Quick post today prompted by 2 things in the past week. Firstly the constant speculation about a stellar cast of striking talent Arsene Wenger may or may not be linked to. Secondly the very depressing sight of a former world class footballing talent, Andrey Arshavin waddling onto the pitch against Chelsea, our only striking option on the bench, whilst Gervinho is away, although he is not a central striker for me.
If you are interested in my opinion on the additional striker it is that yes we do need an alternative to Olivier Giroud and I would like it to be a different style of player. For me that option is not Theo Walcott, unless we play 2 central strikers and of those we are linked to I would opt for David Villa. I first said we should put in a cheeky bid to Barca in April 2012 and I stand by that.
I do however not share the view of some that Olivier Giroud is not good enough. One of the trademarks of a top class and crucially of an instinctive striker is the ability to get across the front man at the near post. Surprisingly few however have it. It is in the timing of the run and the angle of the boot to divert the ball goal wards. Giroud as we saw for the 3rd against Spurs and twice this week has the knack and Theo Walcott certainly does not possess it. The fact that Giroud is increasing in confidence suggests to me we will see that the near post ball with a greater frequency in the coming weeks.
Another reason why I feel Villa is the preferred option in some ways is that whilst he is a proven world class talent he would be a short term alternative. My thinking was that with Joel Campbell and Benik Afobe on loan and both getting regular football one of both of them might be challenging for the first team squad next season. I follow Joel quite closely and will write on him in the near future but the sight of AA23 for the last 20 mins at Stamford Bridge turned my thoughts to Afobe. Why because he could be called back and surely would be preferable on the bench to the Russian, whilst Campbell without a work permit is not an option between now and May.
This being the case I decided to look beyond the numbers for young Benik, so often along with Aneke touted in Arsenal circles as the next big thing. His junior goal scoring exploits at the club bring to mind obvious comparisons to Kevin Campbell and Andy Cole. Similarly his record for England at Under 17 and Under 19 against one assumes the best of his age in Europe makes impressive reading. It is hard to argue with 7 goals in only 10 appearances for the U19s. It was this form combined with his impressive loan spell at Huddersfield in 2010/11 that prompted Wenger to withdraw him for England duty in the summer of 2011 and add him to the 1st team squad for pre season. Sadly injury hampered his progress thereafter but I was prompted to write this for Gunnersphere in December 2011.
However what he has done in the youth ranks and the goals in a England Under 19 team don’t necessarily mean anything when it comes to whether he can hack it coming of the bench in the EPL. Nor in reality do the stats and mini reports we get from Arsenal.com or Jeorge Bird interesting though they are. We know that for Bolton he has appeared 22 times, although most have been from the bench. He has started 7 times and has netted on 3 occasions. We should of course take notice of how the player himself feels he is progressing:
Benik Afobe feels he’s making progress on-loan at Bolton Wanderers:
The 19-year-old reckons he is making progress behind the scenes.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the manager and his staff since they came to the club,” he said.
“He has worked with a lot of young players like Nathanial Clyne and Wilfried Zaha and I am really keen to pick up as much as I can from him and learn, because everyone can see that he has really helped them in their careers and their progress.”
“We talk every day about how I can become a better player, about working hard and ways for me to improve and it’s not just the manager. His staff have been great in and around the players. They are always looking to help us.”
Well I was encouraged and like so many Gunners hoping Afobe cold join the growing British core but I do get accused of using too many stats and stats don’t always tell us the whole story. So I went the extra mile and conducted my research at the sharp end where it counts and spoke to the guys who can really tell us if we have the next big thing on our hands. Yes I spoke to my peers in the Bolton blogging ranks who watch him week i week out.
First up the views of Mark Yesilevskiy, editor and main writer for www.lionofviennasuite.com
Dave, I think that you’ll find with many Bolton fans that they’re just tired of Benik Afobe. It doesn’t seem like he cares at all and apart from one good performance when the Trotters were down a couple of goals to Peterborough United in a wet, muddy affair at London road.
Unfortunately for Benik, he rarely (if at all) tests the opposition goalkeeper when he’s up top. There’s no doubting his ability to run around a lot as that’s what he’s done more often than not but shooting and heading aren’t really in his repertoire, at least not for Bolton Wanderers. Because of his inability to really add anything to the forward line, Dougie Freedman has started employing Afobe on the right wing and he’s seemed to get a little more joy there but it’s not making the fans too happy.
If you ask a random selection of Bolton fans what they think of Benik Afobe, they’ll likely tell you that they don’t know why he’s on the field. The running theory is a contractual obligation that Owen Coyle made to Arsenal when asking for Afobe. I say that because Benik Afobe certainly hasn’t done anything to prove his worth on the field.
