Brentford’s Ivan Toney is the latest striker linked with a move to Premier League giants Arsenal, amid continued uncertainty over the futures of a number of players.
Alexandre Lacazette’s career continuing at the Emirates Stadium looks far from certain, Eddie Nketiah has been tipped to leave on loan again and Folarin Balogun is yet to commit to the club by signing a new contract.
That would leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as head coach Mikel Arteta’s sole first team striker, and more often than not the Spaniard has preferred to utilise his captain on the left wing. It begs the question, were the others to leave, is Toney up to the job of filling such illustrious boots previously donned by the likes of Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp.
The 24-year-old only joined Championship high-flyers Brentford at the beginning of the season, having previously made his name at Peterborough. He’s seized his opportunity to a step up a level with both hands, bagging an impressive 25 goals in 33 appearances to further indicate that Newcastle, where he was previously a trainee, may live to regret letting him go.
Renowned for making direct runs into space and in behind opposition defences, Toney’s pace and clever movement have been key in his ability to score goals with such regularity. His goals have held some significance, too, with Brentford – despite a minor blip – challenging for automatic promotion to the top flight.
To this point, Toney has proven more than capable of stepping up from League One to the Championship. But even the most stoic supporter of both the Bees and Toney would admit that the leap up to Premier League level would be another kettle of fish all together, as well as the biggest challenge he’d have faced in his relatively young career.
Recent history does suggest though that Toney may not be completely out of his depth. Eyebrows were raised when Aston Villa forked out a whopping £33m to sign Ollie Watkins – ironically the player that Toney replaced – yet he’s hit the ground running in the Premier League.
Not only has he bagged ten Premier League goals at a ratio just shy of a goal every other game, he’s shown a tremendous ability to link up play and bring others into the game – something that was undoubtedly instilled into him by Brentford head coach Thomas Frank.
Toney is now reaping those same rewards, even though Brentford’s main creative outlet from last season, Said Benrahma, has also moved on and stepped up to Premier League level with West Ham.
That all said, you must take into account the kind of opponent Toney is facing each and every week and compare it to what Arsenal come against.
Rarely in the Championship will you find a deep, deep defensive line, ready to absorb pressure throughout. There is often space for Toney to run into and utilise, playing directly into the things he’s good at. Arsenal, on the other hand, have found it difficult to score goals this season, but the majority of the time face teams who are compact and relatively comfortable operating with a ‘low block’.
In any event, when those opportunities arise, Arsenal already have Aubameyang – one of the world’s leading marksman – among their ranks to fulfil the duties of breaking in behind. What the Gunners need is an alternative skillset; a target man with great aerial presence and one who is capable of playing with his back to goal. Essentially, someone who gives Arteta a viable plan B.
Toney’s finishing ability is clear, he’s scored enough goals to show he’s no flash in the pan. But outside of not playing in the top flight, he doesn’t fit the profile of player that Arsenal need to improve – and the club’s supporters will be the first admit, improvement is what’s needed. Throw in the fact that Brentford are likely to slap an extortionate asking price on him, and it’s pretty much a non-starter.