By Husmukh Kerai
Even before the demise of tragi-comic, anti-hero Nicklas Bendtner and the untimely injury suffered by Theo Walcott, even the notoriously transfer-shy Arsene Wenger may have (privately, at least) conceded that a new striker in January would significantly enhance Arsenal's title hopes
Wenger's side side go in to 2014 just a single point ahead of Manchester City, while Chelsea lurk menacingly just behind them. If the Gunners are to end their nine-year wait for a trophy by winning the Premier League at the expense of their big-spending adversaries, they simply must sign a world-class striker.
Olivier Giroud has so far led the line for Arsenal and, while at times he has done so heroically, there are other numerous occasions when the France international's deficiencies have held the north Londoners back.
It may sound like extremely harsh criticism of a player who is deeply appreciated by his team-mates and supporters but Arsenal's position at the head of the Premier League is as much in spite of their French battering ram as it is because of him.
|GIROUD v THE ELITE
|GOALS/GAMES AWAY FROM HOME
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Admirably, the Frenchman takes most of the bumps and bruises to create a platform that allows his supporting cast of midfield maestros to work their magic. On average, only Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta cover more ground than Giroud in the Arsenal team.
Despite those qualities, the Gunners striker is a shade behind the league's top marksmen. A run of seven games without a goal before his last outing at Newcastle has seen his goal tally for the season stall at eight.
When you look at decisive goals or goals scored away from home, Giroud again falls short. Compared to the Sergio Aguero (five in seven), Luis Suarez (five in eight) and Wayne Rooney (six in eight), the Arsenal hitman has only four in 10 away games. In fact, Giroud has only ever scored for Arsenal in the league in London and in Tyne & Wear.
Finishing, in truth, is a crucial skill but not quite Giroud's forte; his shooting accuracy does not stand up to scrutiny. He finds the target with 42 per cent of his shots in the league, compared with Aguero (61%), Suarez (62%) and Rooney (54%), all of whom have taken more shots in fewer games played.
Those who believe that Arsenal do not need to sign a star forward will naively point to the abilities of Lukas Podolski and Walcott to the lead the line.
Walcott's best form, however, has come from the wide-right position, precisely the reason why Wenger continues to deploy him there. Do not let his performance in Arsenal's 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Tottenham fool you: No other side else is going to afford Arsenal that much space, especially at the Emirates Stadium.
As for Lukas Podolski, he got his chance to start in a central position against Cardiff City on New Year's Day and took only a single shot in the entire game before being replaced by the eventual match-winner, Bendtner. Moreover, having only ever completed 90 minutes twice for Arsenal, the German cannot be expected to be anything more than an impact player.
The ability to attack crosses is imperative for Wenger's leading man. The Gunners average a whopping 21 crosses per league game this season, Mesut Ozil and Bacary Sagna regularly chipping in with over half of those between them.
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One man who could not be more ideal for the Emirates Stadium is Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa and Wenger is doing what he can to prise the now-Spain international away from the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
The Brazilian-born striker's numbers jump off the spreadsheet and just cannot be ignored. His incredible shooting accuracy of 71% dwarfs even Suarez's precision while his six goals in nine away games, including the winner against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, prove that he is much more than a flat-track bully.
Costa is less inclined to get involved in the build-up, as his one league assist suggests. His hunger for goals means that he occupies more advanced positions on the pitch, pushing the opposition backline further towards their own goal and opening up more space for midfield runners and creators.
In addition to his style and his impressive strike-rate of more than a goal a game, the Atleti man possesses a devilish streak and a win-at-all-costs nature that is perhaps missing from some of Arsenal's artisans.
The Gunners possess statistically the best defence in the league. Many would argue that they have - at the moment, at least - the most consistent goalkeeper in the division. It is also the general consensus that they have the deepest, most talented midfield in the top flight. Wenger is only a world-class forward away from assembling what could be a title-winning Arsenal side.
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