It’s funny how a goalscoring striker can make most problems disappear. An error-prone defender or an out-of-form midfielder will hardly be given too much notice if the man up front is banging goals in for fun. Just take Manchester United from the 2012/13 season as an example, when Robin Van Persie almost single-handedly led the Red Devils to the title, even though Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad was far from being the best in the league.
Last year, Chelsea lacked a goalscorer up front and finished third. They recognised their requirements and got in the hottest property of the summer, Diego Costa, into the side. With 19 league goals to his name, the Spaniard has helped the Blues secure the league for the first time in 5 years.
The list can go back for as long as you want it to. Every Premier League champion has had a prolific striker in their ranks. Chris Sutton, Alan Shearer, Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Didier Drogba, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney and of course, the above mentioned duo of Van Persie and Costa are all strikers who have spearheaded title charges for their respective sides.
The game at Old Trafford on Sunday between United and Arsenal made one thing clear. Neither side has a world-class forward at the moment. There is no one that can guarantee 20-25 league goals a season and perform when it matters most.
The Gunners’ main striker, Olivier Giroud, cut a lazy and disinterested figure at the weekend, failing to make any intelligent runs in behind the opposition’s backline. The Frenchman does have 14 league goals to his name this season, and is undoubtedly good on his day. But he is clearly not the man who will ever win the Premier League for his side. Compared to legends like Ian Wright and Henry, standard-bearers for any striker at Arsenal, Giroud hasn’t stepped up when his side have needed him to.
United, on the other hand, have startlingly fallen short of goalscoring strikers. They had the big names this season, but nobody fired. Radamel Falcao, who was brought in on loan from Monaco, was one of the most exciting prospects of the season. But the man who was not too long ago touted as one of the best strikers in the world, failed miserably, scoring just 4 Premier League goals and relegated to playing for the U-21’s at one point. Van Persie too seems to have lost his touch following a host of injuries, while Rooney was played in a variety of positions this season, but not up front.
It seems very evident which area both sides need to address. With Chelsea dominating the league from start to finish this time, Wenger and Van Gaal will know that they face an uphill task to stop Mourinho’s men. But without a consistent goalscorer each, they can’t make any progress.
There will lots of top quality forwards up for grabs in the summer, including Edinson Cavani, Alexandre Lacazette, Karim Benzema and potentially, Edin Dzeko. While United’s history shows that they will splash the cash and bring in the required reinforcements, Arsenal must make sure they don’t fall behind in the race yet again.