Arsenal transfer rumour: Would Higuain be a real goal upgrade on Giroud?
Holly Thackeray | July 17, 2016
Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger has become, rather affectionately, known over the years as stingy when it comes to spending. But, following the top three record signings of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and only this summer of Granit Xhaka, the usually stubborn Frenchman has been slowly changing his ways.
That is what makes rumours regarding a potential Gunners grab for Napoli goal machine Gonzalo Higuain, mooted to cost them around £80m if it is to go ahead, even slightly believable.
Is time running out for Wenger at the Emirates? Season after season he has survived fan unrest and failure at the final hurdle, his overall impressive contribution to Arsenal’s infrastructure, trophy-laden history and style allowing the now 66-year-old to scrape by on FA Cup success over the past few seasons.
But, after squandering an open Premier League last season and allowing outsiders Leicester City to charge to the title, the clock could be ticking on Wenger’s tenure and chance to land the Gunners not only another top-flight trophy but also a first ever Champions League on his watch.
Record-breaking hitman Higuain would certainly be a statement signing – but would he really be the marquee man to fire Arsenal (11/2 with Coral to win the Premier League) back to the top?
And, if gossip is to be believed, current Gunners goal hunter Olivier Giroud could be shipped off in the opposite direction to Italy – is that really the solution to Arsenal’s ills?
Gunners in goal derth
Famed for their attacking football over the years it is unthinkable that Arsenal could start the season with only Giroud, stretched after a summer of Euro 2016 football almost went the distance in France, and Theo Walcott as their sole senior strikers – with the latter yet to prove he justifies operating centrally.
To boot, Giroud could also miss the first week of the Premier League season, after Wenger stated that he and France teammate Laurent Koscielny required: “Four weeks holiday because they need to recover.”
Danny Welbeck is expected to remain on the treatment table until 2017, while Yaya Sanogo’s future seems uncertain, further impressing the need for a new net threat.
Last term the Londoners paid the price for relying on inconsistent Giroud’s goal haul as well as that of Sanchez, who struggled to fire as lethally from attacking midfield in his second season at the Emirates.
So, the end of campaign report did not make for pretty reading – as second spot Arsenal trailed winners Leicester and third place bitter rivals Tottenham by four goals, with fourth ranked Manchester City way ahead with 16 more scored.
Wenger already moved to quench the Gunners’ goal thirst by trying and failing to lure Foxes forward Jamie Vardy to the capital club. A completely different type of striker to Giroud, preferring to stretch play on the counter with his speed, making smart runs and chasing down deliveries – it had looked as though Arsenal were targeting a foil for Giroud rather than replacement.
Links since have seen Alexandre Lacazette, Alvaro Morata and more tipped to join the Emirates attack, but now Higuain is the name in the frame. Would the Argentina international be a real upgrade? Or would that money be better spent improving defence with fresh left back and centre half options?
Higuain could be Arsenal hero
Giroud, 29, is often criticised for being rather cumbersome up top, useful for holding up the ball and laying it off expertly, but also eyed for being a rather predictable and one-dimensional goal threat.
Flexible football with a more versatile and dynamic dangerman would suit the Arsenal style more, but not everyone can buy a Paulo Dybala.
Higuain, a year younger at 28, is more adaptable but still prefers to be the focal point of attacking play – with both traditional centre forwards – meaning deploying the two together is unlikely to gel.
It was Antoine Griezmann, Les Bleus’ support striker that truly led the line at Euro 2016 with his clever movement and all-round impact on games (as well as goals) leaving Giroud in the shade and sometimes no more than a distraction.
Yet Higuain may not be the answer to more incisive play going on the poaching pair’s respective league stats last season.
Brest-born Argentine Higuain far surpasses his competitor in the scoring stakes with a record-levelling 36 in 35 outings for Napoli, with only 82.7 minutes per goal, while Giroud helped himself to just 16 in 38. On a simplistic level, goals do of course win games, though the relative strengths of rival leagues must be taken into account.
Known as a ruthless finisher, it may surprise some to know that Giroud has never notched over 16 in a single league season for Arsenal. While, Higuain has hit over 20 in four out of 10 full campaigns spent with Napoli and Real Madrid.
Though, for the Little Donkeys, his previous two term tallies were just 17 and 18 – was last year a purple patch?
More to a modern striker role
Of course, and especially in a Wenger side, more is required from a leading man than just marksmanship, though it remains the most crucial component.
As despite Higuain’s incredible haul, Campania club Napoli still failed to fight off dominant Juventus for the Serie A title – showing his prowess between the posts is not simply enough to end a trophy drought.
The Little Donkeys ended empty handed despite Juve’s top scorer, Dybala, sinking just 19 – because of their strength not only all over the pitch but also in the squad. Namely, they are not a one man team.
So strengthening other areas with star quality, with Giroud a more than capable goal gobbler with the right service, would seem more sensible for Wenger than entering an apparent auction with the Old Lady for this Argentine.
And if Giroud can be lambasted for limp performances in France, Higuain’s record when it comes to crunch moments is not spotless either, notably missing chances to win La Albiceleste the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America.
Higuain is regularly dubbed a big game bottler and was hauled off 14 times in Serie A in the season just gone, with 22 of his strikes occuring on home turf to prove he prefers home comforts.
When it comes to assists, Giroud edges his opponent with six to Higuain’s paltry two – though the Frenchman again falls to second best with pass completion rate with 68.1 per cent to the Argentine’s 78.1 per cent.
It is tough to argue with that stats that, at least last term, Higuain was by far the superior and more effective threat. The market is not imbued with top class alternatives, with elite players ever more expensive. So, though Higuain would command an extortionate fee if sold, that goal gap with the Foxes would certainly be covered.
The money could certainly be better spent elsewhere but, as far as statement signings go, grabbing the Serie A top scorer for a potential club record is up there with Manchester United’s mooted move for Paul Pogba.
Yet, if it comes at the expense of rebuilding the defence, goals scored may not quite cover for goals against. A Giroud with a world class spine surrounding him may, after all, not look so different to Higuain.