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As Strikers Disappear

Given Wenger`s declaration after van Persie`s injury that he would be on the market for a striker in the January window the reference on the Arsenal website last week, to a chapter in Uefa`s technical report into last year`s Champions League competition entitled The Disappearing Striker, might seem ironic to some. However the reference related to the changing nature of forwards rather than transfer policy.

Sometime ago Wenger made an observation that the problem with having a player in the team only to score goals is that when he isn`t scoring the team are only playing with ten men. The news piece last week over on "Why Wenger won`t rely on strikers for goals" brought this to mind. Truth is Wenger has never relied entirely on strikers for goals.

That might seem bizarre given that for much of Wenger`s time at Arsenal Thierry Henry was setting scoring records but Henry was just the most complete example of Wenger`s philosophy. He knew that if Thierry wasn`t scoring he was assisting others to do so. It might all seem pretty obvious now but it hasn`t always been standard thinking. In a training video produced for Uefa Graham Taylor credits Wenger with changing thinking towards strikers in England.

"Arsene Wenger has changed the face of English football. When he came in 1996 pretty well everybody was playing 4-4-2 but we were playing a static game and Wenger has to be given great credit for getting the movement of players - the flexibility of teams" says Taylor "He produced a side that did play 4-4-2 but it was a very flexible 4-4-2. The front 4 were able to exchange with great movement"

This movement, Taylor claims enabled Pires, Henry, Ljungberg, Overmars and Bergkamp to play as strikers and midfielders at the same time with anyone of them likely to score. The static game that Taylor refers to was possibly illustrated in Blackburns title triumph in `95 when Shearer and Sutton scored 60+% of the sides goals whereas a combination of midfielders and wide players often have the majority of a team`s goals in this last decade or so. In recent seasons players like Lampard, Gerrard and Ronaldo have featured prominently in the scoring charts as have other players, such as Wayne Rooney, who don`t fit comfortably into the out and out striker mould. The Uefa report ackowledges this adaptability of players in last year`s competition with Andy Roxburgh the report`s author observing "Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as strikers, or Samuel Eto`o and Wayne Rooney as wingers, or even Carles Puyol as an overlapping fullback"

The technical report considers that the adoption of a quick passing game in which teams look to use possession in order to dictate the pattern of play has the consequence that "the classic centre forward has become almost extinct." Instead the forward is a more rounded player becoming a midfielder when needed as midfielders become strikers. Only 3 teams in last season`s CL last 16 deployed a 4-4-2 system but as Fabio Capello observed "It is usually one striker, no matter how they line up."

Wenger`s attitude to goal scorers is a little different from the conventional fan`s approach of signing a proven `20 or 30 goals a season man`. In Wenger`s philosophy a goal is simply the final pass at the end of a passing movement and can come from almost anyone. In the last decade the PL title has been won most often by the side that has the greatest number of players scoring 5 goals or more. Some feel that this passing style is over elaborate and isn`t a match for physically stronger sides but Samuel Eto`o thinks it is precisely the style of play that gave Barcelona superiority over such teams claiming last season "Our greatest weapon against powerful teams is our ability to pass the ball."

It is perhaps this that influences Wenger`s quest for a forward to fit into the Arsenal style. It isn`t as simple as scrolling down the individual scoring charts and picking those at the top. Wenger didn`t sign Henry because his goal scoring feats in France and Italy were irresistible nor even Adebayor because his record at Marseilles or Metz was an impressive one. Players like Huntelaar, Defoe or Owen have their qualities but the need is to sign a player that doesn`t require the other players to alter their style of play dramatically. Some might see just that option as the mythical Plan B but if it`s the only play available dictated by the needs of one player then Plan B is less flexible than Plan A. It`s this fine balance and a shift in the way the modern game is played that makes the search for a striker to fit into the side immediately less straightforward than many supporters would wish it to be.

The Uefa technical report can be downloaded from

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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday January 29 2010

Time: 10:22AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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That's awesome Mr Wenger. Now about that new striker we need to bring in...
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29/01/2010 10:36:00

He aint gonna sign one, the only way a striker would get into our team is if he's been trained the 'Arsenal way' for the last season or 2.
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29/01/2010 10:48:00

I have to say that i quite liked the look of Bendtner at Villa park. I am not sure that bringing in any striker would do us much good. To find a good striker who has not played in the Champions league, have a club willing to sell, wont cost a silly amont of money, preferbly played in the premiership and would settle in quickly is a hard task. Of the top of my head i can think of Saha, Zamora, McCarthy & Heskey and with the exception of Saha who is injury prone i would be dissapointed if any of those were signed.
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29/01/2010 11:33:00

Very interesting piece Amos. And I believe you are correct, none of the Wenger forward signings have been prolific goal scorers, even if they go on to become so.
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29/01/2010 12:28:00

Insightful article Amos. Agree with Paul about Saha. He is the only striker in the premier league - who is technically available being 6 months away from finishing his contract, who would slot in well with our playing style, who is not champions league tied, would'nt 'kill' Walcott and Vela because he is a senior pro and is a proven goal scorer in the PL. Dont think Moyes will sell though.
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29/01/2010 12:43:00

Brother Amos, that was either the most sensible and educative article I've ever read outside of Playboy, or I just smoked the funniest ciggie ever!
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29/01/2010 12:59:00

Still it's not bad to have a belter of a striker, a rough houser to bully the opposition to smithereens in the face of an unshakeable double bank of fours and no attacking intent whatsoever. Just saying. :)
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29/01/2010 12:59:00

Excellent article, I think the folly of placing all of your eggs in one basket- both in terms of the 30 goal striker and in terms of spending big on a couple of star names- is neatly emphasised by Liverpool. They spunked all of their transfer budget on Torres and placed all of their goalscoring trust in him. Meaning when he's injured or off form, they're *****ed. Arsene has had the money to spend on one £30m player if he'd wanted to over the last few years, but knows it's better to invest in three £10m players than one £30m player. Sharing responsibility throughout the team- both in terms of wages, fees and "footballistically", is the best way.
Little Dutch
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29/01/2010 13:07:00

Suker was a prolific scorer before he came!
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29/01/2010 13:11:00

Great article, Amos. Really, really interesting. I shall post a link on other sites - this deserves to be read as widely as possible. And btw, Little Dutch, can I say how much I loved your tribute to Henry a few weeks ago? It brought tears to my eyes! At his peak, Henry was more than a striker - he was the apotheosis of a Wenger player. He is the reason why I follow Arsenal and got interested in football at all. Now I must prepare for my lady-duel with julieloveshenryforever about who loves King Henry more!
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29/01/2010 18:46:00

Good article Amos - @herobeard, of course.....we have big ol' Nicky Bendtner to become our powerhouse. Absoloutely chuffed he's back, really thought he was going to push on this year before his injury. Hope he makes his return proper by banging a goal in against united :-)
Report Abuse
30/01/2010 00:41:00

Ohhh!!! A 'Lady-Duel' ...grab a beer and take a seat lads!! :P
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30/01/2010 09:54:00

Add my name to the list of congratulators. Great piece, great insight. Understanding Wenger's philosophy and the context in which he has stuck to it, makes one more appreciative of his achievements and what he attempts to do with this current group of players.
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30/01/2010 11:05:00

Well said hughied. He really is a genius of a man and i don't think anyone has as much of their "own style" as Arsene Wenger. SAF relies on money to buy big names and just plays them, Wenger leaves his mark on every player he touches. Oh, and has anyone else noticed Theo's hand in that title picture? Didn't know him and Eboue were so close haha.
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31/01/2010 06:34:00


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