If Theo Walcott’s injury was Arsenal’s only health concern, the situation would be bad enough. But Olivier Giroud is also out. So is Nicklas Bendtner as well as a handful of other people beyond the forward line. Now, with only Lukas Podolski healthy among Arsenal’s normal forward options, the Premier League-leading Gunners are experiencing a textbook injury crisis at the striker position.
Short on options ahead of Monday’s visit to Villa Park, it’s understandable why Arsenal is seeking what The Guardian’s calling a “quick-fix” solution. But contrary to the more unbelievable rumors, that fix might not involve the likes of Atlético Madrid’s Diego Costa, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic or Manchester City’s Edin Dezko. (Seriously, why would some of these guys move in January anyway?) Wary of paying the inflated prices in the January window, Arsène Wenger is said to have instructed scouts to find a short-term solution – somebody that can help the club make it to June before redressing the position this summer.
That leaves somebody like Real Madrid’s Álvaro Morata. The 21-year-old has been near a goal-per-game scorer at youth levels for Spain, part of the reason Carlo Ancelotti wanted to keep him around the Santiago Bernabéu this season. Yet after the late August acquisition of Gareth Bale restored El Real’s attacking depth, Morata’s been limited to one La Liga start (though he has come on nine times as a substitute). In 14 all-competition appearances, the Madrid-born talent as two goals, with a lack of playing time limiting his production.
How much more playing time he’d get through June at Arsenal is an open question, but in the short-term, Morata would go to the top of the depth chart. When Olivier Giroud returns (and reportedly, he’s close) Morata would still often valuable cover for a player whose Champions League starts will prompt some rotation in February. As Arsenal’s season progresses, preserving Giroud’s minutes could be one of the many thin margins for error that defines this season’s Premier League title race.
The risk here is whether Morata will have an impact. At Real Madrid B and with Spain’s U-level teams, he’s produced, and via the eye test, he certainly looks like somebody who can contribute for most teams in the world …
… and during Arsenal’s injury crisis, the Gunners’ could be one of those teams. Yet Morata still represents more risk than going out and finding somebody with a more proven track record. Whereas Morata has more talent than most players Arsenal could acquire, it’s no given that talent will translate into Premier League goals.
Still, when you stop and consider the thin layer of proven options that would fit at Arsenal, Morata’s risk might be worthwhile. As players like Demba Ba and Andy Carroll have shown at clubs like Chelsea and Liverpool, some players can’t translate performance at one level to production on another. Add in Arsenal’s style of play and need to find somebody who can make an impact in Champions League and a title race, it may be better to roll the dice on potential than accept limitations.
Ultimately, this is only for six months. Acquiring another player — a more proven option from another team — would probably require a purchase as opposed to a loan. A short-term commitment allows Arsenal to dip back into the market in June without an ongoing financial commitment.
Thus, the argument for Morata. Or, a Morata-like player. At least, that’s the theory behind it. Whether Real Madrid cares about this line of thinking is another issue entirely.