Why Jonathan David is perfect for Arsenal

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The 2021 January Transfer Window is officially open! And with that, we’re going to be taking a look at clubs with a bit of a blackhole in their team, that desperately needs to be covered before the end of next summer. We’re going to match that blackhole up with one player who could potentially fill that void if a move were to be made in January, by assessing and analyzing a player that is a perfect match for the team’s style of play. Today, it’s all about LOSC Lille’s Jonathan David, and why he’d be a perfect fit for Arsenal.

ARSENAL’S STRIKER DILEMMA

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Mikel Arteta has completely turned Arsenal around, from a team bottom of the table in the opening month of the season, to now one of the most efficient teams in the league. While many Arsenal fans remain skeptical about Arsenal’s current form and whether or not it suggests real change, the signs of improvement are evident all across the board, with many players currently showcasing their best form at the club. The Gunners have hammered home many goals in recent weeks, primarily due to the resurgence of Gabriel Martinelli, the poise and class of Martin Odegaard, the pace and trickery of Bukayo Saka, and the intelligence of Emile Smith Rowe, who’s had to bide his time from the bench in recent weeks. Alexandre Lacazette has played his part too, acting as a key creator as he drops in between the lines and plays almost like a false nine, while remaining an essential part of the team’s pressing schemes out of possession.

With all of that in mind, Arsenal are in a place where they don’t desperately need a striker who can score twenty to thirty goals a season. In fact, attaining that kind of striker would require Arsenal to punch well above their current weight. But they desperately need a striker who can score more goals than Alexandre Lacazette, while still fitting into everything Arsenal do both in their link-up play in possession, and their pressing intent out of possession. That is exactly why we think Arsenal should go into the market for Jonathan David, and potentially even offload Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back to France in the process.

JONATHAN DAVID’S KEY CHARACTERISTICS

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Jonathan David has scored more goals in Ligue 1 this season than any other player, bagging 12 goals in 19 matches for a side that sit just eighth in the table. But again, we’re not suggesting Jonathan David as perfect for Arsenal on the basis of his goal-scoring form. In fact, Alexandre Lacazette came to Arsenal off the back of several successful seasons in France, most notably finishing as the top scorer in Ligue 1 back in 2014-15. Scoring more than the likes of Mbappe, Neymar, and Messi (11 more than him) is impressive, but a club like Arsenal should not use this alone as their criteria to sign a player.

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What’s perhaps more impressive, is that Jonathan David understands how to press, is incredibly mobile, and has a tireless work rate off the ball. The striker ranked fourth in our recent analysis of some of the best centre forwards in Europe when it comes to pressing numbers and percentages (ahead of Lacazette who finished outside the top ten). A high number of his pressures come in the attacking third (142 of 293), and his tackles per 90 numbers are among the best of centre forwards in Ligue 1. He possess the mobility, intensity, and defensive know-how in both positioning and angling to excel for a club like Arsenal, and only grow in his pressing ability.

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In possession, David is more than capable of dropping deep in the build up and linking up with speedy runners sprinting in behind. Even if he’s not as creative as Lacazette, he could easily grow into that type of player under the influence of a possession based coach like Arteta. Further, his desire to play with an open body shape rather than with his back to goal would serve Arsenal in their quest to score more goals. When receiving the ball with his back to goal or behind the halfway line, he’s more likely to dribble into space than to pass – always thinking about where he can take his touch to get him closer to goal and away from the opposition defenders. This would be a welcomed aspect of his game in comparison to Lacazette, who typically makes more passes backward than forward and loves to play with his back to goal.

I watched David play live in Canada’s 1-1 draw with Honduras back in October, and felt like he was often trying to do too much with the ball, rather than just making simple passes that could move the opposition around. But this is still a positive quality to possess, and one that would allow Arsenal to be more progressive. When you consider his other qualities, he’s essentially a younger version of Alexandre Lacazette – a smaller, speedy striker, who does fantastic work off the ball and in defense.

