Sports

Ivan Toney transfer isn’t the answer to Arsenal’s most glaring problem

Ivan Toney will not be the last player to see his value rocket in absentia. As Plato told us, perfection is achievable only in the non-material world of abstraction and imagination, the very space occupied by Toney these last eight months sitting out the summer and the first half of the season.

His ban for breach of betting rules, which ends on 17 January, served not only to remind the player of his responsibilities but Brentford of what they were missing, and others, most acutely Arsenal in view of recent results, of what they might yet possess should they have £100m stuffed under the mattress.

A search of Google links Toney most ardently to the Emirates, a consequence of the desire of supporters to retrieve what has become a flawed title challenge, and of Mikel Arteta’s need of a striker capable of scoring heavily.

First choice centre-forward, Gabriel Jesus, is not nearly prolific enough. A total of 14 goals in 51 Premier League appearances for Arsenal reinforces a point made by Mark Hughes, ex of Manchester United, Barcelona and Chelsea, who shared Jesus’s appetite for hard work and creativity, and in more than 600 league games scored at the same one-in-three rate.

“I love the way he plays. He is key to the patterns that Arsenal like with his link up play. But as a 10-15 goals-a-season striker, will that be the difference?” Hughes asked in his William Hill podcast.

Jesus’s understudy Eddie Nketiah is not the answer. He does not have sufficient heft to carry the Arsenal line. He is quick and nimble, but does not attack space with the physicality inherent in top end predators.

Certainly Brentford’s struggles this season can be directly linked to the goals Toney guaranteed them. He has played two seasons in the Premier League, averaging almost a goal every other game. That was considered a tidy rate in old money, less so, perhaps, in the age of Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah.

That ratio has gone up from one in three in his first season, so Toney is improving. Against that 11 of his total of 32 goals in 68 appearances have come from the penalty spot, which is fine, but indicative of the kind of striker he is.

Toney is not Arsene Wenger’s fox in the box. He likes to roam, to drop deep to link the play. This suits Brentford’s counter-attacking style.

At Arsenal he would have to refine his movement, accept less touches and hone instincts closer to goal. Equally Arsenal would have to adjust to suit him. This dual disruption might not bring the immediate benefit sought.

It is clear Arsenal have lost momentum. But is this the time to twist, or would it be better to stick and take the time January allows to repair? Only Liverpool have enjoyed the desired consistency this season.

Manchester City have struggled. Tottenham Hotspur have been beaten five times. Yes Arsenal have won only once in the past five Premier League games, losing three times, but are still massively in the mix.

Former Arsenal striker Paul Merson urged Arteta to act quickly. “Arsenal have to go and get Toney. Simple. It’s not over yet,” Merson tweeted in that emphatic way of his.

However, the more considered Chris Sutton leant the other way in the Daily Mail: “He has not played for months because of his suspension. He will have been training, but how much match sharpness does he have? Arsenal are trying to win the title, so they haven’t got time to wait for anyone to get up to speed.”

Sutton advocates instead for Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke, a striker who has acquired a more lethal edge under the influence of Andoni Iraola. On his Vitality Stadium form you would expect Solanke to have made more of the 71 shots at goal amassed by Arsenal in the three December defeats to Aston Villa, West Ham and Fulham, than Jesus and Nketiah.

Yet the failure to find the net is also a function of those around them, particularly wide men Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, neither of whom are carrying anything like the threat they showed earlier in the season. Saka was particularly weary at Fulham, skying an excellent chance with only the goalkeeper to beat as well as delivering a succession of vague crosses.

Arsenal have only one more engagement, Sunday’s FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool, before facing Crystal Palace in the Premier League on 20 January. Time for some much-needed R&R for the players, and for Arteta to go shopping.

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