With the expected transfer of Real Madrid’s prolific hitman Gonzalo Higuian to English Premier League club Arsenal for a reported $34 million, the Gunners could, prior to their mid-July pre-season sojourn to Asia, possess a traditional – and elite – centre forward: a type of player they have not had since the heyday of popular 1990s netbuster Ian Wright.
That is not because of a lack of desire. Indeed, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has elected to pursue the signature of a poaching fox-in-the-box at numerous times during his tenure at the North London club but, for different reasons, he has not been able to capture his Mr Right. Francis Jeffers failed to live up to expectations. Davor Sukur’s form paled in comparison to his greater days during his younger years and Eduardo Silva, despite promise, was effectively kicked out of the country by tough British tackling/hacking.
That is not to say there haven’t been great strikers sporting the famous red and white strips in the Wenger era. Dutch maestro Dennis Bergkamp had as much control of a football as any in history, while Thierry Henry was dubbed, by Wenger, as “The Michael Jordan of football for four or five years.”
Bergkamp, though, was a ‘Trequartista’, a no.10, a second striker … not a center forward. As for Henry, well, the Frenchman was a player whose skill was unrivaled and whose style was almost that of an ‘Interiore’ as he would drift in from the left flank, beat a brace of opposition defenders and rifle a shot into the back of the net. His position was not localized to the box as he enjoyed the breadth of the touchline to the goal-line.
Again, not a true center forward.
Higuain is a different breed. The Argentine is physically suited to playing in the middle, rather than out wide – a position he flirted with at the start of his career as a second striker. He has exceptional work-rate and his desire and his fight will be particularly suited to the culture of English football and the Premier League.
As a player who benefits from the counter-attack, or even from swift football, Wenger may see Higuain linking up well with Spanish through-balling playmaker Santi Cazorla. So too will he no doubt secure chances on goal through the space-creating and assisting of zippy wing-forward Theo Walcott.
With Olivier Giroud not yet being the man to see off all Gunners efforts, Arsenal lack a focal point for their attack. With suggested figures ranging from $32 million to $36 million, Higuian would prove to be a valuable resource for goals.
One of the criticisms of Wenger’s post-Invincible Arsenal is that they have been guilty of a near lackadaisical style of play when one-nil up, or even during a tied game. They can be one-paced, unable to find a higher gear. However, Higuian’s tackling from the front, his bulldog attitude and his fortitude may well be of an influence and an inspiration to his team-mates.
With all strong players, though, weaknesses remain and one area Higuian must improve on are his disappearances on the big stage. In the grander games during his time in La Liga, he was anonymous, unlike his ability to win three points against the lesser teams.
Domestically, Arsenal were poor against the big teams last season. They lost to Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and even hated neighbors Tottenham Hotspur. Their greatest victory, a two-nil triumph over eventual Champions League winners Bayern Munich in the knockout stages in Germany, was ultimately achieved in vain as Bayern went through to the next round due to the away goal ruling.
Higuian’s flaw, therefore, is also one apparent throughout Arsenal. While he has a multitude of strengths which will, no doubt, be evident from game one should Wenger seal this deal, it is the collective inability to lose points to the title rivals rather than any professional, singular criticism of Gonzalo.
If there is one thing Gunners fans can be sure of, it’s that Higuain will bag them goals. Lots of them.