28 March 2013

Jovetic: Feast or Famine

There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about Stevan Jovetić and his apparent affinity for Arsenal's style of play. Lost in all of the hub-bub is the larger question, how much do we actually need him? For a team that is currently 4th in the Prem in goals scored (with a game in hand on 3rd place Liverpool), it is not clear that another striker is a top priority. Even if it is, it's less clear that he is the best player to meet that priority. While it's true that he's scored 12 goals in 24 appearances for Serie A's Fiorentina, a closer look suggests that Arsenal's needs might be better meet by looking elsewhere. After all, a a player currently valued in the mid £20,000,000 range, as Jovetić apparently is, should be counted on to deliver more goals than has the young Montenegrin.

To be fair, he is only 23 and still has his best years ahead of him. On the other hand, this also means that we're still talking more about potential than about accomplishment, and his introduction to the squad could go either way. As such, the prices that are attached to his name seem a little steep. If his his price could be whittled down, that might be enough to change this writer's mind. As it stands, it feels foolish to rush in.

Of his twelve goals, they've come across nine games, meaning that he's gone scoreless in fifteen games. We hardly need one more striker who goes for long stretches without scoring. What's more, he seems to specialize in scoring against lesser opposition. No shame in that, but it suggests a certain poacher's mentality. One goal against Napoli, two against Inter, and I'll throw in one against Lazio to be generous. Beyond that, he's notched his remaining nine goals against mid-table teams and worse. Sure, strikers should be expected to feast on weaker teams and to struggle a bit more against top-tier teams. I don't mean to suggest that Jovetić is a fraud by any means, just that his reputation seems to outstrip his achievements to a degree that should make us be wary of just how much he has to offer. 

A closer look at those twelve goals shows that Jovetić has needed 94 shots to get them, a not-unheard of accuracy rate of 12.8%, sharper than Giroud's 10.1% but not much of an improvement over Cazorla's 12.1%, and a far cry worse than Walcott's 16.2% or Podolski's 19% (all figures derived by dividing goals by shots taken). Of course, the number of goals one scores matters far more than shots taken. The point that remains, though, is that Jovetić doesn't stand out as a dramatic improvement over our current scoring leaders.

At a deeper level, however, we should remain suspicious if only due to the timing of Jovetić's apparent interest. The transfer season is months away. For him to signal his desire to sign for Arsenal would only drive down his value; after all, if we know he already is eager to sign for us, that gives us negotiating leverage. It doesn't seem as if he holds any special desire to play for Arsenal other than the generic "they're a bigger club than my current one and the Prem is bigger than Serie A, so why not?" attitude. In short, moving to Arsenal is simply a career move for the man. I don't mean this as a criticism, just as a caution against getting too excited. His own teammate Luca Toni has suggested that  should set his sights higher, aiming for "a real top club" and adding that "Arsenal are not better than Fiorentina." Rather than dispute the value of the claims, it does suggest that Jovetić may consider us to be a stepping-stone to future moves to the likes of Chelsea, Man City, or Man U. Fine. I understand the ambition, but that's different from agreeing to participate in it. Instead, let's be on our guard against being used as a pawn in the larger game of extracting a larger contract from whoever is willing to offer it. 

If Jovetić is serious about playing for us, great. Let's bide our time, though, instead of getting sucked into a game of poker over the lad. There have been enough headlines about our plans and resources heading into the summer transfer window that players see a potential payday. I can just see them thinking, "Arsenal has money and feels a lot of pressure to spend. I can probably get a bigger and better deal from them, or at least drive up my price to other clubs, by talking up my interest in their history and style and potential..." Yes, we go into the summer with some money to spend and some needs to address. However, let's not get all googly-eyed at the first young starlet— or the second or even the thirdto bat his eyelashes at us.