This is undoubtedly the question keeping Arsenal fans up at night. Most of us feel Wenger should have brought in another striker before the deadline and his interest in Higuain and Suarez and his move for Ba suggests he felt the same.
The only like for like replacements are Bentdner, Sanogo and Apkom if the Gunners are to play the same way in a Giroud absence through rest or injury. I rate Nico if he is back at his best but I am not sure how long that will take and I have not seen enough of the 2 youngsters but they are not likely to be thrown in for multiple games at this stage.
I have been considering this issue and what might happen if the worst case scenario occurred before the January window? Is it the disaster many are making it out to be or could we adapt our style of play to cope with the loss of Olivier? At present the team works because he is in it and I would not argue that point. His hold up play and the way he brings others into play are up there with the best. His work rate too cannot be underestimated as well as his presence defending set piece play. I do have a wry smile at the praise heaped upon him given the stick he got from our own supporters and the media last season. His second season was always going to show a vast improvement as I suggested in August. For me if we are to invest in January the striker needs to be a squad understudy to Giroud or a totally different style of player to give us alternative options. However that question is for December and today I want to consider the option/possibilities between now and 1st January.
We should have Podolski and Walcott available in October, or at worst early November, both of whom have played centrally for Arsenal in the present system last season. One could argue with varying degrees of success. No one would argue that Theo or Lukas do not know how to finish. In fact one could argue that both are more accomplished and cooler finishers than the Frenchman. In my research on twitter it seems that many have reservations about both when it comes to hold up play and in the case of Podolski some question his movement and particularly his work rate. I would echo those reservations but both are different players and my guess is that the team could easily adapt to playing a different style particularly is Podolski was given the central role. Why do I believe this? Because we have a more creative players and better players than we did last season and because better players can adapt to varying styles of play.
We have seen clear evidence of this in recent weeks. Deprived of all 4 first choice wide men/wingers we have adapted our style and our formation. In the case of the home match versus Napoli we did this with devastating effect. We played a much narrower game, using speed of passing and movement without necessarily using the flanks, barring fullback over lap. I would argue at times it has been a 4411 system with Ozil relieved of most of his defensive responsibility but that debate is for another day also.
The argument against Podolski playing as our sole striker and of course Walcott is that they do not hold the ball up and bring others into play as Giroud would do and that we could not cope without that style of centre forward. I think this is insulting to the quality of payers we have and their ability to cope with new ideas and new systems. If we had Podolski as our main striker with Ozil just off him instead of playing narrowly and feeding balls into the striker we would play wide and use the trickery of Carzorla and the pace of Walcott to get behind opposition full backs and cut the ball back into an oncoming striker. Podolski may not be superb with his back to goal but there are few better at arriving in the box facing the goal and timing runs into the right positions.
If I was good with whizzy graphics I would illustrate but I am sure you get the point. It is about using the players and tweaking the system to use Podolski and I have no doubt that have Ozil at CAM would make a huge difference. The 2 Germans have played together so many times for their country and have a superb understanding and knowledge of each other’s game.
I did some research because for all you doomsayers out there this has happened to Arsenal before when playing the same system that ‘required’ a strong target man striker to whom the ball would stick. Guess what the team adapted:
November 7th 2009 to 9th February 2010
Arsenal after a good start to the 2009/10 campaign are 2nd in the table on 25 points after 11 games are now without BOTH of their first choice target men in the club’s chosen 4231 system. Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bentdner are ruled out with long tern injuries and the club is 2 months away from being able to add players.
Andrey Arshavin the smallest player at the club played as the main striker for 14 games often interchanging with Eduardo, the second smallest who came in for the Russian on the left.
After a slow start that saw us lose to Sunderland away 1 Nil and to home to Chelsea the team adapted and went on a 10 match unbeaten run in the Premier League which included 7 wins and 3 draws, before succumbing to defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea. So over 14 games we lost 4, won 7 and drew 3, and 3 of the 4 defeats were to the only 2 sides that finished that period above us in the table. The squad adapted its style of play to the strengths of a fragile Dudu and a diminutive Russian playmaker at centre forward. The team without a strong focal point striker scored 24 league goals in that period with Eduardo and Arshavin scoring 2 and 3 respectively. It was the supporting cast most notably Fabregas at CAM who stepped up the plate with Cesc himself notching 5 goals.
At the end of this trying period for Wenger and Arsenal and when Bentdner returned we had only dropped one place in the table and sat 3rd after 25 games, albeit 9 points off top spot. With Bentdner back as the sole striker we went on a run in which Nico (yes NB52) scored 8 in 13 games and Arsenal by the end of March had closed the gap to 3 points and were bang in contention for the title. So, with 6 games to go we were third, sitting pretty with an easier run in than United or Chelsea. In many people eyes Arsenal were favourites for the title. So what happened that saw us fall from favourites in a 3 horse race to finishing 11 points off Chelsea by the 9th of May, an 8 point swing?
We had our strikers back. Bentdner played the majority and RVP started or came on in the last 5, and still we managed to lose to Blackburn, Wigan, Spurs and draw with Man City. Why if the strikers were so critical? Because sadly we had lost our creativity and our supply line. Cesc Fabregas missed the last 6 games through injury and we went 5 games with only 1 win taking points before a win on the final day against Fulham.
What is the moral of this sad story and why is it relevant to Arsenal in 2013/14 four seasons later? It is relevant because that season proved that for a long period Arsenal, with top quality creative players and intelligent players such as Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri and Arshavin a team can adapt to losing its focal point in attack. As I suggested in this blog in late July it is as much is not more about the supply line. In 2010 Arsenal adapted and to a degree thrived without a main striker but imploded when they had a main striker but lost their main supply line.
So to pull this together it is my believe that with Ozil, Ramsey and with Walcott and Cazorla returning Arsenal have so much creativity it is embarrassing. The supply line and the intelligence of that supply line particularly of Ozil and Santi would mean an easy adapting to a team shorn of Giroud. Whether Wenger chooses to rest the Frenchman when Podolski is fit in a few weeks or in the worst case he is injured I strongly feel we would seamlessly adapt to Podolski’s differing strengths. Add to this the obvious relationship that the 2 attacking Germans have from their time spent on international duty I am not as worried as many seem to be.
In short I do not believe that with the addition of Mesut Ozil and the return of the other wide players the team would need to have Podolski trying to play like Giroud. History proves we adapted to having Arshavin as the main focal point of the attack in 09/10. Of course AA23 did not play the role as Bentdner or van Persie would have done and the team adapted. More recent history has seen us adapt our style to accommodate central midfielders in wider roles whilst our wingers rehabilitate at Colney and at the gym using creatine to regain full fitness.
Does Podolski need to hold the ball up as well as Giroud, win headers like Giroud and play with his back to goal like the Frenchman if he plays centrally for Arsenal? No in short he does not, he needs to play to his strengths and the creative players and the system will adapt in the same was as we have in recent weeks without our 4 wide players. Other teams rotate strikers weekly and systems with them. Arsenal are beginning to show the same versatility in 2013/14. It is a strength that teams who challenge have and it is a strength that Arsenal had when we were winning. Kanu, Bergkamp and Wiltord are all very different players and all played with equal success alongside Thierry Henry.
Diversity and variance in style of play is a strength and not a weakness and we should all embrace it and not fear it regardless of what happens in January.
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