Can the trend of wide players being used in a striking role continue?

Can the trend of wide players being used in a striking role continue?

There has been a trend this season in the Premier League of wide players moving to the centre forward position and it has been very successful. The most notable examples are Alexis Sanchez, Son Heung-min, Nacer Chadli and Nathan Redmond.

Before this campaign, all four were seen as recognised strikers, but they are now being used in central areas to varying degrees of success. Sanchez has been a revelation for Arsenal and is keeping Olivier Giroud out of the team, while Son has only played as a centre forward once and that was due to the injury to Harry Kane. It is a trend that deserves to be discussed.

This season has seen a tactical revolution in the Premier League, with some of the world’s greatest managers arriving on these shores. In the modern game, players are required to be tactically versatile and not tied to one position.

Versatility was once an asset, but it is now a necessity. Coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp see a player’s attributes, rather than a position and seek to get the best from them. This has been seen by the former’s use of Aleksandar Kolarov and the latter’s use of James Milner.

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Moving back to the trend of wide players in central areas, it has become popular for two reasons. The first is that it is becoming harder and harder to sign quality forwards. Arsenal and Tottenham were both in the market for a striker this summer but failed to bring in somebody that is able to hit the ground running. Although Arsenal signed Lucas Perez, the Spaniard isn’t good enough to be starting regularly in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, their rivals Spurs signed Vincent Janssen who is a huge talent but needs time to settle. This has led to them using Alexis Sanchez and Son Heung-min respectively in a striking position.

Another reason for this trend is that wingers have the skill-set to cause central defenders problems. Their movement is less predictable and they are excellent at creating space for midfield players to exploit. The upturn in Theo Walcott’s form this season has been a result of the increased space available in the final third and this is caused by the intelligent movement of Sanchez.

Wingers are known for being skilful and beating players, which can be difficult for centre backs to deal with, as they don’t enjoy being run at. This is why nimble forwards such as Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez have been so successful. Although the players mentioned in this article aren’t as good in the striking role as these two, there are similarities and it is clear why they have been played in central areas.

 

It hasn’t been all plain sailing especially in the case of Sanchez, who took a while to adjust to his new role at the start of the season. During Arsenal’s opening match against Liverpool, the Chilean struggled to get hold of the ball and his runs weren’t causing the defenders any problems at all.

However, Sanchez is a very intelligent footballer and he has learned to play the role effectively. He is now in the team on merit ahead of Olivier Giroud and proving that wingers can transition to the striking role quickly.

The trend of wide players being used in the striking role is a new one and it could be set to stay. This may be a controversial claim, but in the future positions may become a thing of the past as players need to be able to do everything on the pitch.

Full backs are expected to attack, centre backs are expected to pass well and attackers are expected to contribute defensively. Players are becoming more rounded and those with limitations will struggle to get a foothold in the game.

Featured image: All rights reserved by Stuart MacFarlane.

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