Is Jeffers right for Arsenal?

Last updated : 27 January 2003 By Dr. Headgear

Jeffers and Arsenal - not a perfect match?
It's early days for his Arsenal career (if you don't beleive the tabloid rumours of his impending transfer) but not everyone thinks he's right for us. For a striker that's scored so many goals in so few appearances this seems a little odd. So lets have a look at the Jeffers debate.

Those that have doubts about Jeffers tend to have one/both of the following opinions:

1) He's simply not good enough. He misses too many chances and isn't a player that can create his own chances.

2) He doesn't fit the current Arsenal style. While he gets into the box well this requires the other players to feed him. The team end up with a single spearhead where they had multiple warheads before - Bergkamp, Henry, Pires etc have their jobs redefined as providers for Jeffers.

What we have got used to in the last couple of years is simply some of the most stunning attacking play in the world. Our strikers and wingers play total football in the last 30 yards. Their runs interchange with each other, overlap, a winger expected to go to the goal line and cross is suddenly heading for the box while the striker goes down the line. Dennis sits in the middle of all this like a genius conductor - spreading the play, feeding through balls, gathering up the ball when the defence kicks it away.

Naturally, when we see Jeffers in the box, with the ball at his feet and an impossible angle to beat the keeper but with free Arsenal shirts around him, we expect him now to do one of two things - beat the keeper anyway and show his amazing class or feed one of the free players, as Henry probably would.

He doesn't, he shoots and it's saved. Henry would have made a pass that would have lead to an almost certain goal.

But in Henry we have a player of such class that he can be the most unselfish striker on the planet and still lead the top-scorers table. Perhaps this is too much to expect of Jeffers?

Of the two Jeffers doubters positions the second seems to me to be the strongest. Jeffers's style and his role in the team are very different to that of Henry or Bergkamp or Wiltord or Kanu. He IS an out and out box striker. He HAS that shoot on sight instinct and the ability and intelligence to make the right runs to be in the right place at the right time. But our play is based upon the most unselfish attacking I've ever seen (sometimes frustratingly so, every now and then there's a match where everyone seems to be happier to pass than to shoot). When Jeffers comes on its plain to see how hard the other players work to provide for him. Henry, whilst chasing the Golden Boot against Everton last season, fed ball after ball to him, Jeffers finally getting a headed goal against his old team. Bergkamp yesterday was looking for Jeffers all the time.

The problem then arises that perhaps Bergkamp and Henry should be looking for the other players that regularly score - Pires, Freddie, Wiltord - instead of funneling all our attacks through a single point. Will we end up building our play around Jeffers -- as we did with Ian Wright - to the extent that our most potent weapon, the ability to score goals from any position, becomes nullified? Will we end up putting all our eggs in one basket?

Against non-league Farnborough Jeffers showed what his game is about. Movement off the ball, shoot on sight. But he also showed us what Henry has, and what Henry gives to the team. While Henry's runs are less box-oriented than those of Jeffers his awareness of the rest of the team is superb. His willingness to lay a goal on for other is one of his greatest attributes (think of the goal he could have scored against Sp*rs at WHL - he ran the length of the pitch (again), got into a good striking position, could have scored the goal of the season but laid it off to Bergkamp, who unfortunately had his shot blocked.

In case anyone thinks I'm being too harsh on Jeffers I did notice that his link-up play on the edge of the box provided threats on several occasions - and set Bergkamp up for a goal against Oxford. But once in the box his only thought is to score.

Now if Jeffers was regularly scoring from those difficult narrow angles that he keeps trying then he would be forgiven immediately for not passing to players in better positions. But at the moment he isn't. At the moment he's choosing the wrong option, shooting where each of the other players would pass. Perhaps, again, it's a bit rough to judge him on a game against non-league opponents that we were winning comfortably, and doubly so when he did score two goals, and it was, after all, his birthday.

Perhaps he is desperate to show his class as a goalscorer, perhaps he's been told to just go out there and score? Perhaps it was just the occasion, the opportunity to notch up a handful of goals against the minnows, that got to him?

I'm convinced though that if he would give up that most characteristic vice of all strikers - selfishness - then he would be a remarkable asset for the team. If he doesn't then I think we'll see problems and his eventual release. The spirit of Arsenal is exemplified by the attitude of Henry, Wiltord, Bergkamp and Pires to providing goals. This is the fundament of our success. Each of these players genuinely wants to make goals for the others. That's priceless. Jeffers was in the positions to do that yesterday. He could have really hurt Farnborough with a couple of well placed simple passes.

I hope that when Jeffers no longer feels he has to prove his point then his shooting will improve, shooting not in desperation but in confidence.

I hope that when Jeffers no longer feels he has to prove his point he will develop into that most rare of beasts, a genuine box striker that looks for his teammates. A striker that seeks only personal glory, to the detriment of the glory of the club, is not what we need at Highbury.