Arsenal step up search for new forward after Bayern Munich struggles

Gabriel Jesus shoots for Arsenal against Bayern Munich
Arsenal failed to score in their Champions League quarter-final second leg - Getty Images/Michaela Stache

Arsenal will step up their pursuit of a new forward this summer following their Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich, with Mikel Arteta saying his team lacked the required attacking “magic” as they chased the match in Germany.

As reported by Telegraph Sport earlier this year, Arsenal have been monitoring potential offensive options ahead of another busy summer transfer window at the Emirates Stadium.

Their struggles to break down Bayern’s defence, after falling behind to Joshua Kimmich’s second-half header, further underlined the club’s need to add more attacking variety to Arteta’s squad.

Martin Odegaard, the club captain, said the quarter-final against Bayern was lost “in front of the goals” and added that the team were not “sharp enough in front of the opponent’s goal”.

Arteta, meanwhile, said: “I saw the players really willing, trying their best. It wasn’t enough, that was true, to get the magic moment that is needed in this competition, to unlock it, to make something happen when the game requires us to open that door. We didn’t have it and that’s why we’re out.”

It remains to be seen whether Arsenal prioritise a central striker, to challenge Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz, or another wide player to compete with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli on the flanks. Depending on sales, they could yet target players in both positions.

In recent years Arsenal have pushed hard to sign a new winger but were unable to seal deals for Raphinha, who joined Barcelona from Leeds United, and Mykhailo Mudryk, who instead went to Chelsea from Shakhtar Donetsk. They also have had a long-standing interest in Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Pedro Neto.

Arsenal did sign Leandro Trossard from Brighton, in January last year, but the Belgian is regarded as a different sort of attacker to Martinelli and Saka.

Telegraph Sport reported in January that Arsenal are admirers of Bologna forward Joshua Zirkzee, who has scored 10 goals in Serie A this season, although a potential asking price of around £50 million could prove to be prohibitive. According to Italian reports, the 22-year-old is wanted by AC Milan.

Arsenal have also been linked with a potential move for Benjamin Sesko, the 20-year-old Slovenia striker who plays for RB Leipzig in Germany.

Arsenal’s financial firepower could be significantly boosted by sales this summer, with Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Reiss Nelson and Aaron Ramsdale among those who are expected to attract interest from other clubs.

There is also growing uncertainty over the future of Oleksandr Zinchenko, who will have only two years remaining on his contract at the end of this season. Zinchenko has endured a complicated campaign and was jeered by some supporters in Sunday’s home defeat by Aston Villa, although Arteta made it clear this week that the left-back is “loved” at the club.

In recent years, Arsenal have generally prioritised players who have already proven themselves in English football. Of their last 10 first-team signings, seven have arrived from other Premier League clubs.

Analysis: Do Arsenal need a winger, striker or both?

Mikel Arteta knows what was missing from his Arsenal team as their Champions League campaign ended with defeat by Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. It was the same quality that was absent during their loss against Aston Villa on Sunday: an attacking spark, a piece of creative genius, a decisive flourish in the final third.

“We lacked that magic moment that is needed in this competition, to unlock it and make something happen when the game requires,” Arteta said in Munich. “To open that door. We did not have it. That is why we are out.”

Arsenal have scored plenty of goals this season but the feeling remains that, in the biggest moments and against the biggest clubs, they are still short of at least one top-class attacker. A player who can change the dynamic, lessen the load on the existing options and provide a flash of unpredictability when it is most needed.

At various points over the past two seasons, Arteta’s best forwards have shown the required class. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus, Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz have all contributed crucial goals and assists. Those players now look exhausted, though, and it was painfully clear in Munich that Arsenal craved fresh ideas in the final third.

At this decisive stage of the campaign, three of Arsenal’s most important forwards have lost their form. Saka, so good for so long, has scored just two goals in his last eight appearances. Martinelli, a ruthless finisher last season, has scored only once in his last 11 appearances. Jesus, the £45 million Brazil international, has one goal in his last 13 games.

These issues have been masked, to some extent, by Havertz’s impressive performances as a striker in recent weeks. But he, too, looked jaded against Villa and Bayern, and it should not be forgotten that he was signed primarily as a midfield player, rather than as a centre-forward.

It says plenty about the lack of unpredictability in Arsenal’s attack that Thomas Tuchel, the Bayern manager, was able to detail Arteta’s tactical approach before the game. Tuchel explained how Arsenal usually build their attacking moves on the right, before finishing them from the left.

Knowing where the threat would be, Tuchel therefore selected two left-backs in the second leg and succeeded in shutting down Arsenal’s right-hand side. Saka was largely anonymous as Arsenal were instead forced to build much of their play on the left wing, where they are less dangerous. Martinelli received plenty of the ball but did little with it.

Bukayo Saka playing for Arsenal in their Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich
Bukayo Saka was kept subdued by Thomas Tuchel's approach of playing two left-backs - Shutterstock/Anna Szilagyi

The key question for Arsenal’s executives, going into the summer transfer window, is whether it is more important to strengthen the wide areas or add another centre-forward to Arteta’s squad. Telegraph Sport understands they are considering targets in both positions.

Will they move for a winger or a striker, or even both? The answer will depend on which players are available, the price of those players and the amount of money they are able to generate through sales (the likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe could all depart).

What is certain is that Arsenal have long been trying to recruit another skilful wide player who can ease the burden on Saka and Martinelli. Trossard can play wide but is more of a schemer than an out-and-out winger, and is simply not a like-for-like replacement for Saka and Martinelli.

Two years ago Arsenal tried to sign Raphinha from Leeds United, before he joined Barcelona instead. Last January they were willing to invest huge money on a deal for Mykhailo Mudryk, but lost out to Chelsea. Pedro Neto, of Wolves, is another player who has featured prominently on their list of targets in recent seasons.

It should be said that Arsenal’s predictability is rarely a problem in the Premier League, where they had been in phenomenal form until Sunday’s meeting with Villa. In the league, Arsenal’s opponents know what they are going to do, but are generally unable to stop it. Against the biggest teams on the biggest stages, though, Arsenal currently do not have enough capacity to switch up their offensive strategy.

This lack of variety can be seen in the fact that Arteta’s side, across the course of the season, have struggled in the role of game-chasers. Arsenal have conceded the opening goal in 11 matches this season, and have gone on to win only one of those games. The last eight times they have conceded first, they have lost the match.

Game-changers, clearly, are needed. Different options are required. It is the “magic” in the final third that makes the difference at these crucial moments of the season, and it is that magic which Arsenal were lacking in Munich.