I know it sounds harsh but we’ve been forced to think like that when he makes an appearance (20 in the Championship so far) and he doesn’t score goals, let alone shoot. In those 20 games, Afobe has taken just 11 shots and scored twice. Not great, that.
My thanks to Mark. He took the time to write to me but the outcome not probably what we Gooners wish to hear.
Next I approached Geoff and www.meninwhite.com a superb blog, news and podcast site, armed with what I has learned from Mark. Geoff suggested I ask the questions and he would answer interview style:
Dave: He seems to be getting quite a lot of game time under Freedman mostly of the bench but I hear he is being played on the wing is this correct.
Geoff: Yeah he’s been getting a reasonable amount of pitch time, but as you say not many starts. He’s been tried as part of a 2 but also as a wide forward.
Dave: What is the current Bolton formation? For example is it a 2 striker system or one?
Geoff: More often than not now it’s a 4-2-3-1, with Kevin Davies at the top (there’s much division amongst our fans about him being practically guaranteed a start in that position).
Dave|: Bolton have Davies, Ngog, Sordell and Afobe. Is Benik 4th in the pecking order?
Geoff: We now have Craig Davies as well, who came on at Crystal Palace so it’s even more of a struggle for him. I’d say he’s now 3rd/4th in the pecking order, but its horses for courses. Although we do play 4-2-3-1 a lot that’s not to say we don’t switch it up to 4-4-2 occasionally if needs be, in which case 2 of those other than Davies might come on & he brings something different to N’Gog, so maybe joint 3rd.
Dave: So let’s cut the chase and ask what Gunners want to know. How has he been playing?
Geoff: Well, obviously the fact he’s 3rd/4th choice tells you something. I had really high hopes for him, I keep an eye on the Arsenal team & know he’s a big mate of Wilshere’s who I keep an eye on after his time with us, but we’ve just not seen anything much from him despite his chances. Raw talent & skill has been seen in the briefest glimpses but he’s not done enough in the way of scoring goals to compensate for a general feel that he’s only giving 80-90%.
Having said that, in the defensive farce that was our 5-4 at Peterborough in December I thought he was a right menace down the final 3rd on the right. He was brought in on after 50 minutes, winning us a pen as he squeezed his way through in the box to be brought down & scoring his own from a corner on about 85 minutes. He also scored against Wolves & as we lost at Crawley Town, the latter match a miserable sight (his performance included mostly).
Dave: He has been touted as the next big thing at Arsenal for years after his goal scoring exploits at youth level and Barca offered him a Pro contract. Have you seen signs that he could compete at the top of the Premier League in the near future?
Geoff: No, next question? Seriously, much of his not quite working for us I’ve put down to his being only 19 & (despite having been to Huddersfield) it being a culture shift from his Arsenal London surrounds. I think he might get there, but I think he’ll need at the very least a year more under his belt before he starts being part of your first team plans.
Dave: From what you have seen would he play best as a striker in a partnership in a 442 or would he be able to play on his own? Or would you see him where we mostly play Podolski or Walcott wide?
We’ve not really seen enough dynamic talent to suggest he’d be great on his own, or enough goals to suggest he’d be great in a partnership. Based on a few flashes like that at Peterborough I wonder if he might be best as a Podolski cutting in from wide. I think in summary I’d say that it still feels like early days for young Benik though, & when in time he finds his feet (as it were) perhaps he’ll find the goals of a centre man. We’ve not seen them yet.
So my thanks to Mark and Geoff for giving of their time to assist a blogger peer from another team. My guess is the good will from Super helped me and it may be buying Afobe a bit of patience but not too much.
I hope to get some glowing reports back to write a wonderfully positive blog and sadly that was not the case as you have seen. However one must assume that the Arsenal coaching team are also watching him at Bolton and will also be getting reports back. It does appear that the next big thing is not ready to be so yet and 2 keen observers at Bolton, with no axe to grind, doubt young Benik will make the grade.
So we are back to the starting point of this blog. Now Chamakh has departed Arsenal are one or two injuries away from Arshavin being our reserve central striker. Benik Afobe could be recalled but it is apparent that at present that is not a viable option. While this saddens me it leaves us with only Podolski and Walcott as cover for Giroud in the current set up and I feel that moving both from the flanks weakens us and affects our balance. Some might add Gervinho but again fail to see him as a strong alternative centrally.The conclusion therefore is an inescapable one, which I know you have all long reached without reading this today – Arsene we need a new central striker to compete with Olivier!
Until next time thanks for reading.
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