Arsenal’s centre forward issue. Part 1: The mythical “25 goal” man ..by JS
There appears a significant majority of fans who have decided Giroud needs to be sold/replaced if there is to be any chance at all of Arsenal winning the Premier League in the forseeable future. It is a simple proposition – it is impossible to win the PL with OG as our starting centre forward. Many of the pundits and much of the media are on the bandwagon along with ex-players and indeed (depending how you interpret their words) some of the current squad as well. Furthermore he should be upgraded with, to use the common jargon on here – the “guaranteed 25 goal striker”, a player with pace and guile who “can make something out of nothing”. Whilst not everyone makes it clear what precisely they mean when they talk about a “25 goal striker” (all comps or just league?) this text only refers to the rarer beast, the 25 league goal man.
I wanted to look at a few issues. What we could expect from a top name centre forward if we replaced Giroud, and secondly (in Part 2 to follow) what the most successful teams in Europe can tell us about the role of the centre forward and how much reliance they place on their centre forwards.
I should say this article is not intended to be a Giroud apologist piece so the “lamp post” and “donkey” brigade can rest easy. I am not in denial about the relative weaknesses of Giroud and fully accept there are better centre forwards out there. What I am not sure about however is precisely how much better these others are, for some it is a matter of night and day and instant success to follow on immediately, but for my part I am not so sure.
First off, if we are genuinely looking for the “something out of nothing” centre forward then we need to discount penalty goals to ensure we are making a fair comparison. All the guys mentioned below except one are regular penalty takers. Presumably we are not looking to spend £35-50M on someone who can take penalties – we want someone to make that bit of difference in the big games and get more goals from open-play than OG is capable of. There are plenty of bizzare claims and expectations about what this star centre forward would bring to the Arsenal party. Even saw someone last night claim on here that Lukaku would get 30 league goals for us! So what do recent goal stats for these big stars tell us?
I looked at the average goal returns for 6 of the most commonly mentioned big name/massive reputation “true” centre forwards; Cavani (albeit not operating in that role at present), Benzema, Higuain, Falcao, Martinez and Ibrahimovic. These returns were based on the last 5 seasons (except Martinez where I could not find his Mexican league numbers and his average is based on only 3 seasons). I did not make any allowances for injury or lack of playing time – in the larger scheme of things not being available should properly disadvantage your figures – afterall we are not interested in an injury prone crock are we?
Only Benzema has no penalties in his goal returns for the last 5 years. The others have scored the following number of penalties in the last 5 seasons, in descending order: Ibrahomvic 30 (penalties), Cavani (20), Falcao (16), Higuain (8), Martinez (6). Only once in 5 years have any of these players exceeded 25 league goals from open play (Ibrahimovic with 26 in 2013). The next highest total was 22 achieved once each by EC, KB and GH. Perhaps the most revealing stat in terms of what we could reasonably expect is the average number of league goals per season from open play: Cavani 18, Benzema 16, Higuain 16, Martinez 20, Falcao 13 and Ibrahimovic 17. Falcao’s return is low due to his last 2 seasons and his form/injury problem but even so he never exceeded 20 in the 3 seasons previous to that. The stand-out figure is for Jackson Martinez – is he really that much better than the other five? No, I do not think so – he is just on a 3 season hot-streak in the poorest of the leagues included.
I’ve managed to convince myself that the guaranteed 25 league goal centre forward is something a lot rarer and more elusive than many imagine. The 25 goal centre forward without penalties is pretty much a dead beast. I’d go further, the guaranteed 20 league goal (no penalties) centre forward is rare enough. Parting thought, Thierry Henry without penalties managed 25 once and averaged (I’ll be generous and call it 7.5 seasons rather than the 8 because he only played intermittently in his last season) 20 goals a season.
So my question is this, how many extra “something out of nothing” goals are going to come our way with a £30-50M investment in a new centre forward? Possibly, if the law of averages is to be obeyed, between 2 and 4 looks to be answer if the recent goal records of other top CFs mentioned above are any sort of clue. Of course any of the above named could restore themselves to former glories and blitz the PL with 25 goals in their first season but on balance you would not want to be forced to bet your house on it. This of course also does not take in to consideration any of the many possible downsides eg: would Martinez as our centre forward have any adverse effect on the goalscoring capability of others like Alexis or Ramsey? If Cech happens then £10M to perhaps concede 2-4 less goals (not forgetting less conceded goals carries as much weight as additional goals scored) appears top value and a no-brainer compared to these £30-50M centre forward investments.
In Part 2 I will offer a suggestion, together with some evidence, that actually the archetypal successful teams in Europe rely far less on massive goal returns from their centre forwards than many might imagine.