28 July 2013

Who needs Suarez or Higuain when we have Chuba Akpom?

I exaggerate a bit of course, but such is my despair at missing out on Higuain and my disdain for our pursuit of Suarez that I can't resist talking up this beast, this man-child, this seventeen-year old savant on whose slender but strong shoulders the future of Arsenal (and of the Three Lions) may rest. I don't think I exaggerate when I suggest that he might be one of the most exciting young prospects to come down the Arsenal pipeline in a while. His combination of size, speed, and touch on the ball are at times breath-taking.

His potential is so vast that, I'll freely admit, just typing him up gives me goose-bumps. Check this compilation from XavierGooner14 and tell me you've not become a true-believer. The lad seems to already bring a complete package to the field, and his progress through the ranks is remarkable. To wit: he made his debut with Arsenal's U18s at 15 and frequently leads the attack for our U21s and England's U19s. He's still only 17, by the way.

Before we engage in a breathless, fanboy run-down of his qualities, here's a quick listing of some of his achievements, offered in no particular order of importance:

  • four goals in three games on the Asia Tour, including a a late game-winner vs. Urawa Red diamond.
  • six goals in seven games for England's U19s.
  • five goals in thirteen games for Englansd's U17s.
  • ten goals in ten games for Arsenal's U21 Premier League Elite Group (including braces against Man U, Spurs, and Wolverhampton).
Simply put, he has a nose for goal, and a left foot, a right foot, and a head. Such is his growing reputation that he was brought up to sit on the bench for the second leg against Olympiakos in the Champions League group stage (by which point Arsenal had qualified for the round of 16) to give him a glimpse of the first-team in action (in all fairness, the "first team" did include Squillaci and Chamakh). Seeing his fellow Academy players Jernade Meade and Martin Angha see time on the pitch must have motivated Akpom to push his game to the next level; he went on to decimate the U21 Premier League Elite Group with those aforementioned 10 goals in 10 games. Without making any direct comparisons, that's 0.01 goals per minute, compared to Luis Suarez's 0.007 goals per minute in the Premier League. Put another way, Akpom is 1.5 times better than Suarez. I kid. Suffice it to say that the U21 Elite Group is not the Prem. On the other hand, Akpom has been immersed in the Arsenal Way since 'round about the age of six.

Let's set Suarez to the side for now and focus on the emerging, exquisite beauty that is Akpom. He is huge, standing 1.83m (6') and, again, at 17, might still have a growth spurt or two left in him. Whereas my previous post on Gedion Zelalem extolled his slight frame as a virtue (as it would encourage him to develop other skills), Akpom seems already well on his way to relying on virtues other than size to achieve. As you can see from the video, he doesn't merely shoulder his way past defenders, relying on brainless brawn to create (and convert) opportunities. Instead, he seems to bring an intuitive sense of position, balance, and timing to the game, such that he seems to know just where to be and when. These are qualities that are difficult to instill, but Akpom seems to have absorbed them already. While other players have resorted to size at the expense of developing actual touch or skill, Akpom has raised his game by looking to use his head as well as his size.

Still dubious? Check his deft bit of footwork in the video at the 46-second or again at the 1:24  or again at the 2:21 mark. It's hardly Ronaldinho, but it's quicker footwork than we've seen from a center-forward in a while. It might be a while before we see him appear in the Prem, but given what he's shown, it'll be sooner rather than later that we see him at the Emirates. It's far too soon to anointing anyone, but Akpom should certainly make a few cameos in the league cup, perhaps the FA Cup, and maybe even the Champions League group stage if possible.

Whichever way you slice it, consider how delicious it would be to see Akpom shouldering aside or speeding past Terry, Vidic, or Kompany to score—he's done it again and again against other defenders. He might be a few years away from featuring, and he may not be the saviour we're looking for in the short term, but, in these uncertain times, it is reassuring and, yes, inspiring to think of him terrorizing the Prem. Keep bringing it, Chuba, and we'll be chanting your name from here to kingdom-come.

Last but not least, the 2012-13 YAMA Awards for Best Arsenal bloggers, writers, and tweeters looks set to close soon--I hope you'll consider voting for Woolwich 1886 in the "Best New Arsenal Blog" category. Thanks!