Mark Chapman: Can Arsenal help revive old-fashioned strike partnerships?
Very few things are certain in sport but over recent months, I can guarantee that when Olivier Giroud starts up front for Arsenal there will be fans calling up a phone-in post-match to say Theo Walcott should be up front instead.
Equally when Theo Walcott starts up front there will be fans calling up saying Olivier Giroud should be Wenger’s centre forward of choice. It always happens.
It was during one such discussion recently that I put to my panel on 5 Live Sport that maybe Wenger could play them both. While the panel didn’t quite recoil in horror they all disagreed with my suggestion.
Actually that’s also a certainty in sport, that my panel will never ever agree with me, particularly if it involves Steve Claridge or Chris Sutton. They gave me a variety of reasons but the underlying theme of all their points was that ‘nobody plays two up front anymore’.
The art of working as a strike partnership, and even the art of putting together a strike partnership appears to have disappeared.
The closest we have come in the Premier League in recent years was the combination of Suarez and Sturridge a couple of years ago at Liverpool. But even then one of them usually drifted in from a wider position.
Besides, one of the main reasons we in the media tried to turn them into a duo was so we could resurrect the SAS acronym, previously used with Shearer and Sheringham for England and Shearer and Sutton at Blackburn.
Due to the fact that Cantona and Cole never saw eye to eye at Manchester United, CAC never saw the light of day.
Of course there is an argument that the subtleties of Sheringham’s game or Cantona’s game might mean that they weren’t part of an out-and-out striker partnership. They often dropped into the ‘hole’ and were allowed to roam.
Alan Hansen told me several times that it was a myth to think Liverpool played 4-4-2 in their glory days of the 70s and 80s and that it was more of a 4-4-1-1 formation that allowed the likes of Keegan, Dalglish and Beardsley to do their thing.
However they were still thought of as part of a partnership - Keegan and Toshack, Dalglish and Rush and Beardsley and Aldridge. And those partnerships were everywhere as well, as we mentioned last week with Sharp and Heath at Everton, or Wright and Bright at Palace, or Harford and Stein at Luton.
There are no great strikers out there now because there are no great strike partnerships
— Bergkamp & Bergkamp (@Orangeiceman10) September 28, 2015
This lack of faith in partnerships means players do suffer. Nobody can doubt the talent and goalscoring ability of Jermain Defoe and yet he can’t hold down a regular place at Sunderland. This surely is more about formation and tactics than doubts over the player.
Sunderland are no different to a lot of sides now, they want one up and others buzzing around off him. Defoe can’t be that man at the top of the formation, he needs someone alongside him. So that means when he does start he has quite often been used out wide.
Interviewing, Michael Owen a couple of years ago he told me he might not have been as successful playing in this decade, when he would have been up top on his own rather than alongside someone such as Heskey.
Why can't Theo & Giroud operate in unison? Owen & Heskey all over again! #PerfectForwardSplitIntoTwo
— Tejaswi Shrivastava (@trulytazz) October 20, 2015
This also fits into the current debate about Wayne Rooney. Is he a 9? Is he a 10? We are asking a question about which individual role he could play? Do we ever ask who he could partner up front for club and country?
Could he and Martial be a partnership? Well at the moment if Rooney starts up front then Martial is on the left. Sturridge, Kane, Welbeck, Vardy at international level with Rooney? Again one of the them or Rooney himself will be shoved out to the left - they won’t be a partnership.
I realise tactics change and things fall out of fashion, but I would love to see partnerships come back into modern day football. And if it was at Arsenal, and they played Walcott and Giroud together, then that would be WAG, a very 21st century acronym for the sport.