An Emirates Facelift: Surveying Arsenal’s Potential Center-Forward Recruitment Avenues

The 2023-24 season has been one of real excitement for English giants Arsenal and its global fanbase. With just a handful of matches remaining, Mikel Arteta’s young Gunners maintain a real chance of lifting their first Premier League trophy in two decades. Though many were disappointed with recently bowing out to Bavarian juggernaut Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, Arteta and company sit at the top of the table, three points above Liverpool and one point above Manchester City (although City have a game in hand).


On the surface, there really is very little to complain about at the Emirates this term under the Spanish tactician, with Arsenal boasting not only the league’s best defensive record (26 goals conceded), but also its highest goal return at 82. The situation really is looking bright both currently and beyond, but for many in the fanbase, as well as in and around the club, there is still cause for concern in the striker department. 



Recent comments from Arteta himself have eluded to Arsenal’s plight in the center-forward department, regardless of how the season has progressed on all fronts. During a post-match interview with former Manchester United keeper and Danish footballing icon Peter Schmeichel in the aftermath of their defeat at Munich’s Allianz Arena, Arteta responded to suggestions that the club exited the competition of the back of its lack of a proper striker.


I don’t think so because we’re the team that’s scored more goals in the Premier League and you’re talking about it like this. We don’t have a striker that will score 35-40 goals and we have to live with that.”


There is certainly scope to suggest that goals by committee have done the trick for the club in a broader context this season given the overall numbers in the goalscoring department, but what perhaps has truly plagued the club in various moments across the entire campaign – especially recently in both outings against Thomas Tuchel’s Bayern – is the real lack of goalscoring pedigree.



This does not take anything away from the contributions of summer signing Kai Havertz or former Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus. Both have performed in a handful of key moments across the season, and Kai Havertz has certainly come along in his progression after a poor stint with Chelsea despite seemingly having the world at his feet while with Bayer Leverkusen.


However, the reality is that neither member of the attacking pair is clinical enough to lead the line for the club in the long term when it comes to their goalscoring ability. That deficiency, whether it was admitted to or not by the manager, was clear to see when the club failed to kill off Bayern when 1-0 up in the first leg and much of the same can be said during their recent frustrating loss against Aston Villa.


Other fixtures this season come to mind as well regarding the club’s failure to find results where goals should really have been the order of the day, particularly the New Year’s Day loss against Fulham at Craven Cottage and the 2-0 home loss against West Ham United in an outing where the Gunners logged 30 shots but failed to beat Alphonse Areola.


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What perhaps frustrates many among the fanbase is the bonafide goalscoring pedigree that has called North London home in recent years dating back to the Arsène Wenger era, and even beyond. The likes of Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka, Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake, and Jimmy Brain all left their everlasting mark on the club, and it is a reality that many have been crying out for quite some time now.


Few can say that Arsenal are really Arsenal without a marksman leading the line while fighting for golden boot honors. It has been one of the hallmarks that have highlighted Manchester City’s success, first with Sergio Agüero and now with Erling Haaland.


It has already been hinted that the Gunners will push hard this summer for a new center-forward come the summer transfer window, and in that light, the debate on socials amongst supporters has ramped up in recent weeks with lines being drawn regarding a number of high-profile names as well as a handful of budding young talents. 


Taking a look at five potential options for Mikel Artera and club technical director Edu Gaspar, and how they could possibly fit into the mix at the Sobha Reality Training Center, has led to five notable possibilities; Alexander Isak, Viktor Gyökeres, Ollie Watkins, Loïs Openda, and Benjamin Šeško.



Much of the understanding of where and how Arsenal will tackle the question at number 9 due the objectively different profiles that are Havertz and Jesus. In that light, much of the discourse among fan has filtered itself into three categories; a Havertz archetype, a Jesus archetype, or a striker that combines both profiles.


In Havertz, Arteta has found a technically gifted mobile target man that has done well to become not just an aerial threat, but a player who is quite progressive on the ball and creative all the same, though perhaps he could be in killer areas closer to goal more regularly for some.



As for Jesus, a player who excels when on the ball and has a knack for popping up in dangers areas in the box, there remain so many questions about how he could contribute if he was to simply remain fit for a full season. His recent cameo against Bayern to help Arsenal equalize in the first leg is a testament to the ability that he still very much does possess.


Still, neither player is the true goal threat that the club could have fallen back on in a key moment where calmness under pressure and a killer instinct would have made the difference in recent weeks. 


Havertz’s 9 goals and 5 assists is good enough to put him at joint-second in the side along captain Martin Ødegaard for goal contributions behind Bukayo Saka, but still along way for a line-leading forward. Jesus’ 4 goals and 4 assists is a far cry for what so many hoped to see from the Brazilian international since his arrival from City, and places him seventh in the side by the same metric. 



If combined, these numbers would be far more credible, even if still a long way off in the goals category from the likes of Cole Palmer and the aforementioned Haaland, but it still would atleast constitute a return far closer for what many deem a requirement for a leading light at the carpet.


In Alexander Isak, the Swedish international is an ideal candidate on the back of his performances for Newcastle United since his arrival from Real Sociedad. Still just 24, the Solna-born versatile forward has yet to hit his prime but has already shown his keen eye for goal since his arrival in England and his is flirting with a 20-goal season for the Magpies in 2023-24.


His capability to be deployed as a number 9 or on the left flank offers tactical versality that suits the recruitment pattern under Arteta and Edu, and he has already adapted to life in the Premier League in a position for a club that still lives in the shadow of Alan Shearer. Pacey and a strong technician, Isak lacks the creativity of both Havertz and Jesus but is a far bigger goal threat while also beign able to progress play when on the ball similarly to the Brazilian. 


