Mario Balotelli Is the Right Attacking Option for Arsenal

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured Columnist IVOctober 18, 2016

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 18:  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan in action during the Serie A match between AC Milan and US Sassuolo Calcio at San Siro Stadium on May 18, 2014 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Arsenal and Mario Balotelli are a match so strange it might work wonders. The Gunners are being linked with a move for the ultra-temperamental AC Milan striker, according to Matt Law of The Telegraph.

It's a move manager Arsene Wenger should make. He is, after all, a known fan of Balotelli's undoubted, yet often squandered, talents.

Law notes that Wenger heralded Balotelli as an emerging star back in 2009, stating: “I am keeping an eye out for Balotelli, a player I like very much. In my view he can be one of the best.”

This isn't the first time Arsenal have been linked with Balotelli this year. In mid-February, Sport Mediaset writer Claudio Raimondi (h/t suggested the Gunners were prepared to pay €30 million for the striker.

There are lots of reasons why Balotelli is a massive risk, not just for Arsenal, but any club. His erratic behaviour, both on and off the pitch, has been well documented.

But Balotelli fits few teams the way he would with Arsenal. In many ways, the 23-year-old is the perfect attacking option for Wenger to recruit this summer.

He offers height and power, something incumbent Olivier Giroud has brought to the Gunners. Those are vital qualities for the type of squads Wenger has constructed since Arsenal moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

While the first part of Wenger's tenure was defined by pace and power, via the likes of Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva and Marc Overmars, the latter half has endorsed different attributes.

Imposing physical strength has been replaced by an abundance of flair and creative panache. Wenger has valued a high degree of technical proficiency above dynamic athleticism.

That meant midfielders like Vieira and Silva were replaced by diminutive playmakers such as Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla. But the lack of strength in midfield has also meant Arsenal have been consistently overpowered in the biggest games.

Wenger has sought to compensate with physical target men. In 2007/08, a midfield containing Fabregas, Rosicky and Alexander Hleb used the bullish presence of Emmanuel Adebayor as a focal point.

This season, Cazorla, Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere have all played off and around Giroud's strength with his back to goal.

Balotelli could perform a similar role during the next campaign. He has the height and frame to hold off defenders and secure possession long enough for advanced midfielders to swarm forward.

Like Giroud, Balotelli is also skilled enough to link well with advancing team-mates and create scoring chances via clever touches and flicks. That's something Giroud has made his niche, and it is vital to the way this Arsenal team attacks.

Giroud frequently puts a midfielder behind an opposing defence via a deft touch on the edge of the box. He made eight assists in the English Premier League this season, according to ESPN FC. The 27-year-old also created Ramsey's winning goal in the FA Cup final that ended the club's nine-year wait for a trophy.

Balotelli would have a similar impact on the way this squad creates chances. He provided six assists in Serie A for the Rossoneri this season, according to

Perhaps more important, the Italian international would offer the direct pace Arsenal miss the most in attack. For all the good supporting work Giroud does, he will never be quick enough to stretch a defence.

With Giroud leading the line and Theo Walcott lost for the season in January, the Gunners were pedestrian up front last campaign. That severely hampered a quality passer like Ozil, who loves to split defensive gaps with supply aimed for pacey runners.

Balotelli is certainly quick enough to outrun markers and get behind a defensive line. Once there, his finishing is more assured than what Giroud often produces in front of goal.

That's not to say Balotelli should necessarily be seen as a direct replacement for the Frenchman. He is versatile enough to play in the same forward line as the ex-Montpellier man.

Balotelli can be deployed on either flank as a wide forward. He operated in that kind of role when he was last in the EPL, plying his trade for Manchester City.

That should appeal to Wenger, who loves versatility in his attacking players. The Gunners chief has also stated he wants a forward capable of partnering Giroud, according to Sky Sports.

Balotelli could play wide in Wenger's current 4-2-3-1 model. Or he could start alongside Giroud in a 4-4-2 look similar to the one Arsenal adopted late in both the semi-final and final of the FA Cup.

Of course, the favourable reasons for signing Balotelli are all dependent on the player curtailing his penchant for trouble. Nobody has yet been able to tame Balotelli, but Wenger could be the perfect manager for the job.

He is a coach who empowers players via his considerable faith and trust in their natural abilities. Players come to respect Wenger for the effort he applies to make them better.

Wenger has often brought the best out of temperamental talents.
Wenger has often brought the best out of temperamental talents.Phil Cole/Getty Images

As a result, he is often seen as a protective, father-like mentor by many. The likes of Fabregas, Adebayor and even Samir Nasri have all expressed this sentiment over the years.

Balotelli could respond to that kind of positive influence. He didn't coexist for long with countryman Roberto Mancini in Manchester, but that doesn't mean the results wouldn't be different at Arsenal.

Mancini was often combative and defiant during his time at City. Balotelli is unlikely to be the only player who has clashed with the hothead coach.

Balotelli did also fall foul of Jose Mourinho during their time at Inter Milan. Mourinho once dubbed him "unmanageable," per Daily Mail writer Joe Bernstein.

But Mourinho is only a friend to his players when it suits him. See Samuel Eto'o as a prime example of the Chelsea manager's duplicitous affections.

Wenger could be the ideal coach to get Balotelli to behave himself long enough to let his obvious natural talent show. Nobody disputes that signing him is a major risk, given his catalogue of offences.

But that same risk applied last summer when Arsenal courted Liverpool's genius striker, Luis Suarez. Balotelli is a similar risk worth taking for the Gunners.


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