Why have Arsenal signed Lucas Perez ahead of other rumoured targets?
As the transfer window enters its final weeks, some would say mercifully, Arsenal have their eyes fixed on recruiting a centre-back and a striker. Though the need for an experienced defender is arguably more pressing, the need for a new striker is more important within the bigger picture. Defending is very much a collective effort, something that is engrained through hard work, organisation and relationships forged in the heat of battle over a long period of time. Simply put, the calibre of individual purchases matters less in defence than it does up front.
You cannot go into the transfer market and buy defensive solidity. At the top end of the pitch however, individual ability makes the difference more readily and it is easier to solve offensive problems by dipping into the transfer market.
Arsenal rarely follow the expected path through the market, and appear to have picked another left-field solution in the form of Deportivo striker Lucas Perez, with a £17 million deal imminent. Given that the Gunners have courted Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema since the loss of Robin Van Persie in 2012, some Gooners might feel a little underwhelmed.
Others may be a little confused as to why, after a summer of searching for a striker, Arsenal have chosen Perez. The 27-year-old striker scored 17 goals in La Liga last term, but his record prior to that is patchy. However, if one delves a little deeper, Arsenal’s thought process becomes slightly clearer.
For many years after the move to the Emirates, Arsene Wenger was forced to take gambles in the ‘bargain basement’ of the transfer market as the club tightened their belts. He wanted Eden Hazard, but had to make do with his Lille team-mate Gervinho. Marouane Chamakh was another gamble that didn’t work out. However, from 2013 onwards Wenger has had more funds at his disposal and took the view that he only wanted to spend his new found wealth on ‘top, top quality’.
That was understandable; after years of taking punts he wanted his money to go on a sure thing. Arsenal got two blue chip recruits in Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, but a marquee No 9 eluded them.
Wenger concluded he would rather stick with his existing options than spend money on players who are either no better than what Arsenal have (Jackson Martinez, Christian Benteke, Mario Mandzukic) or were a raw, young talent. This summer’s pursuit of Jamie Vardy and now Perez suggest a change in tact. It is a sign that Wenger knows he cannot sit on his hands waiting for the perfect solution; with Danny Welbeck out injured and existing alternatives to Olivier Giroud unconvincing, Arsenal simply cannot afford not to buy.
The link with Jamie Vardy is an interesting one. Arsenal appear to have pipped Everton to Perez’s signature and both Arsenal and the Toffees have recruited scouts from Leicester this year. Arsenal poached Ben Wigglesworth in February while Everton appointed Steve Walsh as director of football this summer. Leicester have purportedly tracked Perez in the past, and it could be that Walsh and Wrigglesworth have pushed their new employers to make a move.
Fans in England will be unfamiliar with Perez, but this piece in The Guardian by Sid Lowe makes for an enlightening read. Lowe describes a nippy, left-footed forward who is perpetual motion and chases down lost causes. He could easily be describing Vardy, who Arsenal tried to sign earlier in the summer. Like Vardy, Perez’s rise has been a difficult and unorthodox one, bouncing around from Alaves, Rayo Vallecano, Atletico Madrid, Dynamo Kiev and PAOK Salonika.
When complimenting Leicester earlier in the year, Wenger spoke of the special ‘hunger’ possessed by players who have come through without a ‘red carpet’. Perhaps he was just being gracious, but the quotes as a whole are laced with self-criticism. Wenger talks about those young players who have had it all, who earn lots of money and play Champions League before their teenage years are up. They are remarks that implicate some of his own charges, and feed the accusation that Arsenal are too nice, a team of son-in-laws who have it too easy coming through at the ‘Colney Crèche’. Some of these stereotypes are over emphasised, but there is a grain of truth to them.
With Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Gabriel and now Perez, Wenger seems to have made a concerted effort to buy ‘late developers’ who might make Arsenal a bit more street-wise. Even though Granit Xhaka was a well-regarded youngster, he brings some ‘life experience’ as a Kosovan immigrant in Switzerland where he had to look after himself. Add to this Arsenal’s pursuit of Vardy, and perhaps Wenger is looking at players’ character more than in the past.
The type of striker Perez is – nimble and fast – could be more important to Arsenal than how ‘good’ he is per se. Özil and Sanchez are the planets around which Arsenal’s attacking play orbits, and everything should be geared towards getting the best out of both. Olivier Giroud is a fine player, with 82 goals in 142 Arsenal starts, but is not the forward either of the aforementioned stars would prefer to play with.
The German playmaker wants a striker to make runs in behind as a receptor for his trademark through balls; he is not the type of attacking midfielder who wants to ball set back to him to have a shot. Sanchez also is at his best when there is room to roam into central positions from a wide area; the Chilean’s best displays have come with Theo Walcott up top (the 5-2 and 3-0 wins over Leicester and Manchester United last season and the 2015 FA Cup final). Sanchez is something of a footballing anarchist, and is at his best when Arsenal have a fluid and chaotic front line rather than the fixed target that is Giroud. Wenger might feel that Perez is profile of striker to get the most out of his two star men.
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