Is the "poacher" the perfect Arsenal signing this summer?

by 4 years ago · 10 minute read

Despite restoring some pride in their season with a 1-0 win over Manchester United, Arsenal’s season effectively ended with a 2-1 loss away to Bolton and Arsenal fans and pundits have already begun assessing the kind of activity Arsenal may provide in the Summer Transfer Window.

As ever, most of the names chucked into the Arsenal Rumour Mill are highly unrealistic suggestions and aren’t guaranteed to ensure success. One of the most interesting ideas, however, was that Arsenal needed to buy a traditional “goalscorer” or “poacher”, but would a poacher solve Arsenal’s problems up front? Joss Bennett and Hayden Shaw have different opinions.


Since the days of the ultimate poacher, Filipo Inzaghi (or Francis Jeffers – either way), the role of the poacher has modernised to become an increasingly important part of some of the best sides in the world. A poacher’s main role is to stay on the shoulder of the last defender – looking to use his pace and movement to latch onto through balls from the midfield or a strike partner while rarely being too involved in the build-up. His job is to score goals – whether that be a screamer from 20 yards or tapping in from 6 yards out when someone else has done all the work.

The Argument For by Hayden Shaw

Let me begin by saying that Robin van Persie is a brilliant player. I put him up there with some of the very best in the league. But he gets injured. A lot. To rely on Van Persie as your main goal-scoring outlet could result in egg on face. Of course if the squad players come in and do enough of a job then it’s no problem – at the start of the season Marouane Chamakh did that, even Nicklas Bendtner has played his part.

So this isn’t to say that Arsenal are short of good strikers, that they lack goals or penetration. However, I think any good squad needs to have a poacher to call upon when needed. Should that player be first choice for every game? Of course not; team selection is based around a myriad of factors ranging from tactical decisions, form, performances in training, fitness and even star sign if you believe some of the stories about a certain former France manager.

How Could Arsenal Set Up?

The centre-back has to follow the poacher or hand him off to the left back, the trouble is though that the left back is already following the winger inside.

What the “poacher” offers are goals. They all have pace. They are all great finishers. They all make a defender that bit more alert and they all know how to create space for themselves and also for others.

It often goes un-noticed but sometimes a striker’s best run is away from goal – dragging a defender with them. In a lot of ways I think having this kind of striker would make Arsenal’s midfield even more potent.

If given a full complement of playing staff I would have Song sitting and holding, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere running midfield with Van Persie wide right and Nasri on the left, with Poachy McPoach, the new Scottish striking sensation, up front.

Arsenal are probably the finest passers in the Premier League so it goes without saying that any striker would love to make runs with the prospect of those 4 creative players making the pass.

Defending Against A Poacher

As the poacher draws wide, he opens up space for Van Persie to pass into the path of central midfielders on forward runs, the flanks, or shoot from a distance.

The more that I have thought about it the more I think it would benefit Arsenal. Having a striker who can run the lines scares the hell out of defenders. They can deal with it in one of two ways.

On the one hand, they can play a risky game and try to catch every run offside. It’s tough because they have to get it right every time, the striker only has to get it right once (assuming that the pass is good enough and their finishing is good enough). The other way is to sit deeper. Both would suit Arsenal just fine.

Option one: If the defence drops deeper it means that either the midfield has to drop as well or there becomes a large gap between the defence and the midfield, the kind of gap that players like Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas all love to move into and then thread a killer pass or play a one two.

It also gives Arsenal’s full backs opportunity to move higher up the pitch offering yet more threat to the attack without feeling like they are being too cavalier. After all the opposition have pretty much penned themselves in.

You would have to assume with the resulting siege mentality that Arsenal would have the quality to penetrate it – especially with the movement of the poacher, dragging centre backs into the channels in order to create space for others or to receive the ball quickly from a team mate and fire a shot at goal after a quick touch.

If the poacher receives a pass, he can cross the ball or hand it to the overlapping full back and get himself into an attacking position.

Option two: If the defence tries to play the forward offside then you get the other benefits. A higher defensive line against a team like Arsenal can be suicidal if the Gunners get their passing and off the ball movement right on the day.

Arsenal don’t just have the one player who will run beyond the defence, they have several. With the offside rule in its current guise – unfair as it may be – you could even use the poacher as a dummy runner, just as a wide receiver may be used to drag players away in American football.

The other perk of having this kind of player is the reverse ball available if you chose to play Andrei Arshavin on the left and Van Persie on the right. With both Clichy and Sagna happy to bomb forward and a poacher in the team the chance is there to get the ball wide to Van Persie or Arshavin, who can then cut inside whilst the poacher makes a run between centre-back and full-back.


Considering Arsene Wenger is unlikely to splash out on some of the more expensive options such as Darren Bent, Giuseppe Rossi or Fernando Torres, here are a few more realistic transfer targets that could do the job:

The expensive option: Ezequiel Lavezzi is turning into one of the most talked about forwards in the world, which makes you wonder if Arsenal would be willing to enter a bidding war, but a cheeky bid with other teams targeting other players could see them bag an incredibly skillfull, lightning quick forward who loves to run beyond the last man, exactly the kind of player you can imagine scoring the goals that win Arsenal a trophy.

The cheap option: Yousef El Arabi is another of the skillfull, quick and (for his size) quite powerful strikers that have made their way from Africa to Ligue 1. Currently playing for Caen (3rd bottom at the moment) he is the second highest scorer in the League with 10 goals from 16 games. Pretty impressive for a player who is still pretty young (24 years old would put him in the right age bracket for Arsene Wenger) and considering his current club’s position you can’t imagine that he would break the bank.

My choice: Kévin Gameiro is making a lot of friends at Lorient, scoring 17 of the 38 goals that have fired them to 7th in the table. Small and stocky he reminds me a little of Aguero in terms of build and is clearly quite happy to shoulder a team’s goal scoring responsibility. Again the perks of this signing would surely be the comparative price of a goal scorer who at the age of 23 surely has all of his best years ahead of him.


The best thing about the poacher would come when Arsenal fans are watching all the passing and screaming “SHOOT!”. That’s what this type of striker does, they test the keeper, and if he spills the ball there’s a rebound chance for some of the fastest players in the Premiership to get to before the defenders. If the goalkeeper tips it wide it’s a corner and even if he manages to hold onto it the crowd appreciate the effort – they feel that bit closer to a goal and it gives them and the players a lift. Chances create confidence.

