by Tony Attwood
Last season Aaron Ramsey scored 16 goals in all competitions. Which is a fairly decent total – until you remember that he only played 35 games, when it suddenly becomes a very good total. It is almost one in two. In the league it was 10 goals in 23 – again approaching the magical 50% mark.
Last season Olivier Giroud scored 22 goals in all competitions. Not bad – although he did take 51 games to do it. In the league it was 16 goals in 36 games and he was our top scorer.
The year before that (2012/13) the top scorer was Theo Walcott with 21 goals in 43 games. (14 in 32 in the league – 44%). Giroud was second with 17 in 47 games.
Now the problem with having a goalscorer who dominates all goalscoring in the club is injuries – not just some accidental injury – the hamstring or something like that – but the Shawcross type injury where the player is taken out utterly and totally for months or years, possibly for life. Many clubs these days go for two goalscorers. Three is even better.
Looked at from this point of view, and considering just league games, last season we had Ramsey 10 in 23 (43%) and Giroud 16 in 36 (44%). Theo got five in 13 (38%).
The season before it was Walcott with 14 in 32 (44%) and Giroud with 17 in 47 (36%). Ramsey only got one goal that season in 37 league games.
Now, this is looking ok – not sensational, but not bad enough to start saying players are not up to it and should leave.
But let’s go a stage further. Last season was Ramsey’s first as a significant goal scorer. He changed positions and had his breakthrough season. He also missed quite a bit of it with injury.
Last season was also Giroud’s second – and many strikers do take a couple of years to get going in a new league. Last season Theo was putting in some superb performances before he got injured and we had to adjust yet again, to a significant player being out for a long time.
What we have got here is two players on the pitch who, injuries permitting, might well increase their goal scoring this season. Ramsey because this is only his second season as a player getting into those positions, and Giroud because he’s now served his apprenticeship in the Premier League and knows what it is all about.
And we have Theo coming back next month.
Now two goalscorers in the time is pretty much required, both as a cover for injury and as a way of giving defences more problems – they are having to watch two players who might well pop up with the unexpected movement in the penalty area.
But three goalscorers – that is getting rather interesting. And that is what we are heading for. Three players who can score a goal on average in every two or three games. That is not unknown, but it is quite rare.
Arsenal did not have this during the Unbeaten season – we had a total dominance of Henry and Pires. In fact for the moment I can’t quite think when it did last happen (although it is Sunday morning as I write this and I went to a music festival yesterday so I might not be thinking straight.)
For me this implies that this is not the time to replace Giroud in the team. What it is in fact is the time to play Alexis on the wing. Now Alexis, last season scored 19 goals in 39 games – 48%. Of course it was a different league, but anything approaching this in the Premier League is going to give us four players who could score once in every two or three games.
Just to reiterate this, and using league games only, as the measure that is consistent from one season to the next we have…
- Alexis 48%
- Theo 44%
- Giroud 44%
- Ramsey 43%
OK I have cheated a bit because I have used Theo’s figure not from last season but the season before, because last season was so truncated – but even if I took last season it was still 38%.
My view is that this is a revolutionary way of playing in the Premier League – a way that is designed to insure against injury and utterly bemuse defences. Who is the defence supposed to mark? Giroud, because he’s the big centre forward lurking in the area. Theo? How do you do that with his pace?
Ramsey? Well, he’s a midfielder, and you don’t normally mark box to box midfielders like you do centre forwards. Alexis? Who knows how you mark him. I haven’t seen him play enough yet.
It is a most interesting conundrum, and a complex one. For me part of the reason that journalists and their AAA allies have turned on Giroud is simplicity. The poor saps like very simple things – and the classic notion of a centre forward scoring all the goals give them that. “If you can’t see that Giroud is no good you are an idiot”. You know the stuff.
But Wenger has always been the experimenter and the developer, and here he is doing it once again.
Of course experiments take time to bed in, and that setting-up period is happening in these opening games. The fact that we have produced some scintillating football already, for example against Man C, shows the coming together stage is working well.
Playing with four goalscorers in the team not only gives us a chance of more goals (obviously) but also gives the opposition a greater marking problem. This is why I am not 100% convinced about the screaming and moaning about needing two new defenders.
Teams line up and use tactics not only to suit themselves but also to take account of the opposition. You may recall how visiting managers bemoaned the fact that it was so hard to mark Henry. But still they tried, which is why Pires scored so many goals – he found the space as Henry dragged the defence out of position.
Now we are slowly putting together something new – four goalscorers. A team that comes at us and says, “so what – their defence is useless – look at the Chelsea, Man C and Liverpool results” might well score several against us again this season. But if we can keep at least three of those four attacking players fit, there is every chance we will score more.
Given the choice I’d soonest see Arsenal win 6-1 or 7-0 as has happened in recent years. But given the choice between 5-3 and 1-0 victories I’d sooner have the 5-3.
There is one other point. I don’t go along with the statement “Arsenal had been waiting for a hero for nine long years before Ramsey fired the extra-time winner that decided the FA Cup final against Hull City” which is how the Telegraph described matters recently. We’ve had heros through that time, although ultimately (for example RVP and Fabregas) they have let us down.
But I do agree with their analysis when the paper says, “It is no coincidence that Arsenal, having been top of the Premier League following the Boxing Day victory over West Ham in which Ramsey suffered a thigh problem, had dropped to fourth – and out of the title race – by the time the 23-year-old had returned at the start of April.”
That injury to Ramsey was catastrophic for us – and we know that if he gets injured again this season, it will be problematic. But with three other goalscorers in the team, this season I am hoping that if it should happen again, it won’t be quite as catastrophic as before.
I think we should remember at this time, just how much the AAA hated Ramsey and cried out for him to be dropped, just 18 months ago. Indeed not just dropped but sold – or given away. The same AAA who now carry on about Giroud. Sometimes it is important to remember what has been said in the past when judging what is said in the present. All of us say silly things (well, maybe not all of us, but I know I do) but when those silly things are said over and over and over and over again, and are downright daft, it is worth remembering.