this late in the window.
From here, I’ll break the targets into a few categories. The first category is for guys that are obvious and who won’t make you wince too much. The second will be some younger names who I think could be really good, but are still young enough that they would also represent a risk. The final category is for the old guys that would be just a stop gap until better players come along in future windows.
By far the most likely name on this list, the complications arise when you want to sign him to a deal, and actually hope he passes a medical. Already age 27, you certainly don’t want to sign him to anything more than a 3-year deal and even if you end up agreeing to personal terms, Liverpool were scared enough that they ran away and signed Mario Balotelli instead.
Think about it...
A lot of unknowns here, but it probably makes the most sense of any name in the picture.
Bony is a useful player, but there’s a huge question as to whether he’s any better than Giroud, or if we just think of him more fondly because he’s doing well for Swansea as opposed to being fairly average at Arsenal. Verdict: He’ll be too expensive to justify anyway.
So Hoffenheim have not one, but two forwards who are in the right age range, have not moved clubs already this summer, actually score goals, and are probably capable of playing center forward.
The first of these is Anthony Modeste, who would have been a good discount target last summer when he moved from Ligue 1 to Hoffenheim. After performing well in the Bundesliga, he’s a bit better known and would cost more, but his goalscoring rate is outstanding, and he would be more than just another warm body. That said, some of his scoring rate is likely fueled by Hoffenheim’s crazy tempo, but he plays well on the break, makes good runs, and has enough skill to do well in a good Premier League team.
The second Hoffenheim forward on this list had the second best scoring contribution in Germany last year. And no one has ever heard of him...
He’s SVEN SCHIPPLOCK!
Used mostly as a super sub, Schipplock was excellent at scoring goals and setting them up. Can he play center forward in the Premier League? WHO KNOOOOWS?!? We don’t have time for these discussions, people, we need to buy someone right now!
Verdict: Yeah, just no. Not that these wouldn’t make sense, but Wenger has likely never heard of them and therefore it won’t happen.
Juventus are loaded with forward talent now, and they can’t possibly use everyone they currently own, right? That’s why Berardi is going to be on loan to Sassuolo for another season, but doesn’t it make more sense to loan him to Arsenal for a year instead? Or, I dunno, sell him? Look, Juve, there's plenty of young talent to go around. No need to be greedy...
(Okay FINE, I’m getting desperate. The truth is that Arsenal should have found a way to sign Morata from Real Madrid earlier in the summer, but Juve got there instead.)
Not familiar with Berardi? He's good now, and he will probably continue to improve rapidly. Check this out – he will likely be a star and a big part of the Italian national side for a decade to come.
Verdict: No chance.
Back in January, I also had Aboubakar on this list, but he moved to Porto earlier this week. Former Real Madrid academy product Joselu might have been here too, but he signed for Hannover. This is what happens when you try to buy forwards at the last damned minute.
One of the guys in the Eredivisie who could be really special is Steven Berghuis at AZ Alkmaar. Unfortunately, despite doing just about everything well, he’s mostly a wide right forward, which isn’t what we are looking for. He’s almost totally under the radar though – so much so that he doesn’t have any YouTube scouting videos – just a couple of goal highlights from the last two seasons.
How long has this guy been rumored to make a move to the Premier League? 7 years? 8? He’s 31 right now. His scoring rate seems highly dependent on his conversion rate, which to me suggests he finishes the chances his teammates deliver, but little better.
I’m against this one, if only because his real name is Dirk, but I had to go to wikipedia to find that out. What type of guy could be named DIRK THE HUNTER and chooses something else?
Verdict: Schalke might even be willing to sell him. Maybe Wenger can make a double offer of Huntelaar and Draxler for £35M?
He was quietly very useful for Chelsea last season, and could be useful again for Arsenal, assuming he hasn’t finished signing his Everton papers. On the other hand, I loathe signing players this old to multi-year deals, which is what he’s rumored to be getting from EFC.
Verdict: An adequate stop gap, but Wenger will balk at the wages even without a two-year deal.
Most Likely Scenario
Wenger buys no one.
He prays that Sanogo stays healthy (who I actually rather like), justifies Podolski as a last resort (which to be perfectly honest, makes a lot more sense than using a 5’6”, 29-year-old Andrey Arshavin up front, and he's done that before too) and then waits yet another year in hopes that someone better comes available for a price that he wants to pay. Which might never actually happen, but whatever! Arsenal won the FA Cup last year, all is forgiven.
Post Script: Completely Utterly Left Field Option
Napoli get knocked out of the Champions League and Arsenal swoop, glide, or stumble ass-over-feet into DeLaurentis's office to make up for their Higuain mistake last summer and give him Champions League football this year.
It's not much more far-fetched than any of the other purchases listed above.