Last season, Arsenal just about managed to secure automatic Champions League qualification by relying heavily on the goals of free-scoring Robin van Persie, not to mention Thierry Henry’s goalscoring return to the club, with the Frenchman’s last-gasp winner away to Sunderland providing one of the key victories of the season.
This time around, with van Persie having departed and Henry highly unlikely to return to North London for a third spell, Arsene Wenger has opted to utilise several different options in the central striker role, with Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and, most recently, Theo Walcott, all provided with opportunities to shine up front.
Podolski has not been particularly effective on the few occasions he has been utilised in that position, with most of the Germany international’s best work coming from the left flank, whilst Gervinho, despite finding the net on several occasions earlier in the season, remains hugely frustrating, and, in any case, is currently heading to represent Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations. Marouane Chamakh, another central option, has been largely isolated this season and is reportedly poised to join West Ham on loan.
All of the above highlights the need for the club to purchase at least one, possibly two, centre-forwards in this transfer window, but it also provides the opportunity to assess whether any of the club’s young strikers could soon have an impact on the first-team picture, if not in the remainder of this season, then certainly next campaign.
The stand-out name amongst that crop is undoubtedly Chuba Akpom, with the England youth international, who can also operate adequately on either flank, having enjoyed a meteoric rise so far this campaign. Still technically a first-year scholar, Akpom impressed when provided with an opportunity for the U21s in the pre-season friendly against Boreham Wood, and has gone from strength to strength since, featuring heavily in both the U21 league and the NextGen Series and earning high praise from Arsene Wenger, with the Frenchman suggesting that the 17 year old could be incorporated into the first-team set-up as early as next season.
Akpom, who earned his first senior call-up for the Champions League fixture away to Olympiacos, possesses a unique skill-set and impressive physicality for a player this age, even if his shots-to-goal ratio does need some improvement.
Another promising striker is Zak Ansah, who also made the squad for Olympiacos. Also very adept technically, Ansah has only recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, but, when fit, possesses a certain calmness in front of goal, with a loan spell likely to be in the offing in the near future.
Benik Afobe, despite currently struggling for game time on loan at Bolton Wanderers, remains on the books, but the feeling persists that the summer of 2013 could be a pivotal one as far as the youngster’s Arsenal future is concerned. Despite being lauded for several years as a promising talent, Afobe is, owing largely to loan spells and injuries, yet to make his competitive debut for the Arsenal first-team, with a decision on his future likely to rest largely on his performances with Bolton in the second half of the campaign.
Beyond that trio, Nigel Neita, another forward, recently scored his first goal for nearly two years, which suggests he is not of the goalscoring calibre to make a long-term breakthrough, whilst Austin Lipman has worked hard up front for the U18s and signed his first professional contract earlier this season. Philip Roberts, who was signed in 2010 from Norwich City, has caught the eye on loan at Inverness this season, but, like with Neita, it is difficult to envisage a long-term breakthrough for him at Emirates Stadium.
In all, Arsenal certainly have some promising strikers on their books- with Afobe, Akpom and Ansah chief amongst them, but, as things stand, none of that trio appears ready to make an immediate impact in senior football, which backs up the claim that the central striking position, particularly if no resolution can be found with regards to Walcott’s contact, is one which the club should look to strengthen immediately.10,895 views