06 June 2013

How to choose between Jovetic, Higuain, Benteke, and Villa...

After Andrei Arshavin's shock away-move caught everyone at Arsenal off-guard, the urgency to sharpen the attack has reached a fever-pitch that--oh, wait. Nevermind. I'm sad to see Arshavin go. Among he, Squidward, and Denilson, I thought he had the most to offer. Oh well. No sense crying over split milk. With the official transfer window still a few weeks away, we have to prioritize our targets. The four forwards we've most often been linked to--Jovetic, Villa, Higuain, and Benteke--all have their flaws and fortés, and we'd be wise the kick the tires on each (being gentler with Villa, of course).

We're going to need a forward who can deliver reliably and ruthlessly. Despite being the only team in the Prem to feature four double-digit scorers, we lack that one player who can change a game week after week with a stunning goal. The committee-approach of the 2012-13 season certainly worked in terms of the sheer number of goals we've scored, but we still limped through far too many games when we just couldn't unlock a defense to score--across all competitions, we failed to score in nine matches and scored a single goal in 18, with predictable impacts on points-dropped and progress in various cups. I won't dredge up those numbers. I don't want to live that much in the past.

When it comes to the pasts of the players we've been linked to, however, it's well-worth a closer look. Sadly, it looks like the most "available" player, and the one who carries the most impressive resumé,  might also be the least desirable at least in terms of our needs: David Villa. He's far and away the oldest of the bunch at 31, and although he's played at the highest levels of football between the Spanish national team and Barcelona, these are factors that might inflate his stats. Simply put, Barcelona's dominance of La Liga has been so complete that its forwards find far-more opportunities to score than forwards at other clubs might. His market-value has plummeted from a high of £44m in 2011, due in part to injury, his age, and concerns over his longevity. He might represent a nice addition to the squad, but he might have to accept a second-string role--I'm not sure he's willing to change clubs without upgrading his role. Then again, with the arrival of Neymar, he's almost certainly going to drop further down in the pecking order.

At the other end of the spectrum, at least as concerns age and experience, is Christian Benteke. He has only one season of top-flight action, this past year with Aston Villa, but has made the most of his time. He almost single-handedly dragged the Acorns away from relegation, scoring 19 goals despite being the focus of each opponent's defense. Aston Villa has apparently slapped a £40m asking price on him with interest from Spurs and Fiorentina making the headlines lately. That might say something about those club's concerns regarding Bale and Jovetic, respectively. If they're willing to meet that price tag, it might indicate that Bale and Jovetic each have one foot out the door, and the clubs plan on using their transfer fees to finance Benteke's move. If Aston Villa is serious about that price tag, he's become ludicrously overpriced. Too bad. Among the current four, he's been my first pick for a while. I see Aston Villa's priorities, though: use that asking price to keep Benteke or use that transfer-fee to finance some new transfers.

I guess I'm tipping my hand a bit by now addressing Jovetic. I'm still not sold on him. No offense against Serie A, but I just don't feel like Jovetic has dominated opponents there as he should in order to justify his current asking-price. Once you look past Juventus and AC Milan, there's a sharp drop-off in quality (according to the Euro Club Index). His thirteen goals this year are good for 11th-best in Serie A, which again doesn't make me drool as much as I'd hope. If I'm going to knock Villa for his injury, it's worth noting that Jovetic has one of his own, one only described as a "cruciate ligament injury". Whether it was a tear or something less serious, he does seem to have bounced back nicely, but whether he's risen to the levels we're looking for and would have to fork over to get is still an open question in my book. At a starting price of £26m, he's feeling a little over-priced.

Even with Higauin, who has all but sworn on a Bible that he's leaving Real Madrid (which should deflate his value just a bit), I'm not salivating. He's been a good player for club and country. Despite having to play in Ronaldo's shadow and having to platoon with Benzema, he's still managed to average 0.44 goals per game, not enough to set the world on fire either, but more than Jovetic's 0.3 despite Higuain being his club's 2nd or 3rd choice attacker and Jovetic being his club's 1st-choice. Even after we repeat the caveat we used with Villa above--that Real Madrid, along with Barcelona, co-dominates La Liga in a way that might inflate players' stats, Higuain now emerges at the head of my list. He's proven himself but isn't ageing, he's high-priced but not exorbitantly so, and he speaks both French and Spanish. Okay. So two of three of these carry a bit more weight than the last one, but it's still worth noting that his ability to communicate with Giroud, Cazorla, Arteta, and others is a factor to at least keep in mind if not front and center.

I've come to the end of this, then, having not quite convinced myself as to which of these four we should put at the top of our list, so I doubt I've swayed anyone who's come this far with me. I apologize, but maybe it's a sign of a bigger issue: should we not step up our ambitions to pursue another bigger name? I don't want to see us going after the likes of Ronaldo or Rooney, necessarily; I don't want to devote so much of the club's finances, personality, or locker-room oxygen to someone quite that big. It might stifle other players as much as it inflates our wage-sheet or goals-scored. Still, a step-up from the current batch could split the difference. Lewandowski? Cavani? Any other suggestions?