Theo Walcott was quoted in the Sunday Express yesterday, talking about his expectations for the coming season. The premise for the ‘story’ was his request that supporters give him time and do not expect ‘miracles’ or him to be a direct replacement for Thierry Henry. I have yet to see anyone say that but it is a fair point to raise; Walcott is about four years off being a regular twenty goals a season man, in my opinion anyway. He noted that his own targets for the coming season are,
I want to get 10 goals next season and I would like to make 20 or 25 starts
Which is a fair personal goal to set yourself. But it raises an interesting question to my mind, namely if Arsene decides not replace TH14 directly, are there enough goals in the squad to sustain a challenge for the title. Your initial reaction may be same as mine, ‘not bleeding likely’ but is Arsene so wrong if he opts not to sign a striker. In terms of numbers, there are four at the Club and that ought to be enough. The problem is that two of them are untested as forwards at the highest level and with Adebayor at the African Cup of Nations in the Winter, that will put an awful lot of pressure onto the shoulders of Bendtner and Walcott to score in his absence.
In this day and age of rotating squads, signing another forward ought not to be a problem but Arsene is not going to spend £10m plus to have that person sitting on the bench every other week; the expectation is that this player will fill one of the forward berths in the starting line up so who would make way? It is a tough decision but having performed well, it is harsh to say Adebayor should make way but equally, RvP was on fire before his injury so surely he has earned the right to replicate that form? Both of them are capable of scoring fifteen to twenty goals in a Premiership season so lets ‘play safe’ and say their combined total comes to thirty five. If you assume that to challenge for the title, you need to score 70 goals or more, that means the rest of the squad has to chip with a conservative estimate exceeding thirty five goals. Walcott could conceivably hit five to ten of those if he were to be utilised in twenty or more games, Bendtner perhaps five from the bench; say, twenty five to go.
With Gilberto seemingly likely to retain the penalty taking rights, there is no reason why ten goals in not an unrealistic total for him. The manner of Arsenal’s attacking play invites rash tackles in the area on a reasonably regular basis so six or seven penalties converted is feasible. Which means that the remainder of the players have fifteen or more goals to contribute, three a season for everyone ought to take the tally beyond seventy quite comfortably. So why is it that we – the supporters – are ‘hell bent’ on getting Arsene to sign a ‘star’ striker. Is it in fact that which we want or is it just the ‘star’ bit we are genuinely after.
However, last season proved that this tally cannot be taken for granted; too many of the players underperformed in front of goal to have confidence that seventy is a tally that can be reached comfortably. Yet Manchester United proved that your centre-forward does not need to be the prime source of goals. When van Nistelrooy left, their title chances were written off, where were the goals coming from? An unlikely source to get twenty over the season was Ronaldo but he delivered. Can RvP do the same for us this season? If he is to do this, he will need decent service. The fundamental difference between Arsenal’s ‘attacking’ players and their United counterparts is the ability to convert chances; United play more directly in the final third, their midfielders more willing to shoot than to create, if the opportunity arises.
For Arsenal to launch a title challenge without replacing Henry, more selfishness in front of goal is required. See the whites of the keepers eyes, shoot; don’t put in another pass because you lack confidence. That is an easy thing to say but it is a necessity. Can they do it though? Drogba seems to think not; Lampard more circumspect. If Arsene wants motivational ‘tools’, cut Drogba’s quote out and stick it on the walls of the dressing room as Graham did with, I think, a Souness quote in 1989. Worked wonders if my memory serves correctly.
I guess the question is, am I convinced by my own argument. Not entirely, primarily because of the goals record in the last four months of 2006 – 07 but perhaps the future is not as bleak as we are trying to talk ourselves into believing it is.