Is Huntelaar really the answer?
We’ve gathered that he is currently one of the most prolific players in Europe, but is this Dutch striker really the ideal replacement to the seemingly Milan-bound Adebayor? He is a typical poacher, who began at De Graafschap and has worked his way around a number of Dutch clubs before signing for Ajax from Heerenveen in what was a Dutch transfer record at the time (one broken recently by another deal between the two clubs as Miralem Sulejmani arrived in Amsterdam for over 16 million euros).
The stats show his ability in one of Europe’s smaller leagues with the poacher netting 36 goals in the last two seasons. But as we’ve all come to find out, statistics are misleading with the quality of the opposition not taken into account. This is clear as Mateja Kezman actually outscored Ruud Van Nistelrooy in Holland, but upon arriving in the Premiership, we realised who had the talent and adaptability. The elder of the two scores goals everywhere he’s played: Holland, England and now Spain with Real Madrid, where he seamlessly fitted into the set-up, scoring the goals that have lead to two title triumphs after four trophyless years.
While Huntelaar is dubbed ‘the new Van Nistelrooy’, his style is much more restricted to pure finishing and finding space. In fact, he is much closer in his style of play to Inzaghi of Milan than to the Real Madrid striker. There is a common misconception that Van Nistelrooy is only a finisher, and despite his differences with Arsenal players, there was always an admiration for the Dutchman. From the perspective of the fan, even though Henry outshone him on many occasions in the scoring charts, we knew of his danger and prowess around the box. He brings players into the game, can hold up the ball and has the vision for the pass. This was evident in his wonderful displays for Holland in the group stages before their customary failure. Despite failing to score, the game against France confirmed what most doubted of the former Manchester United attacker. He was the focal point of the Dutch counter-attacks as the more mobile players supported him in attack and was lively throughout the games he played.
In comparison, Huntelaar appears to have the physique to play in this league, having bulked up over the past few years. He doesn’t have the pace that is necessary in behind to give different options to our midfield. The Milan game at home demonstrated the number of times Fabregas released Adebayor who tormented the aging Milan defence with his pace (the sheer number of times that we have tried this move has caused Adebayor’s off-side stats to rise enormously), this reported target probably couldn’t provide this option. One could also argue that Huntelaar, had he been in place of Adebayor at the death, would have buried that header, rather than hit the bar, such is his clinical nature. He is basically a more limited version of Eduardo, who has playmaking skills, versatility and pace.
It may seem that this is a critical piece on the Ajax striker but his ability to find space and time to finish would make him a valuable asset to any side. There are potential positives, with the number of chances we create, our efficiency would increase with his prowess in front of goal but would the chance actually come? His first touch is disappointing and his interplay with his team-mates seems to be limited but he certainly knows how to finish and this is predominantly what strikers are judged upon – well efficiency rather than goals, Adebayor scored 30 in all competitions but was still heavily criticised. Rather than prove his doubters wrong by playing another season and trying to better himself, he has decided to depart for ‘greener pastures’, which they won’t be.
The goal against Greece was typical of Huntelaar, finding space at the back post and tapping in, having shifted away from his marker. Dutch international central defender Barry Opdam said of Huntelaar,
‘He can easily move in between defense and our midfield, leaving most of us confused. He is smart. He can predict what his team mates do and what we will do in response. He also uses his body smartly. At the right time, before the cross or pass comes in, he’ll nudge you. That gives him those extra seconds or that extra half a yard. He has grown enormously, in particular physically’.
It is this footballing intelligence and ability to lull his defender into a false sense of security that makes him so dangerous.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar is a quality striker but is too similar to what we already have and may not suit our style of play. I think Italy would suit his style of play in a more rigid and tactical game, as equally as I think it will restrict Adebayor’s potential.
There have been other names mentioned, such as Roque Santa Cruz, and while one could claim that he would fit right in due to his injury prone nature, his style of play, like Huntelaar is incompatible to ours. Adebayor seems to have been pigeonholed into the same bracket as Santa Cruz but the Togolese man’s game is far more expansive. Santa Cruz plays in a side, where the favoured pattern of play is to shift the ball wide and cross. The majority of his goals have been from aerial circumstances, much like Nicklas Bendtner this season.
For Bayern, his goals-to-games record was very poor, and it is easy to see that their game is closer to Arsenal’s style than Blackburn’s is. Former Blackburn boss Mark Hughes astutely saw Santa Cruz’s attributes and saw him fit in swiftly into a side that plays to his strengths. The type of chance created at Arsenal and the angles formed for the shot are different due to the way we play (i.e. less direct) and so he would probably be less effective in comparison to a roaming, mobile forward with physical presence, a ‘battering ram’ if you will. It is likely that if we sign a replacement, he will come from France, someone like Gomis (or at a huge stretch – Benzema) seems a realistic target.
One thing that is disappointing is the manner in which our resolve has seemingly dwindled away. This might not actually be the case, as Wenger may have already have found a replacement. The endless list of attacking midfielders being linked to us is worrying, especially with Invincible Gilberto (only Toure and Clichy will remain) set for a move to Greece or to surprisingly rejoin Dennis Bergkamp at Ajax, and with Flamini and Diarra gone, a new defensive midfielder is a priority. Despite all the striker talk and rumours of player departures, one thing is for sure. Denilson and Diaby will have to step up this upcoming season and fulfil their potential and repay the boss, the faith he has shown to them.