Can Chuba Akpom make an impact at Arsenal this season?
Arsenal’s hunt for a striker goes on. While the club are believed to be in continued talks with Lyon over the transfer of the prolific Alexandre Lacazette, the season is drawing ever closer and Olivier Giroud is still the only recognised senior striker in the squad, and even he isn’t at full fitness after France’s Euro 2016 campaign.
Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott can also slot in up front, but neither has looked especially convincing in that role. 21-year-old Japanese striker Takuma Asano also arrived that the Emirates earlier this window, but is generally regarded to be a future prospect over a first team starter immediately.
As a result of the Gunners striking woes, Arsene Wenger has told youth product Chuba Akpom to stay and fight for his place next season. The 20-year-old will likely stake his claim against Liverpool in their first game of the season.
Akpom joined the club aged 5 and proceeded to lead the line for the club at every youth level. Alongside his budding Arsenal career, Akpom represented England at every youth stage as well, netting once every two games on average.
His performances for the national sides, as well as Arsenal in the youth leagues, has earned him a series of loan moves to various Championship and League One sides. Unfortunately for Akpom, though each club recognised his potential, moves rarely worked out. Through 2014 and the end of the 2014/15 season, Akpom made just 17 appearances for three different clubs without scoring.
His fortunes seemed to change at the start of last season with a year-long switch to Hull City. The striker made 36 appearances with 19 starts in all competitions and helped them push for promotion to the Premier League.
Despite having plenty of opportunities at Hull, Akpom only managed to score four times for the club, and all of the said goals were in cup competitions. A striker should be scoring more than a goal every 450 minutes, and it’s concerning that his opponents were at a lower standard of play than he will face at Arsenal.
That being said, Akpom was hardly afforded many goal scoring opportunities. The 20-year-old only had 1.8 shots per game, an indicator that he struggled to get into goal scoring positions and that perhaps his team didn’t give him the necessary creative support.
The raw talent is obviously there for the youngster, who is also eligible for Nigeria at international level. During his time at Brentford, manager Mark Warburton said “Chuba is strong and quick, with a very good first touch. He’s greedy and enjoys scoring goals.”
His direct style of play is a strong indicator that he could develop into a traditional number 9, surging between the lines and creating chances for himself, as well as finishing those created by his teammates.
However, Arsenal’s system requires the striker to hold up the ball well and link the play from the front. While his physicality helps him keep hold of the ball well under pressure, an element of footballing intelligence that would allow him to create from the front seems to be missing from his game.
That being said, Akpom is only 20 years old. Players have emerged as top talents later than that in the past, and the only way to know is to whether them in the top flight.
While Akpom isn’t at the standard to be starting week-in-week-out for a team challenging for the title, his potential quality can’t be ignored. If he can grow as a player and use his opportunities well, he could develop into a quality asset for Arsenal.
There’s no question that they still need to sign a centre-forward, though.
Featured image – All rights reserved by Emrah Partal.