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Should Arsenal get a proverbial big man upfront?

Do Arsenal need to sign a big centre forward?

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AC Milan Serie A Victory Parade Photo by Claudio Villa/AC Milan via Getty Images

Arsenal need a striker. Every single Arsenal fan knows that, as currently the only contracted striker at the club is Folarin Balogun. While it looks like Eddie Nketiah is going to stay, Arsenal will need more. The club have been linked strongly with Gabriel Jesus, though The Athletic reported that Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League could add complications for that signing. Arsenal have also been linked with Gianluca Scamacca, who offers a different profile.

Gabriel Jesus, at 5’9, is not going to be a big centre forward. That he’s Arsenal’s first choice is probably because he fits the profile that Mikel Arteta wants: a mobile centre forward who can link play, drop deep and create, and press well. That Arteta worked with Jesus at Manchester City is only a bonus; the player and Arteta should know each other well. Jesus also makes sense in his capability to play wide. This is not a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang situation where a centre forward is being crowbarred into the team to play wide; Jesus can genuinely be a wide player, and his dribbling and carrying statistics compare well to Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, and Bukayo Saka:

Possession Table
Touches Dribbles Carries Receiving
Player Span Nation Pos Squad 90s Touches Def Pen Def 3rd Mid 3rd Att 3rd Att Pen Live Succ Att Succ% #Pl Megs Carries TotDist PrgDist Prog 1/3 CPA Mis Dis Targ Rec Rec% Prog
Gabriel Jesus 2021-22 br BRA FW Manchester City 20.9 49.4 0.77 4.16 17.7 30.3 7.99 48.6 1.91 2.92 65.6 2.15 0.19 39.7 190.6 97.4 7.03 1.10 1.63 2.73 2.20 52.8 38.1 72.2 7.70
Martinelli 2021-22 br BRA FW,MF Arsenal 20.7 44.0 1.26 5.02 14.1 28.3 6.67 41.8 1.50 2.90 51.7 1.59 0.24 31.4 218.0 124.2 7.00 1.74 1.84 2.61 1.93 41.8 29.9 71.5 6.71
Bukayo Saka 2021-22 eng ENG FW,MF Arsenal 33.1 50.5 0.94 5.95 18.3 29.8 6.92 47.8 1.48 3.02 49.0 1.54 0.21 36.6 211.8 141.8 7.92 1.99 1.84 2.42 1.90 50.8 36.6 72.1 7.04
Emile Smith Rowe 2021-22 eng ENG MF,FW Arsenal 21.3 48.7 0.99 7.04 22.6 23.5 3.24 46.9 1.50 2.35 64.0 1.55 0.00 35.1 198.1 124.7 6.10 2.54 0.89 1.74 1.74 43.6 35.9 82.4 4.60
Provided by FBref.com: View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 6/11/2022.

Yet, Jesus is not strong aerially. Nor is Eddie Nketiah. Both can be decent with their back to goal, and can hold the ball up if it’s on the ground, but neither are necessarily dominating centre forwards in the air to get to floated crosses. This is perhaps a stylistic issue: two of Arsenal’s full back options, Kieran Tierney and Cédric Soares, are favourable to the floated cross which better suits a big striker, whereas Jesus and Nketiah would both do better on whipped crosses behind a centre back. That, though, can be a solvable issue, in changing how Tierney and Cédric cross, or utilizing different full backs, such as Nuno Tavares, Takehiro Tomiyasu, or anyone who Arsenal might bring in.

Where Arsenal would perhaps better have a big centre forward is to create presence, both in the penalty box, but also on the halfway line. One of the failings of Alex Lacazette was his inability to compete aerially—not only against the best centre backs, but even at the end of games, like Aston Villa, when Arsenal spent the last 15 minutes trying to see out pressure, but with an inability to do anything but clear the ball long, and it wasn’t something that Eddie Nketiah could contribute much to either.

In that sense, a bigger number 9 would have the capability to allow Arsenal to play out from pressure. But Arteta might want Arsenal to become better at sticking to plan A, rather than utilize a plan B of going long.

A second component of this is expenditure. Undoubtedly, not making the Champions League will have affected the budget to an extent. It also affects how Arsenal will rotate and give out playing time, especially at the beginning of the season. With 5 substitutes now in the Premier League, there is lots of game time to go around, but the expectation should be that players like Bukayo Saka and other first choice starters don’t play much in the Europa League group stage, meaning less Premier League game time for squad players. The perfect solution would be for Arsenal to have an academy prospect who can fit this role, but with Arsenal having to address other areas of the squad, such as a central midfielder, a fullback, and perhaps a centre back, getting a taller striker may fall to the wayside. Yet, what Arsenal do with strikers this summer will be telling: is the plan to develop Arsenal’s style of play, or is it to add variety?