Not only that, having a striker with raw pace, the desire to make the runs and the killer instinct keeps teams on edge. It might not sort all of Arsenal’s lead retention problems, but it would certainly give the opposition something to think about and pose a serious counter attacking threat if Arsenal did find themselves under the cosh late on.

Hayden Shaw is a Manchester United supporter who currently runs his own blog, onestepovertoomany – focused on football in general, and contributes to others. You can follow him on twitter for blog updates and informed opinions: @elhaydo

The Argument Against by Joss Bennett

Despite all of Arsenal’s other apparent problems this year; a lack of leadership, a leaky defence and unreliable goalkeepers, there’s one thing that leaves little to debate. In recent weeks, The Gunners have had trouble finding the back of the net, with Aaron Ramsey’s finish against Manchester United ending a run of 349 minutes at the Emirates Stadium without a Premier League goal in open play.

Is this a problem with Arsenal’s strike-force and does it mean they need to recruit a new striker? I say no, and here’s why.

Theo Walcott

By definition, poachers aren’t particularly good team players – the main strength that the majority of these players have in common is pace and superb finishing ability but in Theo Walcott, Arsenal have that in abundance.

Walcott’s role on the right wing involves him moving into the space behind van Persie when the Dutchman draws the centre-backs out of position. Like a poacher would do, but from a wide position.

Despite taking a lot of criticism for not having a “footballing brain”, and for at times suspect crossing, there is little debate that what the England forward does have is raw pace and an excellent finish on him. This season, Walcott has made significant strides forward and has become an integral part of Arsenal’s game-plan and in particular as part of the axis in the forward line.

While Fabregas brings creativity, Robin van Persie provides a synergy of both this and quality finishing, Walcott adds the final piece to the puzzle with his pace and it works brilliantly – Arsenal have lost just one game (against Bolton) when Walcott, Fabregas, van Persie and Samir Nasri have started.

Furthermore, we can say that Theo Walcott’s role as a ‘right forward’ (as opposed to an out and out winger) is effectively the role that a poacher would have anyway, but on the wing. In playing him there, Arsene Wenger is able to make full use of the partnership that Fabregas and van Persie form – playing as a “False 10″ and a “False 9″ respectively while Walcott looks to occupy the space behind them; often latching onto through balls from the captain and chief playmaker, Fabregas, just as he did for his opening goals against Newcastle (in the 4-4 draw) and Tottenham (In the 3-3 draw).

One of the main reasons this forward axis is able to work is because of the role of Van Persie, who drops deep as a
‘false 9′ and draws defenders out of position. A poacher in the style of Kevin Gameiro would almost certainly not be able to do this, preferring to stay on the shoulder of the last defender and not having much involvement in Arsenal’s patient build-up play – forcing the opposition defence deeper into their own half, but more on that later.

What To Do With Van Persie

At the beginning of the 2009/2010 season and the departure of Emmanuel Adebayor, Arsene Wenger moved away from the 4-4-2 he’d been using and tweaking since the late 90′s. Since then, Wenger has been tweaking a 4-3-3 formation with the purpose of getting the best out of Fabregas and van Persie, who now acts as a lone centre-forward. Since then, the Dutchman has scored 29 goals in just 50 Premier-League appearances – a fantastic record for any striker.

That leaves the Arsenal coaching staff with two questions: What to do with van Persie should a poacher be brought in, and why wouldn’t inevitable tweaks to the formation work?

The first, and perhaps simplest option would be to keep the current 4-2-3-1 formation, but to move van Persie out to the right hand side from where, theoretically, he could cut onto his stronger left foot and allow his right-back to bomb forward on the overlap.

However, this raises two issues: firstly, despite possessing a decent long shot, it’s doubtful that van Persie would have the complete set of attributes needed to take advantage of this role. In particular, his build doesn’t give him much pace; something which would also hinder his ability to track back and fulfil his defensive duties. A role on the right would also make him rather more one-dimensional since he doesn’t tend to use his right foot – meaning good defenders could easily double up and show him down the line and reduce his impact.

Secondly, it prompts the dilemma of what to do with Theo Walcott. As previously suggested, Walcott has the potential to go and become a quality player for club and country and among his 12 overall, he has scored several important goals this season – the second against Partizan, his brace against Chelsea, his opener against Tottenham to name a few. Unless Walcott was to be moved into a central role similar to Thierry Henry when he arrived at the club in 1999, it seems unlikely that Wenger would be able to fit him into the first team system.

The second, and perhaps more likely, option would be a move to a similar 4-4-2 formation used during the ‘Bergkamp era’ – a change that would arguably kill two birds with one stone in aiming to get the best out of van Persie, but also deploying Alexandre Song in a more disciplined, anchor role like Gilberto Silva.

Again, however, this creates other problems: Would Song have the temperament to fulfil a purely holding role? And would Van Persie be at his best alongside another striker? The answer to both of these questions, in my opinion, is no. Ignoring Song for a moment, Van Persie has thrived in the lone role – scoring just one less goal (so far) this season in 30 appearances than he did playing alongside Adebayor in the 2008/09 season [Premier League only] and despite obvious similarities, van Persie is a different player to his Dutch predecessor, Dennis Berkgamp.

Robin van Persie: Player Comparisons

Although appearing as a ‘false 9′ and dropping deep, as well as having similar technical strengths as Bergkamp, van Persie is a more direct player and is arguably more of a ‘striker’ than Bergkamp ever was. This assertion is backed up by the fact that Bergkamp scored only 24 more goals (87) in the whole of his Arsenal career than van Persie has so far in his (63), having played almost 200 more games than the current number 10.

This is not to say one or the other is a better player, of course; just that they are more different than some people may believe. The only possible way to make the 4-4-2 work would be to have Van Persie dropping very deep – like Wayne Rooney in the latter stages of this season – and having another striker run beyond him. While Rooney has fulfilled this role very well, we again have to say that Van Persie is a different player; tall and technical rather than quick, athletic and full of energy and is unlikely to be able to replicate his scoring form in a different role.

The Problem With Too Much Pace

While Arsenal clearly have some of the best passers in the league – players who can pick out well-timed runs with amazingly consistent accuracy – there is a problem with having too many quick players making runs off the shoulder of their markers.

