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What would Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi bring to Arsenal?

Mauro Icardi has the pedigree to be one of the finest strikers in the world. The 23-year-old was born in Rosario, central Argentina, but quickly moved to Spain. Icardi was a sensation at his local club, scoring over 500 goals in their academy.

Arsenal’s interest in the striker began here. The Gunners were one of at least six European giants trying to lure Icardi, but in the end, and perhaps stereotypically of Arsenal, another prospective signing was reduced to an almost.

The Argentine instead headed for La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy aged 15. As with so many La Masia prospects in recent years, Icardi found it impossible to break into the first team despite impressing, and when the opportunity came up to go on loan to Sampdoria, he took it.

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Icardi went on to score 13 goals in 19 appearances in a Sampdoria shirt before making the move permanent in July 2011. His first full campaign came in 2012/13, and his 11 goals secured the Northern Italy side’s future in Serie A.

His exploits were quickly picked up upon by dormant Italian giants Inter and I Nerazzurri succeeded in signing the youngster for 11.7 million euros.

From there, Icardi has established himself as one of the most dangerous strikers in Italy. Sylvinho, one of his coaches at Inter, said: “Mauro scores a lot and is still young, so he’s learning a lot.” Even at a young age, Icardi is thoroughly capable of terrifying opposition defences.

In his 91 league games at Inter, the incisive centre-forward has scored 47 times and assisted a further 12 goals. Scoring more than once every two games is an incredible rate only made more impressive by the fact that Icardi is still only 23.

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In comparison, during the same period compatriot, Gonzalo Higuain scored 71 times for Napoli in 104 appearances. While Higuain maintains a higher scoring rate, he’s also been at the pinnacle of his footballing career for the last three years, while Icardi has still very much been learning his trade.

It could be argued that his fellow Argentina international played in a considerably stronger team who consistently finished above Inter in the last three seasons.  Playing in a stronger team, Higuain would naturally be expected to score more goals.

Finishing is undoubtedly one of Icardi’s strongest assets. Icardi hit the target with exactly half of his shots on goal last season, demonstrating some of the poacher’s instinct he’s been renowned for in Italy.

That instinct is proven by how little he incorporates moving with the ball into his game. Icardi dribbled with the ball just 0.3 times per game in Serie A last season, relying on his positioning and off the ball movement to find goal scoring opportunities.

During his time at Arsenal, Olivier Giroud has proven the importance of strong holdup play to Arsene Wenger’s strikers. Despite not being as physically imposing, Icardi is surprisingly powerful and holds onto the ball exceptionally well.

He was only dispossessed once every two games in Serie A last season, a spectacular ball retention rate. Combined with a decent pass success rate in a league where defenders are quick to prevent strikers from linking the play, his hold up play is definitely tried and tested.

While a potent attacker, Icardi has a poor defensive mentality. He made less than five successful tackles in the entirety of last season and very few interceptions. Fortunately, Arsenal’s midfielders, especially out wide, have an excellent defensive work rate. Alexis’ tenacity deserves a specific mention and combined with the pressing game from Arsenal’s other players, should make up for Icardi’s defensive troubles.

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Arsenal have been regularly criticised for failing to put the ball in the back of the net. All of their beautiful, intricate football is meaningless unless it results in a goal. Icardi is the striker that can add that element to their game. He’s capable of the intricate link-up play that Arsene Wenger has drilled into his side, but would add that lethal final touch that would provide the Gunners with those vital points that they seem to fall short by season in, season out.

Inter President Erik Thohir has admitted that it would be a struggle to resist a bid of £50 million and upwards, but Arsenal could potentially tie up a deal for less than that.

Featured image – All rights reserved by Piero Irala.

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