Preview Week Day 3: Strikers

Robin van PersieDespite having lost a once (and I do mean “once) thirty-goalscorer, Arsenal stroll into their 2009/10 league campaign deeper up top than they have ever been in a long time. Rather than preview each striker individually, I will look at the reasons for this Arsenal side’s unprecedented depth at forward.


Wenger’s serious consideration of a Barcelona-like 4-3-3 this preseason shows the Boss at his most tactically flexible. In truth, the formation has morphed throughout the matches back into a 4-2-1-2-1. This formation will allows Arsenal to go from attack to defense and vice versa far more efficiently than Wenger’s more traditional 4-4-2 and 4-5-1. In the preseason, this formation has seen van Persie as the central striker with Arshavin on the left and Bendtner on the right.

Theo WalcottWith Walcott back and rested from summer international duty, he becomes the obvious candidate for the spot on the right. Walcott is better the more forward he is. He makes no secret of his desire, and the Boss’s supposed plan, to eventually make him a central striker. In the meantime, Theo in a more advanced role, even down the wing, is a good thing both for him and for Arsenal. Also, three midfielders behind him also means there is less pressure on him to always get back and we all know Theo is at his most devastatingly effective when he puts his head down and goes forward with the kind of reckless abandon that has instilled the “fear of death” in Liverpool supporters more than once.

The other benefit of the 4-3-3 is the flexibility it allows in terms of personnel. van Persie can play centrally, as it seems he will most of the time, but he can also play wide left or wide right, as he has successfully with Holland. Arshavin can play on either flank. Wenger tested Bendtner’s ability to play wide right during the preseason and while he is always at his best in the middle, it was not a total disaster and he was still able to score goals.

Meanwhile, Nasri can also play in that advanced left role bringing him closer to goal, something he was used to at Marseille. It also gives a second position to Carlos Vela. Vela is obviously devastating when played centrally but he also played a full season in La Liga as a left midfielder with Osasuna. He could easily be deployed on the left with Arshavin moved to the right. Eduardo is in a similar position. He can play centrally with ease and can also be played wide left in much the same way as Vela. Rosicky, should he stay fit, can also be played on either of the forward flanks.

Anyway, the point is that this new formation allows Wenger the most flexibility tactically as well as in his deployment of personnel. And this is a hallmark of Wenger’s managerial philosophy. He has never sought to pigeonhole a player by considering him for one position. This system has created what looks to be a far more effective way of deploying each of our attackers in multiple roles, optimizing both their possibility for time on the pitch and, in turn, their overall contribution to the club.


Carlos Vela

Yes, we hear this every year, but, this year, I believe, is when we really begin to see the benefits up top. Vela was absolutely mesmerizing his cup appearances last season and changed the complexion of Premier League matches in which he was brought on as an “impact sub,” much like Walcott the year before. No one who saw Vela last season can doubt that he is more than ready to assume a much larger role as well as more responsibility. Those of us who saw him play in Spain knew we were getting a gem but watching him kept wide at Osasuna concealed his true potential. But that was on display last season every time he stepped on the pitch. He has all the hallmarks of an Arsenal footballer: intelligence, technique, and team spirit. The other quality that stands out, and I think is what endears him to the supporters the most, is that it is so obvious that he just loves to play the game. For a kid who grew up in Mexico, playing and succeeding at Arsenal Football Club could hardly be considered a job, unlike a former Arsenal striker, and it just looks like he’s having a great time whenever he is on the pitch.

Nicklas Bendtner's new kitFinally, to the player who matured the most over the last season, Nicklas Bendtner. Bendtner, somewhat quietly, went on to tally 15 goals last season despite not being first choice at his position. That distinction went to Adebayor and his tally of 16 goals. The irony for Bendtner is that he still faces the wrath of some supporters despite his contribution last season. It seems obvious to me that, especially with Adebayor gone, the stage is now set for him to really shine. I mean, this is the moment he’s been waiting for these last few years. Now with his arch-rival (both on the pitch and off) gone, Bendtner can finally dig in and look to cement a first-team place. I have no doubt that he can be a 20-goals per year striker beginning this season. He’s already proven he can score important goals in big games, just think of Spurs and Kiev to name a few. Thankfully, the damage from his nightclub escapade was well-handled and, therefore, minimized by the club and the Dane can concentrate on what should truly prove to be his breakout year. On a side note, Bendtner has changed his number from 26 to 52 and has offered to replace the shirt of anyone who bought a new season kit with his name and 26 on it at an Arsenal store or at since June 2009.


Considering the following players can all play in the forward 3, van Persie, Bendtner, Arshavin, Walcott, Vela, Eduardo, Rosicky, and Nasri, Arsenal’s forward line looks very strong. I would argue that it is at least as deep as any of the other big 4 or big money clubs.


Here is van Persie’s 2-goal performance at Chelsea last November: