Academy

Nikolaj Moller: Arsenal’s very own solution to their striker predicament?

Nikolaj-Moller

If losses against Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea did not anger the Arsenal fans enough, Brentford’s victory against the Gunners on Friday night would have surely swayed a lot of the Gooners to be impatient with the ‘process’. While Arsenal did not have Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette available for the game, they should have done more, and they certainly could have done more. They lacked a cutting edge; were lacklustre in the final third; were inconsistent in build-up; easy to bully. 

Three out of the four issues mentioned above can be solved by a competent forward. Folarin Balogun, for all his talent, needs to play more consistently at a lower league club before he makes the cut for the Arsenal squad, certainly one that is coached by Mikel Arteta. Aubameyang is on the cusp of being sold by Arsenal after it was reported that the North London outfit were ready to part terms with a player who only signed a new contract with the club at the start of the season. Alexandre Lacazette’s days are numbered, and if the club had brokered a deal for Tammy Abraham or Lautaro Martinez this summer, the Frenchman might not have been at the club. 

Thus, Arsenal’s issues up front are there for all to see, and if they fail to sign a forward over the course of the next two windows, they might already have a solution in Nikolaj Moller – the Swedish centre-forward the Gunners recruited last year from Malmo for under half a million pounds. 

Moller turned 19 turned less than a month ago and enjoyed a terrific season with Arsenal’s U-23s last season. The Swede featured in 18 Premier League 2 games and scored 7 goals and provided 3 assists. To that end, third-tier German club Viktoria Koln have signed the player this summer on a season-long loan deal. One of the most exciting leagues for any striker to join, Moller will certainly thrive in that environment, and he could develop a lot, or at least enough to warrant a place in Arsenal’s squad next season.

While there is no certainty on what kind of season he might have at Koln, let us look at how his qualities could benefit Arsenal to solve their current frontline predicament as well as provide an impetus for next season. 

A) Involvement in buildup play:

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At 6’3, Moller enjoys being involved in every aspect of the play, including the build-up of every single attack. However, there is something peculiar about this. While most forwards try to hold up the play or turn around and start running with the ball towards the goal, Moller prefers one-touch passes. The Swede is incredible at controlling the ball and bringing it down, but he prefers passing the ball immediately. 

Not an avid dribbler of the ball, Moller prefers releasing the ball and running into open spaces. He understands the theory of ‘the ball moves faster than any other player’, and he uses it to his advantage. Given his height, Moller knows that he will never run unchecked by any defence but he uses his long legs cleverly. Instead of vicariously playing on the offside line, the 19-year-old prefers taking long strides and outmuscling his opponents. Very similar to how Ibrahimovic began his career at Paris Saint Germain, Moller’s first touch and release of the ball are exceptional and his immediate distribution of it in the form of precision passes are an incredible asset for any team.

How does this help Arsenal?

There are a lot of suggestions on how Arsenal forwards should function and their involvement in the play. While a player like Lacazette tries to get involved in the game with his back towards the goal, Aubameyang prefers making runs beyond the defenders. Moller is a different mould in itself, and he might just complement the current Arsenal squad. 

With players like Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe, and Emile Smith Rowe in the frontline, the Gunners need somebody who can be a target man but is not necessarily involved in every aspect of the build-up play. Pepe, Saka, and Smith Rowe have the drive to run past players but they need a clever forward who can score goals also be involved creatively. Moller’s ability to receive the ball in tight areas and releasing the ball quickly will favour the current Arsenal style because it will move the ball faster in the final third. Ticking the ball quickly is an important element of Arteta’s style, and if Moller can fix this, it would bode well for the team.

B) A calm finisher:

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Unlike a lot of youngsters his age, Moller does not necessarily feel the same pressure in front of a goal. This is also because the player makes his mind up very early. However, there is a catch. The Swede is a tricky opponent for any goalkeeper. He shapes his body in one direction but puts the ball in the other corner. 

This creates a lot of unpredictability for defenders and keepers alike. Moreover, his two-footed nature creates a lot of problems for centre-backs because they are unsure about which side should they let Moller run in so as to stop him from scoring. While these are just some of his basic elements, Moller’s best quality is his aforementioned calm nature in front of goal. He does not fret or worry about where he should score because for one thing, it comes naturally to him. He knows where the goal is, and he has the confidence of putting it in the back of the net 10 times out of 10.

The Swede might have a blockbuster season in front of goal this year with Koln, and if he does manage to do so, it would be a big confidence booster for people at Arsenal.

How does this help Arsenal?

It is not that Aubameyang and Lacazette lack the finishing skills in front of goal, but the pair have become incredibly predictable over the years. Their confidence in front of goal has also mustered while they lack the agility in the final third as well. 

Moller solves these issues in a jiffy. He is tall, agile and his calm nature of finishing the ball will help Arsenal in a number of ways. The Gunners have played a lot of counter-attacking football under Mikel Arteta and they have lacked a player who can put the ball in the back of the net at the end of these counter-attacks. Moller’s terrific movement makes it simple for him to get into prime goal-scoring areas and finish the ball with a cool head.

Additionally, if Arsenal do become a possession-heavy side, which they were for a large part on Friday against Brentford, Moller’s ability in the air is an incredible tool. The Gunners, who have Kieran Tierney and are in pole position to sign a right-back this summer, can use their abilities of crossing the ball into the box. At 6’3, Moller wins most headers and also knows how to place them in corners. If he nurtures this ability of his at Koln this season, the Gunners could have a quality finisher in their ranks next season.

C) Physical presence:

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While Moller’s height does let him dominate opponents aerially, the Swede’s strength with and without the ball is also an admirable quality. The 19-year-old knows how to shrug off opponents or even take the ball off them. 

While he made only 20 appearances in all competitions last season, Moller played with a certain exuberance with his back to goal and enjoyed the occasional duel. The Swede, however, also knows when and how to use his strength. It is not that he flies into challenges all the time but Moller is the first to head a ball while he also actively makes his presence known while pressing. His shoulder-to-shoulder challenges were a huge bonus for the club last season as he knew how to retain the ball while also press the opposition by isolating the player and then snatching the ball away. Additionally, Moller also believes in winning the second ball and not wasting a pass. 

Both of these are facilitated because he knows how to use his strength, and he does it brilliantly. A little like Romelu Lukaku, Moller also backs into his opponents and turns quickly to take a snap-shot, an incredible quality of his and a great asset to have in a team’s arsenal.

How does this help Arsenal?

If there is one thing Arsenal learned from the game against Brentford, it is that they need a huge physical presence in their frontline. The Gunners were beaten to nearly every header by Ivan Toney yesterday, while Folarin Balogun failed to win even a few of them. Moreover, Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku, Manchester City want to sign Harry Kane, and United’s already existing forward in Cavani shows the importance of such ‘bullies’ in the squad.

None of the current crops of players at Arsenal are target men or have a physical presence in the frontline. Moller’s understanding of how to use his strength at such an early age is a bonus for the Gunners. The likes of Emile-Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Gabrielle Martinelli are feisty tacklers of the ball, but none of them have the height to compete with the tall centre-backs of the Premier League, and they are not helped by Aubameyang and Lacazette’s inability to do the same.

Mikel Arteta prefers pressing from the front, while he also likes players who know how to retain the ball. Moller’s strength and know-how could ease the pressure on players like Saka and Smith Rowe as they could then use their energy for the technical side of the game rather than engaging in duels and falling short while competing for them. 

While Moller still has a lot to develop in that area, this quality makes him an exciting prospect for the future.

 Although Arsenal could still go out and sign a forward in the next 12 months, it does not rule out Moller’s involvement in the first-team squad next year. The Swede is hungry for experience and is ambitious about making it to the top– qualities that are encouraging in any youngster. Should Arteta stay at the job next season as well, he could use Moller as the back-up forward as he provides different strengths plus he is a fresh face and a foreign talent. 

Nikolaj Moller may not be the Golden Boy or a skillful maestro, but he is a star in the making, and Arsenal needs to monitor his progress because he could be a serious solution to their current attacking predicament in 12 months time. 

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