They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and the Julio Baptista transfer saga, odyssey and epic all rolled into one has been one big black cloud hanging over Arsenal for much of the summer. After weeks of 'will he/won't he?' Arsenal's hopes of signing the big strong midfielder turned striker were dashed yesterday as he put pen to paper on a lucrative 5-year contract with Madrid. But the arrival of Robinho, completing a trio of Samba Strikers at Los Merengues, and the death of one dream for Arsenal fans has perhaps signalled the awakening of another. The addition of the two Brazilians, coupled with the presence of the seemingly un-droppable Raul, and Ronaldo has meant that Michael Owen, in a World Cup year, seems to have found himself surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu, and Real look prepared to let him leave.
The names of most of the top Premiership clubs have been dropped into the ring as possible candidates for his signature, including a shock return to Liverpool, the possibility of linking up with England strike partner Wayne Rooney at Manchester Utd, or perhaps even a move to Highbury. After the failure to sign Baptista, the footballing world is aware that Arsène Wenger has at least 18 million pounds burning a hole in his pocket which he may, or indeed may not spend on improving a squad long on talent but short on experience. But why might such a notoriously thrifty manager look to spend his hard earned dosh (and dosh doesn't get much more hard earned than from the sale of the Arsenal captain and midfield dynamo Patrick Vieira) on Michael Owen?
The current issues with Arsenal's forward line are certainly not issues of quality. José Antonio Reyes (when he passes instead of dribbles), Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry are as excellent a first three as you'll find anywhere in the Premiership, but beyond that Arsenal have very little. Dennis Bergkamp, at his age cannot be reasonably expected to play regularly, and even when he did last year his performances were very hot and cold. Also drawn into the equation is the possibility that Reyes may be covering the wings, Bergkamp does not fly, and we don't yet know how much of an effect van Persie's summer ordeal will have on his football, at least at the start of the season. That leaves us with three senior strikers for European away games (if indeed Reyes and especially van Persie can be considered senior), and in the not inconceivable event that we have a few injuries to worry about, possibly only one or two. At a club that insists that it will still be challenging for major honours this year, this is an unacceptable situation. Arsène Wenger has stressed in the past his desire to have five senior strikers at his disposal, and even then, with Reyes covering the wings and Bergkamp getting on in years, the chances of Arsenal's much vaunted young super-kids getting games are still quite good over the course of a sixty game season.
So now that it has been established that there is certainly room, if not a need, for a new striker on the books at Highbury, we have to ask what sort of player we might be looking for. Given the pursuit of Julio Baptista, it might be reasonable to assume that Arsène is looking for something a little bit different, to coin a popular recent cliché, a 'Plan B'. He could well look for a striker who'll get the scrappy goals, get goals when we're not playing well, and change the direction and style of the way we attack.
Julio Baptista, with his strength, size and eye for goal, would certainly have represented one option along these lines. Michael Owen, however, represents another. Despite the fact that he's only 25, Owen seems like he's been around forever. 'That goal' against Argentina seems like a distant memory now, as much water has passed under the bridge. But despite the passing years, and a suspicion that he's already lost a yard of pace, Michael Owen offers something that nobody else at Arsenal can currently provide – a striker prepared to play high up the pitch, direct, and through the middle. Indeed, Arsenal's own candidate for this role, Jeremie Aliádíère, has just been sent on loan to a hapless Celtic. You only have to look at the number of goals such a short player somehow manages to score with his head to realise that his instinct in front of goal, the intelligence of his runs, and his ability to bang the ball into the back of the net when he only gets a sniff of a chance are all absolutely top notch. To use a second dreadful footballing cliché, he always seems to be in the right place, at the right time: he's a maestro at scoring scrappy goals, pinching one from a tight angle or a scramble in the box, and will get goals even when the team around him is not playing well. Furthermore, the whole team around him seems geared to helping a player like Owen succeed. He wouldn't crowd Henry on the left wing, as Reyes is sometimes accused of doing, and would lap up the passes from players like Hleb, Bergkamp and van Persie. Indeed, any player who can take significant pressure off Henry and divert the attention of defenders in the box will fit in superbly well.
It might be said that he has a somewhat limited game, and perhaps there is some truth in this – he's not the most skilful player in the world, although he does turn well with the ball at his feet, and there's not as much craft to his passing as that of Bergkamp, Henry, van Persie or Reyes. But there are times when simple, direct football is what is most required by a team, and Michael Owen has proved year after year that he can get that done when it's needed most. If one area of Arsenal's attacking play can be criticised, it's perhaps the fact that we can be too intricate, too clever in the final third, even when the pressure is on to get a goal. Michael Owen could be the perfect antidote to that. Playing him would require mean, at least sometimes, a move away from our usual patient style towards a more direct attack. This is, however, what many have been calling for over the last couple of years – a player whose default setting is direct and urgent. But, I hear you ask, does all of this mean that van Persie will not play again this year? Well, in the course of a sixty game season, there'll be plenty opportunities for Owen, Henry, Reyes, RVP and Bergkamp, as well as a few of the youngsters, to get game time.
So two final issues need to be addressed: firstly, would Michael Owen favour a move to Arsenal, and secondly, would Arsène Wenger favour a move for Michael Owen? A definite answer to the first question would of course only be answered if he were given the opportunity to sign for the Gunners, but playing under Arsène Wenger, with players like Henry, Bergkamp and Píres, and the prospect of playing in a brand new stadium would surely be hard to turn down. He cannot afford to sit regularly on the bench for another season, and whilst he'd have to fight for his spot at Arsenal, first team opportunities seem far more likely to come his way. Would Arsène Wenger consider signing him? Well, your guess there is as good as mine.
Postscript: Just as I finished writing this, Arsène Wenger stated that he's not interested in signing Owen for the moment. But I'm getting it posted anyway, so if you've read this far, you've probably wasted your time. So there. Perfect time as ever, Arsène...
© 2000-2013 Arsenal Mania. All rights reserved. Page processed in 0.13 seconds.