Top striker needed for Arsenal

cm4k | Bigstockphoto

Arsenal have won the English top-flight title on 13 occasions, with only Liverpool (19) and Manchester United (20) above them in the all-time list. The Gunners have also finished as runners-up on 10 occasions, most recently in the 2022/23 season. That was an agonising result for Mikel Arteta and his men as Arsenal were top for much of the campaign. With their last title coming back in 2003/04 with the mighty Invincibles, Arsenal fans have been extremely frustrated that their side can’t seem to get over the line. But what are they missing? Without wanting to state the blooming obvious, Arsenal really, really need a top-class striker.

In this article, we’ll look back at some of Arsenal’s near misses and ponder whether a proficient, consistent goal-getter would have made the difference. We’ll also take a look at some of the recent Premier League champions and assess whether any have managed to fire themselves to glory without an out-and-out goalscorer. Before that, let’s have a quick look at the situation in the 2023/24 campaign and find out where Arsenal’s goals are coming from.

Arsenal Struggling for Goals in 2023/24

Ever since a certain Arsène Wenger arrived in north London, Arsenal have been broadly viewed as an expansive side who create chances and, crucially, score plenty of goals. But at the time of writing, in mid-January 2024, the Gunners are only the seventh highest-scoring side in the Premier League. It’s not a massive surprise to see Manchester City or even Liverpool ahead of them, but Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Brighton and even… whisper it… Spurs have scored more goals than Arteta’s men so far.

If we look at individual goalscoring performances in the league this term, things arguably look even less rosy for the Gunners. The hitmen for title rivals Man City and Liverpool are scoring for fun as Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have each netted 14 times in the EPL. Arsenal’s top scorer? Bukayo Saka… with just six goals to his name. Eddie Nketiah has bagged five, and Kai Havertz has three goals… which, after an appalling start to his Arsenal career, is actually not all that bad!

Given that Arsenal have drawn four of their league matches to date this term and that three of their four defeats were by a single goal, there is no doubt that a sharpshooting, in-form striker would have earned Arteta’s men points this term. But how important has a high-scoring player been in Arsenal’s previous title-winning campaigns?

League’s Top Scorer Not Necessary… But It Helps!

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry (funnydae | Wikipedia)

As said, Arsenal have won the top-flight title in England 13 times over the years. In six of those title-winning campaigns, they had that season’s top scorer playing for them. Here are those six super-strikers, along with the season they helped the Gunners win the league and the number of goals they scored.

Season Player Goals Scored
2003/04 Thierry Henry 30
2001/02 Thierry Henry 24
1990/91 Alan Smith 22
1988/89 Alan Smith 23
1947/48 Ronnie Rooke 33
1934/35 Ted Drake 42

In the other Premier League season in which Arsenal won the title, 1997/98, Arsenal’s top scorer was Dennis Bergkamp, who scored 16 league goals. That sounds like a very modest total, but the Dutchman was only two goals away from the trio of joint-highest scorers that term: Dion Dublin, Michael Owen and Chris Sutton, who each scored 18 league goals. The Gunners only won the title by a single point that year, ahead of Man United.

Of course, having the Premier League’s top goalscorer doesn’t hand a side the title. Arsenal strikers have finished at the top of the scoring pile on four other occasions in the Premier League era when the Gunners have fallen short of the title: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018/19 with 22 goals (when he was the joint top scorer), Robin van Persie in 2011/12 with 30 goals, and Thierry Henry in both 2004/05 (25 goals) and 2005/06 (27 goals). Is it too late for Thierry to come out of retirement?

Have Other Premier League Title Winners Relied on Prolific Scorers?

It is interesting and, for us, a little surprising that over the last 10 Premier League seasons, just one of the champions included the player who ended the season as the top scorer. There are no prizes for guessing who that was (just in case you’re stumped, it was Erling Haaland with 36 league goals for Man City in 2022/23). That’s not to say the title-winning sides didn’t have players who banged in plenty of goals, just that – in recent years at least (Haaland aside) – it appears they hadn’t been reliant on a single goal-getter.

In 2021/22, for instance, Man City’s leading scorer in the league was Kevin De Bruyne, with a relatively modest 15 goals. But Raheem Sterling chipped in with 13, Riyad Mahrez with 11, Phil Foden with nine, and three other players with eight apiece (Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and İlkay Gündoğan). Pep Guardiola’s Citizens ended the campaign with 99 league goals, five more than their nearest rivals (Liverpool).

In contrast, Arsenal only had two players that season who managed to score more than seven league goals: Emile Smith Rowe (with 10) and Bukayo Saka (with 11). Things improved somewhat in 2022/23 for the Gunners as three players bagged 14 or more in the league (Saka with 14 and Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Martinelli with 15 each). But given Arteta’s men drew three and lost three of their final nine games of the campaign, we can’t help thinking a 25-goal-a-season man could have made the crucial difference.

Top Strikers Don’t Grow on Trees

Mike Arteta player
Mike Arteta (Wikipedia Commons)

Of course, Arteta would love to sign a world-class goalscorer, ideally in the current transfer window. But, to paraphrase one of the many failed Prime Ministers of recent times, there’s no magic striker tree. There has been wild speculation of late that Brentford’s Ivan Toney could be the man to do the business for the Gunners.

He scored 20 goals in 33 Premier League games in 2022/23 and a very impressive 31 goals in 45 Championship games in 2020/21. The big question is whether Arteta and the Arsenal board are willing to splash the cash required to prize him away from Brentford. In other words, how much do they want to win the Premier League?