The pace of a poacher would mean the opposition defence dropping deeper, limiting the space behind them for Arsenal’s creative players to find a killer through ball.

A team with pace is always going to be a dangerous team – Barcelona have Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro; Manchester United have Luís Nani, Antonio Valencia, Rooney and Hernandez: A host of players who have had very fruitful careers but their pace and quality inevitably means that teams will drop deeper into their own half.

Again – this can be seen as a positive in that it can give a creative midfield time and space on the ball to provide the killer pass leading to a chance but it could well be a negative in our case. Arsenal’s footballing philosophy and the way they play on the pitch – short passes and intricate link play on the edge of the box – can make them a very easy team to defend against when they’re not at their best.

If Arsenal had more players in the box willing and capable of getting something on the end of crosses (according to statistics website, Whoscored, crosses have had only 4% effect for Arsenal this season) then they could cause all sorts of problems, but as it is, The Gunners often struggle against a deep defence that put 10 men behind the ball.

Although a poacher may show a more selfish attitude and be more inclined to shoot rather than pass, he would likely only force the opposition defence back onto their own area and compound Arsenal’s problems.

Conclusion: So What DO We Need?

If a poacher wouldn’t be any good – what are the areas Arsenal do need to strengthen? A centre-back seems unlikely, a goalkeeper even more so and as explained, another striker (at least in the “poacher” mould) would quite possibly cause more problems than it would solve.

For me, the most important part of Arsenal’s squad that needs strengthening (or the weakest area in the squad) is right-back. While Bacary Sagna is arguably one of the best right-backs in the league at the moment, his stand-in, Emmanuel Eboue, is simply not good enough. The Ivorian has cost Arsenal too many points this season and there is too big a gap between the two of them for Sagna to feel threatened by the competition.

As mentioned earlier, Arsenal have struggled to score goals at important times this season, and while a poacher may be the answer, one of the main reasons for this drought of sorts has arguably been the inconsistency at the left-forward position.

When Arshavin was dropped in favour of a Nasri and Walcott combination on the wings, Arsenal fans had high hopes. Since then, Nasri injured himself against Huddersfield and has struggled for form and fitness on the left-hand side of a three man attack. Arshavin has since been predominantly used as a “super-sub” when The Gunners are struggling, and despite improved work-rate and performances from the Russian, left-forward remains an area Arsenal need to look at.

  Give a fuck!

Show your support by giving a fuck!

  • Val

    Sorry Joss, but we can’t rely on walcott for the same reasons we can’t rely on RVP. My moneys on Bentdner making way for someone, perhaps a poucher/creator style player like Aurelio or Falco. United and Chelsea have both shown us that you really need more than one reliable +20 goals a season striker to win. And in United case, they have 3!

    • Nick Meredith

      Since when did United have three reliable +20 goals a season strikers? Rooney is one, fair enough. Hernandez might be, but he hasn’t scored 20 yet, and one season is not enough to say he’s reliable. Who’s the third? Berbatov? A reliable striker? Don’t make me laugh.

      Also, Chelsea having two +20 goals a season striker is debateable, seeing as Torres has scored once for them and Drogba is arguably on the first steps of the final slope down, having a goals to games ratio of 13 in 41 this season, hardly stellar.

      • Ix Techau

        I think the point isn’t about Rooney, Hernandez and Berbatov all having 20 goals each per season (in total) – it’s that either one of them is able to provide 20+ goals per season. The fact that they have three of them creates consistency, as Man Utd can just rotate to solve form issues.

        Even though Torres has had a slow start at Chelsea, it would be unwise to underestimate his quality. When he starts going, and when Chelsea starts utilising him properly, they will have a massive goalscorer on their hands for years to come.

      • Val

        Check the stats for “in all competitions”

        Hernandez = 19
        Rooney = 14
        Berbatov = 22

        RVP = 19
        Chamakh = 12
        Bendtner = 8

        Massive difference when you compare the two sets of forwards.

        • Nick Meredith

          But that just shows how Arsenal spread the goals across their strikeforce. Nasri (15), Walcott (12), Fabregas (9) are all high scorers for Arsenal. This is part of the point Joss was making, that the synergy of the strikeforce allows them all to contribute and not be so rigid as United’s. Yeah, maybe a poacher would score more than RvP, but he would blunt the attacking potential of the other three behind him.

  • Nick Meredith

    I’ve been saying it for a while now. Arsenal do not ‘need’ a poacher. They shouldn’t even ‘want’ a poacher. This article is excellent, I agree with Joss wholeheartedly.

    There is no way Arsenal should sacrifice the synergy and penetration of their front four in order to accommodate another player. Each person offers something different, unlike a poacher, who as you have mentioned would be far too similar to Walcott.

    • Joss Bennett


      I think that’s they thing, really. Hernandez is a wonderful little player but Rooney is altogether different from Van Persie, who offers so much more than your average striker.

      I think the point I’m trying to make is ‘Why change something that clearly DOES work’? They all have a fantastic relationship on the pitch, hence: “Theo van Nasregas.”

  • Val

    Also, the obvious thing that would happen if a poacher came to the squad/tactics would be rotation. We rely on the same formation, same way of playing – far too much. I would love to go into a 442 with chamakh as the deep lying creator type player with someone paying higher up on the field. With Theo and RVP rested.

    • Joss Bennett

      You would drop our most effective strikers?

      Utd and Chelsea have big strikers who score lots of goals because their midfield don’t contribute as much. Especially in the case of Man Utd who have deep-lying CMs like Gibson, Carrick, Scholes who are only ever going to score in typical Scholes fashion by volleying into the top corner from 35 yards.

      Chelsea won the league last year because they were consistent. They’ve failed in trying to play 4-4-2 and fit in two excellent strikers, even Manchester United have had to move away from 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1 – whether that be because Rooney wasn’t scoring and Hernandez was, we may never know but it’s been significantly better for them. It also allows the wingers to get into the box.

      Chamakh isn’t a deep-lying playmaker – how often do you see him making incisive 15 yards through balls? He’s not a target-man either if that’s what you mean. Yes he’s good in the air, but he’s not an Adebayor or Kenwyne Jones player who will just flick-on long-balls onto a fast striker behind him.

