It was German football’s most drawn-out story in the winter transfer window. Premier League side Arsenal were long linked with the 20-year-old Schalke and Germany attacker, and Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt admitted the club made a late bid to sign the youngster. In the end a combination of Draxler’s reported £37 million buy-out clause (valid only in the summer) and Schalke’s unwillingness to sell derailed the transfer.
However, Arsenal will likely continue their pursuit for a player who is tailor-made for the team and Arsene Wenger’s football philosophy. Draxler’s huge upside and technical ability could be the missing piece in Arsenal’s puzzle and could become one of the club’s marquee players for years to come.
It is easy to overlook just how impressive Draxler’s rise to the top has been.
With so many young players coming through the German academy system, one can forget that Draxler was the Bundesliga’s fourth-youngest debutant ever when he made his first professional appearance at the age of 17 in January 2011. After helping Schalke eliminate Bayern on the way to win the German Cup in his first season, he became a permanent fixture in the senior side.
Draxler quickly became a key part of Schalke’s attack and formed one of the league’s best partnerships with Lewis Holtby. Again, Draxler was crucial in Schalke’s third-place finish and their quarterfinal run in the Europa league. In 2012 he was also handed his first senior cap for the national team, with Germany coach Jogi Loew praising his maturity and rapid development. That summer he also scored his first international goal in a friendly against the United States.
With Holtby heading to England ahead of the 2012-13 season, Draxler was handed the big responsibility of replacing him as the team’s primary playmaker.
Where other players his age might have succumbed to the pressure, Draxler rose to the challenge brilliantly. He scored 13 goals in all competitions in the position and eventually became the club’s youngest player ever to reach 100 competitive appearances.
It was already becoming increasingly hard for the club to ward off suitors. To lock him up for the time being, they handed him the No. 10 jersey, a five-year contract extension and a £37 million buy-out clause.
Draxler’s Style and the Arsenal Way
For one, Draxler is not just one of German football’s hottest prospect; he's also one of its most versatile players.
Having started out wide on the left for Schalke, he has featured in just about every attacking position. Draxler was actually at his best when he played primarily behind the striker in the 2012-13 season. But he can also fill in equally well on the right and in a deeper central midfield role and has done so since making his professional debut.
Arsenal under Wenger have been all about intricate link-up, passing in tight spaces and moving the ball forward quickly. Draxler’s own style of play is suited perfectly to how Wenger envisions football.
One of Draxler’s standout attributes is his pace and dribbling with the ball, which was on full display in a must-win match for the Royal Blues on the last matchday of the Champions League group stage against Basel. Draxler took control of the game and almost single-handedly won it for his team.
Draxler’s close control and acceleration are eerily reminiscent of Robert Pires in his heyday for the Gunners.
Playing out wide, he seems to glide effortlessly past defenders at times and has a great intuitive sense for the goal. Since making his debut he has also been praised by his teammates as a quick learner who adapts to and jells well with those around him.
Draxler is essentially an Arsenal academy product without ever having stepped foot there.
Functionality and Integration
The question is, of course, where will he fit in at Arsenal?
Just how will Wenger use him? With Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and the rise of Serge Gnabry and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there is no shortage of attacking options. This led many to suggest that Wenger may use him as a striker.
The reality, however, is probably somewhere in between.
While Draxler does have an unusually good eye for goal for his age, it is highly unlikely that Wenger starts him out leading the line of attack in a single-striker formation. And with Ozil being the first-choice attacking midfielder, Draxler would likely have been integrated out wide on the left or the right based on necessity. Arsenal’s fluid and interchangeable style would allow him with plenty of time and space to cut in and play more centrally, though, so right away his best attributes would be accommodated.
As Arsenal head into the most important part of the year, one can only wonder what could have been had the move been completed, especially with the upcoming Champions League encounter against Bayern Munich.
That said, this will not be the last time we will hear about a potential Draxler move to Arsenal.