Is Riyad Mahrez or Julian Draxler a better fit for Arsenal?
The widely accepted view of Arsenal is that they are a free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing, offensive team whose flaws are mainly defensive. In truth however, a glance at the numbers from recent seasons demonstrates that Arsenal do not score enough goals. In 2013/14, they scored 34 fewer goals than champions Manchester City and 33 fewer than runners-up Liverpool. In 2014/15, they netted only two fewer than Chelsea (who had a superior defensive record) but were 12 behind Manchester City. Last term, Leicester City, Man City and Tottenham Hotspur all out-scored Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger acknowledged this problem back in May:
“We have to add what we missed this season. And I have said many times we did not score enough goals to win the championship.”
Olivier Giroud is something of a scapegoat for this collective shortcoming. Giroud is a fine striker, but suffers by comparison to the rich lineage of forwards who came before him in the Wenger era; Robin Van Persie, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Ian Wright.
Nevertheless, Giroud has scored 24, 19 and 22 goals in all competitions in the last three campaigns. It may be five to ten goals short of earning him the label of ‘world class’, but it is more than a decent effort. Alexis Sanchez scored 25 and 17 in his first two seasons at the club. So Arsenal’s two main forwards have; to at least to a fair degree, done their job.
Arsenal have lacked goals from midfield and wide areas however, with Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Danny Welbeck falling short in terms of goal-scoring. Özil makes up for that by providing a heap of assists every season, and some of the aforementioned players have suffered with injuries.
Nevertheless, Arsenal need a wider range of threats in attack. When Arsenal won ‘The Double’ in 1997/98, Marc Overmars bagged 16 in all competitions. Upon repeating the feat in 2001-2, Freddie Ljungberg bagged 17 and Robert Pires 13. In the ‘Invincibles’ campaign of 2003/04, Robert Pires scored 19 in all competitions.
So, the search for more goals is not just a matter of acquiring a ‘world-class striker’, which is why Riyad Mahrez and Julian Draxler are attracting Arsenal’s gaze. There is a shortage of strikers on the market, but that particular shop window is well-stocked when it comes to wide-forwards or attacking midfielders. Mahrez, Draxler, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Isco, Arda Turan and Antoine Griezmann have either moved or been linked with moves this summer.
Whether Arsenal opt for Mahrez or Draxler may depend on where Alexis Sanchez is deployed next season. In his first campaign at the Emirates, Sanchez flourished on the left from where he could cut inside and shoot with his stronger right foot. However, upon returning from a hamstring injury last season, Sanchez’s game started to look rather predictable from this side with he and Giroud in each other’s space.
Towards the end of last term, Alex Iwobi slotted in on the left and with Danny Welbeck preferred through the middle, Alexis made up a mobile front three from the right flank. He fared far better there, with options to go inside or out.
Mahrez played most of his football from the right last season – a major reason why he was able to score 17 league goals compared to Draxler’s nine. Moving to the left would seriously restrict Mahrez, who relies so heavily on cutting inside on his left foot from the right. Draxler on the other hand, played most of his football from the left.
With Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain impressing from on the right wing so far in preseason, and Sanchez and Ramsey also viable options on that side, Arsenal’s need for a left-sided forward is arguably greater. Alex Iwobi currently occupies that position, and though he is a highly impressive prospect, it might not be healthy for club or player to rely on the young Nigerian international at this stage in his development.
Many will consider Mahrez the ‘off-the-peg’ option – he was the PFA Player of the Year last season and his superior goal-scoring record will lead many to favour him over Draxler, in addition to the fact that he is used to the ‘rough and tumble’ of the Premier League.
However, the German is three years younger, and Wenger is always attracted to the idea of a ‘project’ rather than parachuting in the obvious solution. There is even talk of converting Draxler into a central striker, just as Wenger did with Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie. This is not an option with Mahrez. In Wenger’s mind, this might just give Draxler greater scope and a higher ceiling.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam
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