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Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Mikel Arteta has no choice but to boost flawed forward line as Ivan Toney commits to Brentford | Football News


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Perhaps word of Ivan Toney’s re-commitment to the Brentford cause was what Mikel Arteta had in mind when he admitted after Arsenal’s defeat to Liverpool that signing another striker “does not look realistic” during the current transfer window.

As calculated elsewhere on these pages, in Arsenal’s last three games, they have had 61 shots to a backdrop of 6.47 worth of expected goals and scored just once.

This was a defeat by type.

Arsenal have other problems: neither of their goalkeepers seem capable of making a save. VAR has been a regular scourge. Injuries have been debilitating. Set-pieces have been an obvious vulnerability (Arsenal have conceded from a corner or free-kick in each of their last three matches).

But these are just problems. Arsenal’s inability to convert their chances is now shifting into fatal flaw territory.

“I don’t think they win the league if they don’t get a centre-forward,” opined Sky Sports’ Paul Merson last week. Few would disagree.

In that context, Toney’s pledge to Brentford must be considered a serious setback. Toney is – or was – the obvious candidate to be Arsenal’s missing piece.

There are, of course, twin difficulties at play here. The first is the difficulty of forecasting a successful season for Arsenal if they don’t sign a striker. The second is signing a striker in January, a notoriously difficult market at the best of times. Arsenal are desperate buyers in a sellers’ market.

Bukayo Saka fails to convert an awkward chance to score
Arsenal have zero goals from their last 48 shots at home

Brentford have demanded £100m for Toney, an astonishing sum for a player with just one England cap to his name, but a sum that may yet still make sense for Arsenal. After all, what price prolonging a season that still has Premier League title and Champions League aspirations at play?

Then is there the complication of Financial Fair Play and anticipated restrictions. Arsenal are no strangers to negotiating with Brentford but it was telling that their summer talks concluded with David Raya being signed on loan.

Still, needs must and the surprise around calls for Arsenal to sign a new centre-forward are that they are being framed in the singular. Arsenal’s need for a centre-forward is surely in the plural.

Consider their current options: Gabriel Jesus is a wonderful player but hardly a natural goalscorer. More critically, he has scored as many Premier League goals – three – as he has suffered injuries – August, October, December – this term having missed a large chunk of last season with another knee injury.

As for Eddie Nketiah, the fact that he was overlooked as Jesus’ stand-in against Liverpool spoke volumes. And then there’s Kai Havertz, all hesitation, dithering and wasted endeavour. Arteta could be forgiven for experimenting with Havertz as a potential solution to Arsenal’s obvious striker problem against Liverpool.

But the answer was inevitable. Arsenal, we shouldn’t forget, have been here before: the season started with an injury to Jesus, a start for Havertz as a centre-forward against Manchester City in the Community Shield, a clutch of awkwardly-missed chances, and another go for Nketiah a week later.

Kai Havertz rises to head a chance at goal against Liverpool
Kai Havertz puts the best of his many chances wide against Liverpool

So how might Arsenal change the narrative even if Toney is out of reach?

Firstly, Toney might still be in reach if Arsenal do regard £100m as value in return prolonging their Premier League and Champions League ambitions. Dominic Solanke, enjoying a prolific season at Bournemouth, is another mooted option. As Tottenham have demonstrated with their shock move for Timo Werner, there are alternatives available.

Nor is it especially hard to see how Arsenal might raise the funds. With the Gunners now out of both domestic cup competitions, Aaron Ramsdale can only expect to play one more game – the on-loan Raya cannot play the March home game against his parent club Brentford – this side of June.

Following his Liverpool snub, the writing is surely on the wall for Nketiah. And if Emile Smith Rowe cannot be granted more than three minutes from the bench when Arsenal are in need of goals against Liverpool and Fulham then he has been as good as sold already.

All of which brings us back to Arteta’s admission that a striker does not look realistic. He’s right. Right now, it doesn’t and the smart money remains on Arsenal limping on with an over-reliance on the fragile and profligate Jesus.

Before any white flags are waved, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was only two weeks ago that Arsenal topped the league. All will not necessarily be lost if a new striker isn’t recruited.

But Arsenal’s recent misery has laid bare the risk of that strategy. The ball is simply not going into the net as often as it should do.

That’s a big problem in football and means the transfer ball is now in Arsenal’s court for the final three weeks of January. Unrealistic as it might be, realistically they have no choice but to try to make something happen.

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