The Evidence Suggests Gonzalo Higuain Will Thrive as Arsenal's Record Signing
The 25-year-old will cost £22 million, according to The Telegraph, which would make him Arsenal's record signing. That speaks to Arsene Wenger's absolute faith in Higuain's ability to adapt quickly in England and invigorate the Gunners' quest for the team's first trophy since 2005's FA Cup win.
Wenger's decision to go big on Higuain may be educated somewhat by the success of fellow Argentine predators Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero in the Premier League. Luis Suarez is another South American forward who has found the style of play conducive to his talents.
Moreover, the transition from Spain to England appears to be working well for attacking players generally. Aguero's contribution at Manchester City, the soaring success of Michu at Swansea and the midfield influence of Juan Mata, David Silva and Santi Cazorla are all evidence of that.
While the Premier League boasts a famously frantic intensity, technically gifted players arriving from Spain are finding themselves with more freedom to operate. The claustrophobic final thirds in La Liga, populated by defenders and a pair of deep holding midfielders, give way to a more stretched tactical setup.
"There’s more space here, and that’s why Spanish footballers, who are used to tight spaces and fewer touches, tend to excel in the Premier League," said Michu in an interview with FIFA.com.
That can only bode well for a marksman like Higuain, who is used to operating against teams who set a shield in front of their penalty box. Based on the debut Premier League seasons enjoyed by Aguero and Michu, Arsenal will be looking for Higuain to target the 20-goal mark.
Should he produce at that level, the Gunners would be getting excellent value for £22 million. They would also, albeit belatedly, replace the goal supply they lost when Robin van Persie left for Manchester United.
See this EPLIndex graphic that illustrates just how influential Van Persie's contribution was during the 2011-12 season.
Without him, Arsenal still managed to score 72 Premier League goals last season, just two fewer than during the 2011-12 campaign, but that's not an argument for saying they didn't miss him. It's an argument for saying they might have gotten a lot closer to Manchester United's title-winning total had he stayed.
Theo Walcott, mostly operating from wide positions, was Arsenal's top scorer in the league last season, followed by Cazorla. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud both weighed in with 11, but Arsenal's lack of precision and killer touch in front of the goal clearly cost them.
Defensively, they had some shaky moments but finished the campaign having conceded just 37 times in 38 games. Only Manchester City allowed fewer goals, which again suggests the problem was more at the attacking end than at the back.
Right. Don't shoot the messenger. I asked if Higuain is done as reported by Sky. I was told. "It's close". "Rooney next". Blimey.— Geoff Arsenal (@GeoffArsenal) June 21, 2013
Wenger is seeking to put that right. On his day, Higuain is among the most clinical forwards in world football, and Arsenal are crying out for a player to make good on their neat, yet so often unrewarded, approach play. The price is a big one, but another barren year for Wenger would be bigger still.
Higuain's goal-scoring record in La Liga is certainly strong justification for Arsenal paying a large sum. As NBC Sports shows, since joining Madrid from River Plate in 2007, he's scored 107 times in 190 league appearances.
"Averaging a goal every 1.77 games, only Lionel Messi (203) and Cristiano Ronaldo (146) have netted more goals in the Primera Division than Higuain (107) since Higuain made his Real Madrid debut," wrote Ben McAleer in a profile for WhoScored.com.
Higuain's international record is also impressive. He has 20 goals in 32 appearances for Argentina and currently leads South American World Cup qualifying with nine goals in 11 games. Suarez, Aguero, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and a certain Lionel Messi are all adrift of that number.
Looking through Higuain's Madrid goals, what strikes you is the variety in his finishing. He's a great improviser in front of the goal, able to go for power, precision or subtlety. His speed will get him in behind defences, but he's also adept at riding the shoulder of a defender and cultivating the space to get a shot away.
The likes of Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere—all fine passers in the Wenger mould—should find a willing runner in Higuain, who will also look to benefit from the speedy, wide play of Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Higuain's game is not all about goals either. He provides assists, and much like his countrymen Aguero and Tevez, he works hard to get the ball back in advanced areas.
Should Arsenal get their man, they should be very happy to have paid £22 million for him. Higuain could be one of the stars of the Premier League next season and would be a big step in the right direction for a club whose fans are tired of waiting for something to happen.
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