      4-4-2 would be fine as a Plan B, but it’s not the formation that’s preventing us from winning the league (or anything) at the moment. Also, as I said in my article, having someone push play would only cause more problems than it’s worth – if we pass it around and have no end product now, imagine what it would be like if a team was effectively forced to defend deep for 90 minutes. We’d draw 0-0 every other game!

      • Val

        I would rotate between different (but as potentially effective) strikers, who play in different ways. Hell, I’f probably settle for a carbon copy of RVP.

        You may be right about strikers being unable to work together in the modern game. However relying solely on an RVP who may not be fit, or may no be inform to provide the cutting edge would be foolish.

        Second to that would be in the belief that our midfield creating goals. We have squandered so many points this season due to not being able to put enough offensive pressure via goal threats and clear opportunities this season.

        Our fundamental problem is that in tough games, skill, creativity and positivity from strikers is essential. RVP is the only striker to have demonstrated this trait consistently this season and having 1 striker with these attributes is not enough.

        You also cannot rely on your midfield to score goals. Why?
        Even in a 4-3-3 or 4 -5 -1, midfielders require more passes to get into a goal scoring opportunity, they require more time to get into a goal scoring opportunity and they require more players around them to get into a goal scoring opportunity.

        When you compare Nasri and RVP goals this season this is obvious. Nasri scores usually by coming out from wide whilst runners pull defenders from position. Note that in most of his goals, he’s against a full bank of +4.

        RVP on the other hand usually scores when our team is much less committed in terms of numbers in and around the box. Why? Because he’s in a better starting position, much more aggressive and has the pace and the trickery to get beyond what usually are 2-3 defenders.

        This has amazing implications throughout our entire game. On the pace at which we break, to how many players we need to commit to when attacking, to how many players the opposition needs to commit to defending us, and to how many players the opposition can commit to a counter attack. It’s a massive area, it’s not either defence and attack, there fundamentally intertwined.

  • Val

    Oh, and going by this seasons performances, strikers are the #1 priority this summer. Not only is this clear in our goal difference. We need significantly more changes per match to score than united and chelsea and we’ll have serious problems again the next time RVP is unfit!

    • Val

      that should say chances*

      • Nick Meredith

        So you’ve scored the second most in the entire Prem and had the second most shots (both in general and OT), and yet you say Arsenal still need a poacher who will get you goals and take shots? Rubbish. Your goal difference is bad due to your shoddy defending of set-pieces and occasionally bad team defending or lapses of concentration, not because you don’t score enough.

        • Val

          We’ve scored 3 less goals than united, conceded 3 goals more than united. This stat was more pronounced a few weeks ago (-9 goals less than united, similar goals conceded)

          Our defensive abilities have been suspect, but it’s experience and coaching that has been the problem, not personnel – or at least, new center back next season, would probably provide less of an effect to our performance than a new striker.

          • Nick Meredith

            As I said, second most in the Prem.

            And you’ll notice that not once did I say anything about needing a new centre-back. Arsenal’s defenders are definitely good enough individually, it’s the system that needs sorting.

  • Carlton

    Great article, well-analysed and good points on both sides of the debate. :)

    Ultimately I agree with Joss. As the penultimate diagram shows, Theo Walcott already performs a poacher-esque role, but crucially with a CF that drops deep, opposition centre backs are drawn up the pitch which in turn creates space for Walcott to make a run in behind. This does of course rely on a 3rd player (usually Fabregas) to provide the killer pass, although van Persie can on occasions fulfill this role himself (as he did vs Blackburn away).

    A no.9 poacher being fed by Arsenal’s creative players, sounds good in practice, but in reality opposition teams rarely give Arsenal enough time and space to receive the ball in the hole, turn, and thread a straight pass into the box. Most teams maintain a small distance between defence and midfield (whethere it’s playing deep or pressurising higher up). Villa were one of the only teams who seemed to abandon this principle when we played them at their ground, and they’ve been terrible defensively this season.

    The pressing issue for Arsenal IMO is how to score goals when the opposition “park the bus” i.e. defence drops deep to its own 18 yard box, with the midfield maintaining a short gap in between. In such cases I think the problem has been more that Arsenal have been unable to work the ball into threatening positions, rather than failure to convert chances/take a shot (from within the box). A poacher could be beneficial, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of getting the ball into the box in the first place. For that I think Arsenal need to make better use of the width; that doesn’t necessarily mean delivering high balls into the box, but rather using the fullbacks to stretch play, drive inside from the wings, deliver low cutbacks/square passes etc., with a general focus on patience and gradual probing until an opening is created (rather than the current gameplan where the team seems to be stuck halfway between a patient, passing game and a direct, crossing one). Of course, if this is sorted out, then a poacher would help (and therefore would having one on the bench would be wise, but not as a plan A IMO).

    One final point, by replacing van Persie with a poacher, you’d have one less player in the build-up, for a passing team like Arsenal that would be a big hindrance. It could work if Arsenal played a more direct passing game with greater emphasis on transitions (a la Liverpool with Gerrard and Torres in their 4-2-3-1), but I don’t think Arsenal have the right personnel at the moment.

    • Ben

      I agree with Joss’ article. Our current system works the best with the players we have. We don’t really have a need for many additional players except for backups (rb, cdm, maybe cb and gk). I also agree that a skillful left footed winger should be a priority. The reason being that when teams “park the bus” it’s very hard to score with our normal game. When there are 10 bodies between our players and the goal, the chances of a long shot going in are slim. In this situation I think Arsenal should switch to a 4-4-2 with Bendtner and Chamahk in the middle and two wingers throwing good crosses in. This is the best way to beat this type of defense, especially when we have two exceptional headers in those two.

    • Joss Bennett

      Can’t really add much to that, Carlton. Except to thank you for an excellent post and point out that Hayden was more suggesting a poacher as a Plan B option – to which I’d agree to an extent if he were to come off the bench if we’re struggling to put chances away, but then the same factors come into play if Van Persie gets injured, or we’re simply not creating chances.

      For me – the poacher will score chances, not necessarily create them (whether that be through movement of passing himself)

  • Pancakes

    Point 1: Wilshere doesn’t play inbetween the opposition’s midfield and defence often, he plays much deeper.

    Point 2: Walcott might have the raw pace to play as a poacher, but his decision making is abysmal.

