Finding Arsenal’s Next Striker: Benzema, Benteke, Reus lead list

2 Comments

They’re top of the league and a squad that most agree will challenge for the Premier League title, and – dare I say it – the Champions League crown.

A large reason for those possibilities – Olivier Giroud.

The French striker, who so many cast aside last year as being slow and unimpactful, has been a revelation this season scoring 8 goals and handing out five assists.

He’s lead the offense as the only striker, doing wonders holding the ball up to allow the attack to build, while also dropping deep to join in on oil-slick interchange that is the Arsenal midfield.

He’s shown us skill (recall his role as the centerpiece of the ‘Jack Wilshere goal’), pace on the counter-attack, strength, creativity and an eye for goal, especially on first-time shots off the run.

But now, Giroud is beginning to show what Laurent Koscielny describes as “a bit of fatigue.” Playing in all 19 of Arsenal’s matches this season – as well as two international contests for France – in 89 days will do that to a man.

source: AP
Having played 21 games in 89 days, Olivier Giroud is “a bit fatigued”, says Laurent Koscielny.

And therein lies the most pressing issue for the Arsenal: Buying a new striker to provide Giroud with a bit of a rest so he doesn’t tucker himself out before the key late winter/early spring stretch.

If Arsenal are to charge forward and claim their first piece of silverware in eight years, a move for a striker in January is a must.

But don’t the Gunners already have players who could do the business up top?

Of course. Besides the lump that is Nicklas Bendtner and the inexperienced Yaya Sanogo, the Gunners could use Theo Walcott or Lukas Podolski in that role, if either of them could get healthy.

The problem, however, is two-fold. First, when Walcott and Podolski do return to the squad it will be coming off an extended injury absence. So putting them into the bruising role up front – opposed to a less confrontational role on the wing – isn’t the brightest idea. Second, both are better equipped to join the attack from wide positions rather than operate alone in a central one.

Ideally, the Gunners need a player who, like Giroud, can handle the physicality of the striker role. By putting a big man up top, opposing defenses focus on putting bodies on him, which in turn releases pressure on Arsene Wenger’s more diminutive midfielders. This is a key component to the Gunners attack.

Finding that kind of player, of course, is easier said than done. The market for big men with skills is limited and those who do qualify are in the midst of helping their current clubs in Europe, meaning they’re unlikely to move.

The most talked about player who could fill the role is Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who is believed to be more open to a move to the Emirates after snubbing Arsenal’s advances last summer. The success Mesut Ozil has enjoyed in North London has apparently swayed Benzema.

The issue is that Benzema has 18 months left on his contract meaning it’s unlikely Real Madrid would sell the striker in January. The more likely scenario would be for the Spanish giants to wait until the summer when they are expected to move for Liverpool star Luis Suarez.

Juventus striker Fernando Llorente is another player who could fit the bill. The Basque behemoth struggled upon moving to Juventus last summer but is now playing more regularly and scoring goals.

source: AP
Seeing Christian Benteke in Arsenal red – something most Goonah’s wouldn’t mind.

Other big man options include a Premier League move for Demba Ba or Christian Benteke.

Ba has been used sparingly by Jose Mourinho but may see more time now that Fernando Torres is injured. Selling the Sengalese striker to a fellow title-contender, however, is a mistake Mourinho looks unlikely to make.

Despite re-signing with Paul Lambert’s side this summer, Benteke’s days at Villa Park inevitably feel numbered. Lambert will try hard to hold onto his prized asset, especially since Aston Villa’s up-and-down form this season means they aren’t entirely assured of staying in the top-flight.

On the other hand, the money Lambert could command for Benteke in January would arguably be higher than what he could ask for this summer, as the Belgian striker has the unique feature of not being cup-tied for the Champions League.

While going big seems the more likely scenario, Arsenal could foreseeably go small if Wenger deems that to be the best option.

There’s been a lot of talk that Javier Hernandez is looking to move away from Old Trafford but David Moyes, fearful of making a decision that could come back to haunt him, seems unlikely to sell within the league.

And then there’s today’s news of Marco Reus‘ $46.7 million (£29.4m) release clause. The Dortmund winger/striker/attacking midfield hybrid possesses the speed, skill and guile that seems tailor-made for Arsenal’s style but – is Wenger is ready to drop that kind of coin for the second time in six months?

Given the frugal nature of the Arsenal, most would say ‘no’.

But, if Arsenal do win the race for Reus (Barcelona, Manchester United and Paris Saint Germain are all rumored to be interested) what a massive statement of intent that would be from Wenger that this is the year his club returns to greatness.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.