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There certainly are drawbacks when it comes to the Swede, however, namely concerns surrounding his fitness record. Additionally, there has been very little evidence to suggest that either Newcastle or Isak would entertain a sale despite the gap between both clubs from a sporting perspective. If a sale was even to be sanctioned, the St. James’ Park outfit would no doubt look to procure a sizable profit on the £63m paid, which could no doubt point to a possible £100m pricetag.


Isak’s compatriot and Sporting CP star Viktor Gyökeres is another intriguing option for the club; one that has grown exponentially in recent months across many in the fanbase, and it is easy to see why.


Eyes turned when Sporting turned to the Swedish international last summer when they plucked him away from Coventry City, and many were not convinced the Bromölla-born forward would make the grade at Estádio José Alvalde under Rubén Amorim.


Not only has he risen to the occasion, but his 24 league goals put him in the top five in goals across Europe’s elite club competitions, and adding his five goals in the Europa League as well as his 10 assists on the domestic front in Liga Portugal Betclic, the Swede is having a phenomenal season.



Though the numbers around his sensational campaign will probably come with additive context to many given that he currently is not in a top-five league on the continent, Gyökeres has still shone at a major club that comes with expectations of trophy success year-on-year.


Additionally, in terms of profile, Gyökeres has excelled on all fronts in terms of data by comparison. And with Amorim seemingly setting off in the summer, and the player himself stating he would not remain in Portugal should his manager depart, the stars may align for Arsenal to swoop in.


One option that many have slept on in recent seasons but are warming to rather quickly is Aston Villa frontman Ollie Watkins, with the former Brentford striker having his best season at Villa Park since his arrival in the summer of 2020.


Now, under Unai Emery, Watkins has shown himself to be a well-rounded and seasoned Premier League striker who is currently leading the line for a side that is pushing for the Champions League, and all the while still finding goals in key moments this term to the tune of 19 league goals and a league-leading 12 assists.


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Should Villa return to the Champions League for the first time in 40 years, there would be a real shout for Watkins to claim Player of the Season honors on the back of his performances. 


He stacks up surprisingly well against both Isak and Gyökeres and certainly would bring a finisher into the mix moreso than a player who would be more heavily involved in chance creation given his penchant for wanting to get further forward well ahead of the buildup, which is perhaps what the club could use the most in its current iteration.


Two further options come by way of RB Leipzig pair Loïs Openda and Benjamin Šeško, who both arrived last summer from RC Lens and RB Salzburg respectively and have aided in Die Roten Bullen’s push for another top four finish in the Bundesliga.



Openda, who has cracked into the Belgian setup since first bubbling to the surface in Ligue 1, has been one of the standout goalscoring threats in Germany this season despite his summer arrival, and his 23 goals sees him behind only Bayern’s Harry Kane (33) and VfB Stuttgart ace Serhou Guirassy (25) in the final weeks of the campaign.


Blessed with pace to burn (a trait that many feel Arsenal have lacked in the forward line this season), the Liège-born hitman and former Club Brugge academy graduate might be the purest goalcorer on the list in terms of being a prototypical fox in the box and a player who thrives on the end of progressive service. Though he is indeed capable of taking his man on when on the ball, the likes of Xavi Simons, David Raum, Xavier Schlager, and Dani Olmo have all posted credible assist numbers due in part to Openda’s fantastic campaign.


Openda’s club teammate and Slovenian starlet Benjamin Šeško has been a player which Arsenal have fancied before, and the relative success of Havertz this term could see the Gunners make a major play for the 20-year-old. However, his relative lack of real match-minutes in the form of starts this season would call into question what direction the club would champion in the summer regardless of whether or not they end up finishing top of the table come May.


Šeško is a real talent and that cannot be denied; a fact that was solidified during his rise to prominence at RB Salzburg before jumping to Red Bull’s flagship club in Saxony. But since Openda hit the ground running, Šeško has logged under 1300-minutes in the Bundesliga but still has appeared for the club on 35 occasions between domestic and European commitments while bagging 14 goals and two assists.



Boasting a bigger frame for someone as technically gifted as he is, there exists a pathway where Arsenal could persist with Havertz and Jesus as their central strikers while bringing the young Slovenian in to deputize and adapt to life in England and at the club until his massive potential ceiling came to fruition.


Still, though a long-term option would certainly fit into how the club have largely recruited under the Arteta and Edu tandem, it would be hard to convince many of the plus-points such a move would bring over moving for a more veteran striking option that offered a more ready-made profile.


Most importantly, the instant have a considerable impact at the Emirates with which the club could hope to compete with City and Liverpool surely must be considered, especially if Arsenal fail to secure the league.


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In truth, it is hard to argue against the latter of the two approaches, and when you survey the clubs that have been dominant at the highest level for quite sometime, a key goalscorer has been a near-constant ingredient. 


At the end of the day, Arteta and Edu have, by and large, earned the trust of the fanbase and the club’s ownership after regularly proving itself to recruit smartly though not perfectly. 


And with so much of the club’s progression on and off the pitch since the arrival of the former Gunners midfield duo coming by way of their steadfast commitment having faith in their ability in the talent acquisition department, the fans may once again have to fall back to that very notion this summer. No matter how difficult it may be.


By: Andrew Thompson / @GeecheeKid

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Neil Baynes – FC Red Bull Salzburg