    Point 3: If a poacher was brought into the team, Arsenal wouldn’t be able to cope. The CMs would have more space to play around, but none of them are specialists in long shots.

    With regards to Point 2 though, Walcott is obviously improving but I wouldn’t really put the kid under so much pressure to score goals when he’d be better out on the wing.

    • Joss Bennett

      I’m not sure where that’s mentioned, but to be fair – Wilshere does a lot of swapping with Fabregas in midfield so quite often ends up playing an advanced role “in the hole” behind RvP and the midfield, like against Manchester United.

      Disagree about Walcott – his finishing and decision-making is getting better all the time. I’m not saying he should play as the poacher Hayden says Arsenal need, but that his role on the right hand side is effectively that of a poacher on the wing.

      There’s not really a “pressure” on him to score goals; Van Persie will do that plenty when he’s fit and so will the rest of the midfield. Just that he needs to, and will, play his part in the scoring charts. The whole team contributes, not just one striker, which appears to have been part of the problem with Manchester United (especially away from home) – while Hernandez and Berbatov have scored plenty, there’s always a risk of becoming over-reliant on strikers especially when players like Carrick are rarely going to chip in with a goal.

      Agree with your third point completely. Our players get complacent as it is – yes, it could give them more space to pick out passes, but there’s also less space in-behind and I’d argue that they actually have less time. Poachers like Hernandez rely on an inch-perfect through ball at exactly the right moment, or they stray offside and the chance is gone.

  • Joel`

    Ultimately I agree with Joss. For a start, you already have this poacher type player in Walcott, and he’s beginning to make strides into becoming a key part of the Arsenal set up. And Lavezzi arguably, but definitely Rossi – Are not poachers. Their games offer so much more than that. Although on Lavezzi, he’d be a great signing for the left forward role as Arshavin continues to be unimpressive. (See Zonal Marking article)

    For a man as prudent in his spending as Wenger, there’s no way he’s going to be buying a poacher while he has Walcott, and while it isn’t what’s needed to solve Arsenal’s problems. There are far more pressing matters in the squad, in my opinion. Especially considering the the price tags that are slapped on reliable goal scorers now (£24m – Darren Bent.), why spend that on someone who isn’t even going to be guaranteed first team football?

  • Hayden Shaw

    Main clarification I want to make on this is that I don’t think RVP should be replaced by a Poacher or that Arsenal should make widespread changes to their system. The points Joss make are all valid and highlight how well the current system works. But there are times when it isn’t working and a bit of variety would be brilliant. For a defender nothing messes with your head like a change of style of attacker that you’re facing. Craft and guile all game followed by sudden bursts of pace is tough to handle. Variety also means that when teams are training all week in preparation for Arsenal they don’t know which forwards and which style to practice against and to work systems for. Small things but aren’t games won on small details? Aren’t titles? Like I say, RVP is one of the best in the World when fit, and Arsenal’s midfield do share the goalscoring burden admirably. However I think variety in the strike force would mean games where the opposition defence have the upper hand, where they have their backs to the wall and Arsenal look short of ideas are where a poacher could make a difference. If anything it unsettles defenders and gives other players a chance.

  • Hayden Shaw

    Oh and only other thing is that the Poachers being suggested in some of the quotes, like Rossi and Bent (£24m) wouldn’t be Wenger signings due to the cost and to be honest, they’re not what I’m thinking of. A small expenditure, less than £10m on a proven goalscorer like Kévin Gameiro from France would, for me, be an absolute steal. Much more than that and Arsenal are spending more than they need to in an area that is already fairly strong. I’m talking about a final piece in the jigsaw rather than a complete rejig.

  • Gunner

    Could give Carlos Vela a chance he has never had a run of games starting some might disagree with me. I think he could be a good player IMO. But if Arsenal buy another striker there only going to be back up to RVP. So it has to be someone who does mind to be on the bench.

    Got a couple of decent forwards out on loan in the reserves as well. Benik Afobe, Luke Freeman, JET, Wellington Silva.

  • Dave

    They don’t need a poacher, but I don’t think it will do any harm, I do think that if they get one in the stereotypical mould as described then Walcott should probably make way but this would almost definately not happen and I don’t think it should happen as Walcott is in my eyes starting to fulfill all his promise he had (that’s not to say he’s done badly). If Arsenal were to get a striker, they could possibly go for someone like Lukaku although they’ll inevitably be out-bid in the end, people will argue that they don’t need someone like that because Van Persie often tracks back so they should get a more attacking minded player. What I personally think they should do is get another pacy winger on the opposite side of Walcott so they can both overlap Van Persie, someone like Lavezzi would be good there.

  • BeltransMole23

    Good article guys–
    I think the key point is that a poacher “does” so much more now. You don’t find someone like Jimmy Greaves at a top club anymore because it’s not enough to score. Look at Hernandez: He may be the prototypical poacher, with great pace and finishing, but he is involved a lot in team play, like United’s second goal against Schalke.
    If Vela could become that sort of player, or if we could buy Gamiero, I think we’d be a lot better scoring wise.

  • S

    Nice analysis !

    As this season wound down, I came to the following conclusions (in my opinion):

    – Develop effective counter attack. There were many times this season (even against Man U at home) when 3-4 counter attacks fell apart due to indecision and lack of pace. This point is rightly explained by Joss. SAF himself said is an interview few years ago that forwards (wide and center) are more effective is they make runs from deep rather than just playing just in front of the defense. This is the principle that Man U’s offense is based on. Wide forwards cut in at pace, forwards from the center run into spaces behind the defense at pace. Barca also, as Joss mentioned, have wide forwards running into spaces behind the defense.

    – Better finishing. I think there are two ways of skinning this cat. Get a poacher like Hayden suggested, with having to face the resulting consequences in tactics. Or doing it the Arsenal way, i.e., improving the finishing of the existing set of players. I’m sure poachers are not born, finishing is something that can be acquired.

    – Better pressing from the front. This is probably take time as this is the first season where we have players settled into various positions. They should work on it in the pre-season.

    – Tackling. As a part of this pressing, forwards/midfielders should improve their tackling. You can notice the difference between Man U and Arsenal when they press from the front. Man U doesn’t allow opposition to easily start a counter. Their forwards tackle well. Unfortunately I don’t have any stats on this to cite.

