Arsenal have a long history of great strikers: from Cliff Bastin, to the current record goal scorer holder Thierry Henry. Arsenal’s current striker Olivier Giroud has come under significant pressure recently. After a difficult night against Monaco, many have questioned Giroud’s striking credentials and ability, something reflected at Coral. In the two and a half seasons since Robin Van Persie’s departure the debate has raged that Arsenal has no prolific big time striker. Danny Welbeck was bought this year to add mobility and goals, but as yet has not displaced Giroud from the starting position. Arsenal as of yet have not found their equivalent to Aguero, Costa, Sturridge or, dare I say, Kane.
With the summer window coming into view it seems possible a new striker might be on Arsenal’s radar. Within the U21 side, however, there might be a prospect closer to home. Chuba Akpom is the next prospect coming from Arsenal’s Hale End academy. Arsene Wenger has held the opinion “if he’s good enough, he’s old enough”. Akpom made his professional debut in a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in September 2013 and recently came off the bench against Aston Villa. It seems therefore, that if not this year then next, we will see Akpom take the step to being a full-fledged senior team member.
Who is Chuba Akpom?
Akpom joined Arsenal at the age of seven in 2002. Since then he has progressed through the Youth levels and made his debut for the Arsenal U18s at the age of 15 in the 2010/11 season. Following his first season with the U18s he was given his first professional contract at the beginning of the 2012/13 season. Although of Nigerian descent, internationally Akpom has represented England at the U16, 17, 19 and this season the U20 squad.
Akpom made his debut appearance in the U21 Premier League and Elite group in the 2012/13 season scoring a combined 13 goals from 20 appearances in both competitions. The following season he broke into Arsenal’s UEFA Youth League squad scoring 4 goals from 6 appearances and 6 in in 10 in the U21 league. With his goals Akpom helped lead the UEFA Youth League team to the final quarterfinal against Barcelona, albeit to a losing 4-2. This season has been Akpom’s break out year. One of the leading scorers in the U21 league with 9, Akpom has gone on to make 3 appearances for Arsenal in the league. One of which being a brief cameo against Villa in which he earned a penalty. Due to his steady rise and reported interest from Dortmund and Liverpool, Akpom was given a new long term contract. The next step for Akpom is to break into the first team next year which Wenger himself has said “he is very close to the first team”.
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
First, let’s establish Akpom’s position. Akpom is a pure striker. Although he could possibly play on the wings, through the middle is his best position. Under Steve Gatting Arsenal usually play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Akpom fits both formations as it gives him more space to run into as the lone striker. He is a shade over 6 feet, but is quick and strong on the ball. In an era where strikers are required to be involved in build-up play, Akpom seems to have an ability and preference for finding pockets of space. Much like a past Arsenal striker, Akpom likes to drift to the wings, especially to the left (I won’t draw comparisons just yet). Like most Arsenal players, he’s very comfortable on the ball and links up well with players around, albeit this is not his typical style.
Akpom can run with the ball at his feet and seems confident and capable of running at defenders. We saw this in Arsenal’s FA Cup win against Brighton- Akpom picked the ball up, beat two players then laid it off to Rosicky. Furthermore, tricks don’t seem too far from his mind. The odd feint and step over are often used to gain space but with the more experienced defenders in the Premier League this may not work so well. I think in Akpom’s case less might be more. He is not a Giroud style player; a player who likes midfielders playing off him and being a wall for midfielders to play off. Akpom’s game is predicated on movement. I’m not saying he should not be involved in the build-up, but rather making runs towards goal and stretching the defence. As proven by his 9 goals in the under 21 league this year, Akpom can finish. Akpom is a goal scorer but maybe needs to be more selfish and have a killer instinct in the box.
Physically, Akpom is an athlete. As mentioned, he has good pace and strength on the ball. Aerially he has a good leap and has many times beaten defenders to crosses because of this. As good a physical specimen as he is, Akpom is also a clever player. He seems to have a natural awareness for angles and space. Although this is still a bit unpolished, there is serious potential there. Although he is a striker he is more than ready to pick a pass and move to find space. This is obviously going to be a key tool if he is to be a success for future Arsenal teams.
If there is an obvious weakness to Akpom’s game it’s his shooting. By shooting, I mean from outside the box. This said, I don’t see this as a huge problem as he won’t be required to do this too much. He seems perfectly capable of finishing moves in or just outside the box.
As with all young strikers, confidence and experience are key. In his recent cameo against Villa, we saw the confidence, but not the experience. The experience will come, it’s keeping the confidence that’s the problem. Most strikers go through dry spells, but it’s stringing together consistent performances that is the key. The goals will come if you put yourself in the right areas. In the Premier League especially, Akpom will sometimes have to use his brain more than his feet.
In sum, Akpom’s main strengths are movement, pace and finishing. In Wenger he has one of the best talent spotters and attacking coaches, always willing to give youth a chance.
Written by Bill McLoughlin
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