By Tony Attwood
This afternoon, what with there only being tennis on Radio 5, I turned onto the so-called TalkSport, while I was clearing up breakfast. (It’s a bit like that in my house, but let’s not get sidetracked into domestic issues).
I haven’t listened to the Talking Sprout since, well, since we had wall to wall tennis on the radio and TV a year ago. And it doesn’t seem to have improved. In fact the reverse.
As I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it with the detritus of a morning’s museli, blueberries, coffee and croissants, (held over a discussion of either the philosophy of Wittgenstein or which day the refuse team collect the brown bin – I can’t quite recall which), discussion on the radio turned to Arsenal’s forward line.
According to the experts (I use the word in its loosest sense) Arsenal had no centre forwards of merit. They have Giroud, who was very much second rate, and Sanogo who was not worthy of the name.
That was the big weakness and if Arsenal go into the next season with just those two as centre forwards then doom and destruction not to mention mid-table mediocrity follows. Wenger is a complete loony if he doesn’t get it. After all TalkSprout are here sprouting this stuff every day. WHY ISN’T HE LISTENING?
Now I did not phone these rather turgid dolmens to point out the error of their conceptions, as I have done that before and they let me on, chuckle and then talk about something else. But had I phoned the essence of my argument would have been thus…
First, Giroud. Last season he scored 14 league goals in 27 games. Not as good as Thierry Henry in his third season, but better than Theirry’s first, and second seasons. And Thierry had the benefit of not having a serious injury in his third season.
In my view a player who scores more than one goal every two games is not to be sniffed at. But apparently that ratio is not enough for the almighty intellects of the Sprout.
But what was worse to the point of mindless gibberish and total nonsense, was the fact that only Giroud and Sanogo were included. I would also consider a certain Theo Walcott. Lacking experience at centre forward he nonetheless scored a hat trick against WBA, indeed a hat trick of stunning proportions, and scored a goal in the FA Cup Final. In fact despite playing so little , in all competitions he got 7 in 21.
Now not that many men score goals in cup finals – especially the all important first goal. (Incidentally Giroud got one as well, and is was not the simple tap in some have dismissed it as).
But apparently Theo is not to be considered a centre forward. Not at all. Never.
So what of Alexis. Yes we have used him as a winger, but he scored 16 in 35 league games for Arsenal in his first season, most of them on the wing. We can’t really consider Theo in these comparative stats as he was out for so long, but let’s take Giroud and Alexis. Giroud whose season was disrupted by injury, and Alexis who was played on the wing. And not forgetting that it was Alexis’ first season.
14 goals in 27 plus 16 in 35 – those are the two figures of Giroud and Alexis.
Now compare that with Henry and Pires – the last pair of players we had who could change places and score goals at will. In his third season Pires got 7 in 23. Add that to Henry’s 24 in 33. That gives us something to compare with Giroud’s third season and Alexis’ first. Pires and Henry got 31 goals with 56 games in total. Alexis and Giroud got 30 in 61.
Now you can say that Henry and Pires were a better combination 31 in 56 beats 30 in 61. But it is close, and this combination of a winger and a centre forward who can work together is rare, and can bring enormous riches.
Added to which the Cup Final was noticeable for the combination of Theo and Alexis, endlessly alternating between winger and centre forward. It is not the same tactic as Henry and Pires, but there are similarities.
But there is then more, because we haven’t mentioned Danny Welbeck. Another player whose season was disrupted by injury. And we should not forget he is only 24. Danny didn’t deliver league goals last season, but he showed enormous talent and ability, and let us not forget the FA Cup goal against Man U, and the hat trick in the Champions League.
So, is it Giroud and Sanogo, or is it Giroud, Alexis, Walcott and Welbeck, plus Sanogo in a year or two?
Put another way was the ignorance of the Sprout genuine or a deliberate wind up? Actually I wouldn’t mind if it were a wind up, but I fear that it was genuine. The people in the studio honestly didn’t realise the tactical deliverance Wenger is offering… a variation on the Henry/Pires approach with much more substantial back up.
Plus, they haven’t actually noticed how the game is changing. The game is increasingly about the interplay of players rather than about star turns. The game is about finding a way to beat the parked bus that will be Sam Allerdyce’s lasting gift to the Premier League. The variation of Walcott/Alexis, Alexis/Giroud, Giroud/Walcott with Danny Wellbeck developing all the time is sadly way beyond the comprehension of the presenters on TalkSprout.
For the likes of such stone monuments, if it can’t be said in three words it is not worthy of comment.
But then I suspect it was ever thus.
On the Arsenal History Site: How each pre-season measured up under Wenger