    – Focus and awareness of positions of opposition forwards. This is one aspects Clichy can improve. Many a time the off-side is broken by Clichy’s suspect positioning. Or Squillaci’s lack of pace makes him take a step or two back.

    – Set piece defending. There’s nothing much to say. Probably improve the upper body strength to resist the physical nature of opposition. :D

    My 2 cents anyway…

    • Nick Meredith

      Good analysis!

      Especially the bit on United’s forwards v Arsenals: their pressing from the front was disjointed in the recent Arsenal v United game, and contributed to Arsenal’s win immeasurably.

    • Joss Bennett

      Thanks for an excellent post!

      To address a couple of things you’ve mentioned:

      – Counter-attack: Yep, completely agree. Not much a new player can do about it, though – we’ve counter-attacked well when we’re confident and have players like Fabregas, Walcott and Van Persie all fit; exploiting the ‘second-phase offside’ rule well as I explained here:

      – On a separate issue, because I’m not sure the positioning of wide-forwards is solely relevant to counter-attacking; I think that should come with a better quality on the wings. As I explained in my article, Walcott is becoming an integral part of Arsenal’s system and has the potential to go on to be an excellent player, moving into the space behind RvP to grab important goals or assists. (See Chelsea, Blackpool, Blackburn, Wolves.) but I feel Arshavin isn’t good enough offensively or defensively at the moment and needs a kick up the backside or to be sold/dropped permanently.

      Nasri looks uncomfortable on the left and while he may be able to hold that role down for a season, he needs competition to avoid complacency; perhaps Myiachi or Pedro Botelho will provide this when they get work permits and return to Arsenal.

      – ‘Better finishing’ is a myth:

      > Arsenal had a better chance conversion rate than Barcelona or Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League (in fact THE best).

      > Arsenal have the best shooting accuracy in the Premier League this season – 49%.

      > Only Man Utd & Man City have converted a higher percentage of their shots into goals.

      – On the defensive front, I generally agree with your points, however I’m convinced that Arsenal’s individuals players are good enough – it’s the marking system from corners that is letting us down and needs to be addressed badly.

  • FreddyMan

    I am still in denial about Arshavin. Is he really not good enough to play for us next season? I mean, a “super sub” role for someone of his ability just kills me.

    Anybody have any thoughts on what role you think he might have next year? Or if he will even be on the team?

  • Pingback: United, St. Totteringham’s Day, Måltjuvar och Stoke « United Gunners()

  • Joss Bennett

    I’d like to point out some stats to all those who have said (and up to now I’ve agreed) that one of the strongest arguments for having a poacher in the side (whether on the bench or starting and regardless of tactics) is that he could help put an end, at least temporarily, to Arsenal’s frustrating lack of penetration on the edge of the box; deciding to pass to one another instead of shoot.

    This has certainly been a problem recently, and perhaps signing a selfish poacher would mean we wouldn’t have wasted so many chances – I personally think it’s a mentality issue after the Carling Cup final defeat as some statistics from @Orbinho (Arsenal and Opta stats master on twitter):

    – Only Chelsea have fired in more shots. So it’s a myth that the team never shoots.

    – Arsenal had a better chance conversion rate than Barcelona or Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League (in fact THE best).

    – Arsenal have the best shooting accuracy in the Premier League this season – 49%.

    – Only Man Utd & Man City have converted a higher percentage of their shots into goals.

    Thanks as always for all the lovely comments =)

  • Joss Bennett

    I would also like to urge people not to comment saying: “A poacher isn’t as simple as you make them sound” – As Hayden himself pointed out in the comments section; we’re fully aware that a poacher doesn’t *just* do one thing or the other, but I personally think it’s safe to say a poacher has less aspects to his game than more complete forwards, to borrow an FM term.

    Hernandez, for example, as 1 assist in the Premier League (In fact, he only has one overall) – that’s not to say he does nothing in the build-up, just that he does less than someone like Van Persie – who is crucial to the way Arsenal play and has 7 assists by contrast, our 3rd highest assister.

    If you have a different definition to the one we’ve used in the introduction, I’ll happily take it into account and edit the post if I/we agree!

    • Nick Meredith

      I think you’re right to have the definition as that. The classical poacher had nothing apart from his finishing: think Fowler, Van Nistelrooy, Inzaghi. They weren’t exceptionally quick, wouldn’t win aerial balls for teammates, but if you gave it to them in the six yard box they put it away with unerring accuracy. Now, they’ve diversified, and there’s only one person below 30 who matches the description of a poacher, and that’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. His travails this season have rather highlighted the death of a ‘traditional’ poacher.

      • Joss Bennett

        Hmm – but Hayden’s not suggesting Arsenal need a “classical” poacher (or a fox in the box). More just someone who has the pace to go behind defences and offers little (not nothing) else. Al la Bent, Hernandez. -> Poor in the air, not the best passers, but superbly consistent finishers and will make runs behind the defence all day long.

        • Nick Meredith

          Well, exactly, hence why I agreed with your definition of poacher. Think you should find a better example than Bent when you want to point out ‘bad in the air’ though: two headed goals in two matches before today, and winning more headers than Heskey in the past three games they’ve played together.

          • Joss Bennett

            I misunderstood.

            Re: Bent – Well, he isn’t brilliant in the air to be fair.. He’s about 3′ 4″ and Heskey isn’t the best example!

            You’re just worried about losing your prize asset ;)

          • Nick Meredith

            To Arsenal? Pah. You can’t afford him. :)

  • Wrenny

    Interesting article, and both sides make a strong argument. But I’m with Joss on this one, introducing a poacher into our system seems likely to create more problems than it solves.

    Although RVP cannot be depended upon as a result of his injury troubles, when he’s fit he is far too good a ‘false 9′ to be pushed into a wide position in order to introduce a limited poacher into the team. And when he’s not fit, we would surely be better off with another striker in a similar mould to RVP as a replacement, with the movement and technical abilities to create space and play killer passes to players around him.

