IN a world where we don’t know which football fixtures will get played, the January transfer window looms before us in as pristine a form as it ever has done. No pandemic has yet laid low a fax machine, and no football club, especially in early 2022, is going to turn their nose up at bolstering their squad. The January window has traditionally been a difficult time to build a team, because who wants to let key players go halfway through the season, but there’s a cheat code: good players who haven’t had very good campaigns and/or have fallen out of favour. The last 10 days have seen Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lose both the captaincy at Arsenal and his place in the team. Neither he nor his club would refuse a decent offer from another club next month, but who else is in the same boat?
Well, using a decline in expected goals per 90 as a proxy for a slowdown isn’t perfect, but at the same time it does throw up some interesting names that fit the bill as described above. Here then, is a top six of the biggest attacking slowdowns in the Premier League this season.
6) Michail Antonio (down 0.24 xg/90)
This would have been a shock inclusion at the height of autumn when Antonio looked set to shatter the 10 goal total he recorded in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, but he has been stuck on six goals since October and the drought he’s experiencing at the moment is reflected in the decline in his xG. He even ended up playing in his old position of right-back for a bit in West Ham’s most recent game, at Arsenal, and it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t always been a centre-forward, so these off spells are perhaps to be expected.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: Low, but given Antonio’s age you do wonder whether Sebastien Haller’s extraordinary goalscoring record in the Champions League this season – the fastest player to reach 10 goals in the competition’s history – has caused any reflection at London Stadium.
5) Joe Willock (down 0.26 xg/90)
Times have changed at Newcastle. Last January they brought in Willock on loan from Arsenal and saw him not only score on his debut against Southampton but then later in the spring go and score in seven games in a row. Such an unlikely event, for a player equally unlikely to ever be able to do so again, saw former Magpies boss Steve Bruce cash in his entire transfer budget to bring Willock to the club permanently. The fee was more than £20m and with no goals and no assists this season, it is not looking like classic business, unless you’re Arsenal, who converted that money into Aaron Ramsdale.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: He’s not leaving Newcastle this month but with a raft of new signings presumably on their way to the north east at some point, Willock’s long-term prospects at the club are surely shrinking.
4) Alexandre Lacazette (down 0.26 xg/90)
A few weeks ago, predicting that Lacazette would be on his way from Arsenal in January, or at the end of the season when his contract expires, would have been a safe option. But the French striker has directly benefited from the removal of Aubameyang from Arsenal’s starting XI and looks likely to stay at the club until the summer at least. Yes, his expected goals is down, but it is on the rise again and his ability drop deep and play in players like Gabriel Martinelli (as he did against West Ham) is an underrated trait to his game. Just needs to score more penalties, really.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: I’m sure if you offered Arsenal a *lot* of money in January they’d probably still sell him, though.
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3) Bruno Fernandes (down 0.27 xg/90)
Fernandes started the season with a hat-trick against Leeds but a lot has changed at Manchester United since then. In some ways that performance on the opening weekend at Old Trafford was the last hurrah of the old functional Ole Gunnar Solskjaer United team, with Bruno as its finishing artiste, either from open play or the penalty spot. Before the month was out, however, the club had opted to go Deep Heritage by bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back and Bruno’s options to score have been limited accordingly. I mean, five goals and three assists at this stage of the season isn’t bad but it’s not what Bruno is used to and it’s not what Bruno likes.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: Obviously no. But then again…?
2) Harry Kane (down 0.30 xg/90)
The flimsy validity of gentlemen’s agreements was shown in the summer as Harry Kane’s desired move to Manchester City simply… didn’t happen. And for whatever reason, the subsequent Premier League campaign has been the England captain’s worst. Unless he scores against Liverpool on Sunday, Kane will reach Christmas with just one Premier League goal, one fewer than Fred. Since he started scoring regularly in 2014-15, Kane’s lowest scoring campaign is 2018-19 when he scored 17 goals. There’s almost no chance he’ll get close to that total now.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: He wouldn’t say no.
1) Kelechi Iheanacho (down 0.34 xg/90)
2020-21 really felt like a breakthrough season for Iheanacho, the Nigerian scoring 12 goals overall, including a spell of nine in seven games in March and April. It looked like he was set to replace an aging Jamie Vardy as Leicester’s main attacking threat. But first the club signed Patson Daka in the summer and then the apparently unwriteoffable Vardy seemingly regenerated in the summer, with only Mohamed Salah scoring more goals than him so far in the 2021-22 Premier League. None of that means that Iheanacho has regressed, but his chances of becoming Leicester’s focal point probably have.
TRANSFER GETABILITY RATING: Get the chequebook out, get it done.