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But, David’s scoring form in Ligue 1 over the past two seasons, and for Canada where he’s been the top CONCACAF scorer in World Cup Qualifying, suggests he could score more goals for Arsenal than their current forwards. David’s movement in the box is superb, particularly in finding little pockets of space in which he can finish off chances created by speedy, dribbling wingers, which Arsenal possess to an even greater degree than Lille. He’s scored 7 goals with his right foot, 4 with his left and 1 with his head this season, showcasing an ability to score different types of goals and not just rely on the same poacher’s finish over and over again. Notably, he hasn’t scored from outside of the box this season, and the vast majority of his goals (9) have been scored in the eighteen yard box. This suits Arsenal’s current attacking abilities, including their counter attacking prowess, which he would flourish in due to having a very direct, vertical style of play with his raw dribbling and running power.

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Once he finds space in the box, his first touch is always incredibly adept, and this would likely mean he’d continue to excel in a league where space is less readily available to him. Most of his goals come after taking at least one touch to create a yard of space, often disguising a right footed forward thrust before shifting the ball onto his left and finishing off the chance. You can see one of many examples of him doing exactly that in a 4-0 win against Lorient last season. But in addition to knowing when and where to take a first touch and then finish, he also evidently understands moments where a one-touch finish would be more appropriate. This is one of the greatest qualities a striker could possess.

PLAYER COMPARISONS

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When looking at the strengths of Jonathan David and Arsenal, it’s a perfect match. But Arsenal need to identify a striker who can not only fit their style, but outperform the players they currently have in the position. So let’s take a look at how the Canadian compares to Arsenal’s current options – Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

ATTACKING

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Jonathan David’s attacking stats compare well to Lacazette and far surpass Aubameyang. The goals column is obviously one that stands out, but is perhaps the least comparable given the difficulty of league. Encouragingly, he’s made more passes into the penalty area than both Arsenal forwards, and created nearly the same amount of chances as Lacazette.

DEFENDING

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Jonathan David stands out for his sheer volume and numbers centered around pressing, but Lacazette has been slightly more successful in helping his team win the ball from his pressure. That can however be a function of the team around a player more than the player itself, as it’s based on a team’s ability to win the ball back within an allotted time after a player applies pressure, rather than the player winning the ball on their own. Additionally, the 21-year-old rates highly in tackles among centre forwards around the globe, a stat in which very few can compare to Lacazette. Regardless of who won more in this category, the similarities in style of play between the two players are abundantly clear.

POSSESSION

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As mentioned, Jonathan David is a smart footballer who possesses enough poise in possession of the ball to play for a club like Arsenal. His pass completion rate surpasses the other two here, and his dribbling success is considerably more positive. So while he doesn’t complete the same volume of passes as the other two, he’s able to be more positive when in possession and get his team closer to goal.

TRANSFER LOGISTICS

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While Arsenal would love to have a player like Jonathan David in their locker, a move for the Canadian in January may be unlikely. Lille paid around €27 million for his services back in August 2020, and his current market value is listed at around €50 million by Transfermarkt. But with Aubameyang out of favour, Mikel Arteta’s team have more to offer a club like Lille. They could easily offer the former Saint Etienne striker as part of the deal and allow Aubameyang a return to France, where he already loves to travel. It would certainly make the move more palatable for Lille, who may be reluctant to lose Ligue 1’s top scorer for anything less than someone who could reach the same heights. Importantly, Lacazette is also out of contract in the summer, which makes the urgency of this move all the more important. Besides, Arsenal were willing to pay that kind of fee for Ben White, so why not Jonathan David? With one of the richest owners in the league, they have the funds available.

CONCLUSION

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Arsenal need a new striker. With Aubameyang out of favour and Lacazette out of contract, that much is clear. But the man that comes into the club next needs to not only be a player who can score goals, but someone who possesses the characteristics of Arteta’s style of play. That player needs to be capable of pressing high, linking up with others in possession, and playing on the break. So as Arsenal prepare their search for a new striker, we suggest they take a seriously look at Jonathan David, and splash the cash in a swap deal with Aubameyang. They would certainly get their money’s worth in the 21-year-old Canadian, who could only improve in a possession-based Arteta team.


So there it is! Why Jonathan David is a perfect fit for Arsenal. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, and stay tuned for more in this January Transfer Window series. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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