    I don’t actually believe we have a problem in finishing off chances, the issue is that we don’t seem to creating enough high-quality opportunities in the first place, particularly when up against the ‘parked buses’ of the league. I think Control has hit the nail on the head – “the problem has been more that Arsenal have been unable to work the ball into threatening positions, rather than failure to convert chances/take a shot (from within the box). A poacher could be beneficial, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of getting the ball into the box in the first place. For that I think Arsenal need to make better use of the width; that doesn’t necessarily mean delivering high balls into the box, but rather using the fullbacks to stretch play, drive inside from the wings, deliver low cutbacks/square passes etc.,”

    • Joss Bennett

      Haha: Carlton, not control!

      Thanks for your comment – completely agree that it’s just a waste to push Van Persie into a wide position, but I don’t think it’s right that we need another player just like him as cover.

      I don’t think you’re right about Bendtner and Chamakh, either. On the former, Wenger has a big decision to make about his future. If he’s playing him in an awkward position just for the sake of playing him (and therefore appeasing somewhat) then he needs to decide whether Bendtner is actually able/willing to be transformed into a wide player, or whether it’s time to sell him to one of many reportedly interested clubs (Everton, Birmingham, etc.)

      Personally, I’d like to see him given more of a chance – he gets a bit of stick from Arsenal fans but he has scored important goals for Arsenal (not necessarily this season) and is clearly a good player when in form; perhaps his problem is that he’s too much of a hybrid player – caught between a more advanced and less technical striker like Chamakh, and a more complete forward like RvP.

      Re: Chamakh – I really think he’s a good player, and more than capable of providing us with a Plan B. He had a good start to the season, but the lack of a winter-break led to fatigue, which led to a loss of form and now he simply has no confidence – trying to do much with the ball and mishitting simple shots or passes.

      • Wrenny

        Oops, apologies Carlton!

        Just to clarify, I didn’t mean we ought to be getting rid of Chamakh and/or Bendtner. Simply that if we were to buy another forward I think a technical player capable of replicating Van Persie’s false-nine role would bring more to the squad than a poacher type would. I realise now that I might have given the impression I didn’t rate our back up strikers.

        I agree with you on Bendtner, I think he’s very talented and terribly underrated by some. But I believe that like Eduardo and Vela, he’s struggled to adapt to our new shape. Despite his size and strength I’m not convinced he’s very effective playing on his own up front, which is what I think has led Wenger to use him in a wider role. What I haven’t understood is if Wenger has done this as an attempt to transform him into a wide player, or as preparation to then bring him back into the centre. Or maybe, like you say, it’s been just to give him playing time and keep him sharp.

        So personally I’m rather unsure how I feel about Bendtner, I think he has the talent but is there a role for him in the team? Can he better adapt to the system, or can the system be adapted to get more out of him? His world cup injury also robbed him of a pre-season, which obviously didn’t help his integration into the system. Would a full pre-season this year bring him up to speed? Wenger has a difficult decision to make.

        On Chamakh, I agree and I think he will come back stronger next season. He’s an intelligent, hard working player and took to our system amazingly quickly. Not the most technically gifted but he makes good decisions quickly and allows the creative players to shine, he very much plays for the team.

  • jimmythegunner

    Good points made on both sides of the article but I favour the idea of bringing in a poacher for a number of reasons.

    Firstly I feel that the system we play now works fantastically for the way we want to play against the bigger teams like United Chelsea etc in the league. The extra man in midfield allows our players to control the game from the midfield which in turn allows us to play games in the way we like to play it. However I believe 3 years ago when Eduardo was at the club we had the exact poacher that we require right now, unfortunately he suffered a bad injury and wasn’t the same, he was sold and wasn’t replaced with a player who had similar attributes. Not only will a poacher give us a player capable of scoring goals but will also allow us to be more diverse with tactics and formations. Wenger has been very rigid in his approach all season about the formation we play and has rarely changed it. Someone like Gameiro would offer the movement to play a 4-4-2 which in fact has worked fantastically for Manchester United since the arrival of Hernandez who has undeniably formed the best strike partnership in the league with Rooney. I think we need to buy this summer, not as much as some people suggest, but 2 or 3 good players in the problem areas and some analysis of tactical issues with the team will resolve a lot of the issues. On the training ground Wenger needs to sort the mess with set pieces out over the summer as well as the attitude the players have when they are not in possession of the ball. It will be interesting to see who comes in as Arsenes number 2 once Pat Rice retires in the summer. I’m hoping for Tony Adams to return and be our permanent assistant manager (not tactically good enough to be the manager ever) I think the dressing room need a staff member who’s a shouter to be honest.

    • Joss Bennett

      To address your point about a possible new Assistant Manager quickly, because it’s rather irrelevant but interesting all the same: Some talk that Steve Bould (now coach of the Youth side) or Neil Banfield (Reserve Team Coach) will be offered the role – especially since the former has apparently had offers from other clubs. The former would definitely give us the leadership in the dressing room you (and almost every other Gooner) are keen to have. I don’t think Adams would be a particularly good signing to be honest – great bloke, but he’s clearly not going to be someone able to question Wenger and offer him tactical alternatives which is sort of the job of the Assistant Manager.

      Re: The suggestion of a 4-4-2; Arsene clearly has it in his mind that it won’t work. Even against Stoke, where we had Chamakh, Bendtner, Walcott and RvP on, he kept the general shape of the tactic the same. Whether it’s him being stubborn or whether he really is right to be wary, we won’t know in terms of Arsenal until he tries it (It’s possible he’ll experiment in the friendlies although he doesn’t usually differ too much from the base tactic).

      In terms of United, it’s completely different. For me; the 4-4-2 is dead – Very few teams in the world play/have success with such a simple formation because football nowadays is about the midfield battle (Unless you go to Italy!) and it’s becoming more and more about that every season. Manchester United no longer play ‘4-4-2′ – Rooney drops so deep in some games (see against Arsenal, Chelsea etc.) that it’s more of a 4-5-1, or a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 like our system.

      I’m just going to pick this extract from my article which I feel is the point you have either missed, or disagree with (that’s fine, too!) and that I’m trying to explain:

      The only possible way to make the 4-4-2 work would be to have Van Persie dropping very deep – like Wayne Rooney in the latter stages of this season – and having another striker run beyond him. While Rooney has fulfilled this role very well, we again have to say that Van Persie is a different player; tall and technical rather than quick, athletic and full of energy and is unlikely to be able to replicate his scoring form in a different role.

  • Gunncabinet

    i rather like my gunn attack the way it is. and if we would all agree that we don’t need a traditional goal poacher, then we won’t have trouble losin chamakh and bendtner because all season they have worked to prove that they cannot fill RVP’s shoes. the dutchman may be unfit a lot of times but i have never seen a game where he was not a bother for the opposition. i would rather like to see a striker come in, in the mould of kanu or adebayor – a striker who can hold the ball while his teammantes get into scoring positions. we already have a sprinter in walcott; heaven knows we don’t need more. henry was prolific, but was he a poacher? no. he worked for the team like everybody else.
    the biggest problem we have i think is in the defence. we do not have enough cover on the bench to keep the first team players on their toes and away from the silly and costly mistakes they made at crucial moments in the season. if we get one good defender who is in the mould of vermalen, and a good holding midfield cover for song, then i think we will be home and dry.
    and one thing wenger has to definitely work on is how to get goals against teams that keep ten men behind the ball. passing ourself to sleep on the edge of the opposition box has not worked. maybe wenger should encourage his kids to shoot more, like rosicky and arshavin do.

  • Steve

    My take on this is that we do need a poacher (at least at times we do) and at the same time we have one in the squad in Walcott. So I agree with parts of each side of the debate. Where I disagree with Joss’ position is the idea of Theo being a ‘poacher from the wing.’ I think that in our system with 3 up front, the wide players have to be able to create something on their own, without the need of an overlapping player, or without the need to be passed in. We don’t have a single player in the team that can do this bar Nasri, who for some reason is tentative when given the chance to take on his man.

    Against better opposition, our current setup and personnel are ok, because it sets up well for the counter attack, and better opposition are able to keep the ball a bit against us and once they turn it over we can strike if we’re fast enough. Against sides that are set up to defend and remain organised, our personnel is too stale and too central because we don’t have the ingenuity from the wide players. It’s not Theo’s fault – those aren’t his strengths. He won’t get played in behind a defence that is well organised. In other words, the second to last diagram in Joss’ bit doesn’t happen often in real life. Teams usually don’t play a high line against us, they drop deeper and make us break them down as in the last diagram. This is why we end up getting 20-30 yards out and end up playing sideways football in front of the opposition back four.

    We’re not going to get around that until we bring in a dynamic winger who can take on a defender and dribble past him. That breaks down the shape of the defence and opens up spaces for onrushing players as the defence gets stretched. For me, Theo is a striker and belongs on the shoulder of the last man and making runs to the penalty spot. I would have Van Persie in a role slightly behind Theo, occupying the space in front of the opposition back four. A proper winger who can beat his man regularly and get to the endline one side and Nasri on the other. Fabregas playing his preferred role of deep lying playmaker alongside Song. Visually:

    ————Van Persie


    That leaves a great deal for defenders to think about. Centrally, do you focus on Theo being on the shoulder of the last man who can be picked out by Fabregas. You do that and you leave more room for RvP to work 20 yards out. A proper winger on one side and Nasri on the other and its a nightmare really. Right now we restrict ourselves when RvP drops deep because there is no one in front of him and there is no real outlet on the wing and therefore it’s congestion in the middle.

    Of course, all of this means that Wilshere and Ramsey are lost in the shuffle. It’s difficult to leave them out because they are so talented, but overall I think that it would be a testament to how strong our squad could be. We wouldn’t have to play my suggested setup every week, only against certain opposition. We could certainly rest players and rotate effectively. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about, flexibility, having a squad that is capable of adjusting when needed and having the quality to perform at a consistently high level regardless of the personnel.

  • Mike

    Personally, I agree that Van Persie as first choice is definitely the way that Arsenal should play, and Walcott does offer a threat in the same way as a Poacher. However, when he is not in the team or not on form, this often seems to be when Arsenal are lacking their cutting edge and a direct attacking threat in the box. I think that the solution should be to buy someone comfortable at playing a poacher role off the left flank in the style of David Villa for when Walcott is not playing (so that Nasri can be on the right – though this does go against Wenger’s traditional creative left hand side and direct attacking right hand side). This player could also probably deputise up front when Van Persie/Chamakh are unavailable (I’d make room/money for the player in the squad through selling Bendtner and cashing in now on Arshavin – someone who I feel is in decline and offers an increasingly unsatisfactory compromise between being a goalscoring threat and a playmaker), as I’m not sure Walcott has the all round game necessary to be the lone striker in a team like Arsenal’s. As for player suggestions Aguero and Neymar would be ideal but far too expensive, and so I do think that Lavezzi is a really nice shout as a versatile player who could be snapped up for around £15m or so, though maybe I’m wrong about that and Napoli wouldn’t be able to sell. He’d also give Arsenal the slightly different option of someone with the ability to really run at people and beat players, something which of course they have already in Nasri and Arshavin, but not with quite the same pace and skill as Lavezzi.

    As for what Arsenal NEED – I do think that the team needs another player capable of giving a direct attacking threat and clinical finishing, not that the team lacks goals but they do need someone to occasionally be a little more selfish – again something which Arshavin gives you but I feel now is a good time to replace him. A goalkeeper won’t happen, Szczesny is fine, and I do think Samba would be a good signing at centre back – the team needs more height as evidenced by the horrendous record at defending set pieces, and he would give the team a strong leader to help organise the younger players in such situations, as well as the fact that he’s brilliant aerially and seems more than quick enough to cope with the high defensive line. I’m not sure how good Coquelin/Frimpong are, but I don’t think Denilson/Diaby really fit the system too brilliantly, not being good enough defensively and probably ought to go too. Wilshere worries me enough as it is in a key defensive position, and if anyone less strong than Song is covering for him then it spells disaster. If Coquelin and Frimpong are fit and able to make the step-up then great, if not, perhaps a player for this role would be necessary. A new backup right back would also be good, agreed.

    So, out: Almunia/Eboue/Squillaci/Diaby/Denilson/Arshavin/Bendtner.

    In: Bartley/Coquelin/Frimpong/Lansbury/Miyachi (in a way) Samba/Lavezzi/Debuchy (maybe too good to be the backup?) and perhaps a holding midfielder, preferably one who could also give the team some extra height, a weakness Wenger has even acknowledged.

  • Pingback: Arsenal 3-0 Bolton: Out with the new, in with the old as Gunners win again | Arsenal Report()