When Arsenal signed Lucas Perez from Deportivo La Coruna in the summer, the striker came with the reputation of being a potent goalscorer as well as someone who could play in any position in attack. It seemed that he would be a good complement to players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Fast-forward six months, however, and there are rumours that Perez could be leaving after just one season with the Gunners. Although his agent has denied suggestions that the Spaniard could move to AC Milan in the summer, he did add that his client was unhappy at his lack of playing time.
Perez has good reason to wonder why he is seemingly below players like Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi in the pecking order. Perez has made 18 appearances for Arsenal this season, and a place in the starting XI has been rare, even though he has been directly involved in nine goals in his last eight starts, including a goal on Monday against Sutton United in the FA Cup. Statistically, he is contributing heavily to the team, supplying at least one goal or assist per game.
Lucas Pérez: Has scored or assisted a goal every 75.1 mins for Arsenal this season #SUTARS— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 20, 2017
Meanwhile, Theo Walcott has yet again flattered to deceive at Arsenal, going on a run of form earlier in the season that merited a starting berth but then not being able to maintain that level.
It’s been a similar story for Akex Iwobi. The young star has looked promising at times but does not contribute to goals as much as he should. With the way Perez has performed whenever he’s been called upon, the 28-year-old must be wondering what more he must do to leapfrog his teammates in Arsene Wenger’s plans.
The 28-year-old is in Dubai this week as part of Mark Hughes’ warm weather training camp in the UAE.
Despite the sandy conditions over the past few days, Pieters said he’s enjoying the training and the bonding time away with the team.
“It’s been good, only the weather is not that nice. Training’s been good and it’s always good to be away with the team,” Pieters told Sport360 at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club.
“We did a couple of movements on the first day. Today we did a bit of a conditioning session, some cross training and then ended with a game.”
Since the turn of the year, Stoke have only lost once in their last six league games – a 1-0 defeat to West Brom at the start of February.
Currently ninth – level on points with West Ham – Pieters hopes the Dubai trip will inspire his players towards a top-10 finish or higher ahead of the run in.
“I think we need to just continue with what we’ve been doing. We had a couple of good games that toughened ourselves and believed in ourselves… We must aim for a top 10 or higher at the end of the season.”
Stoke will return to Premier League action on Sunday when they travel to London to face Tottenham Hotspur.
At one point in time, Manchester United boasted arguably the best midfield duo in Europe with Roy Keane and Paul Scholes patrolling the middle of the park.
When both stalwarts saw their time at United approach an end, the question of their replacements was instantly raised and on both occasions, the onus fell on Michael Carrick.
The Englishman joined the club in the summer of 2006 following Keane’s departure and was on hand to pick up the mantle when Scholes made his final bow as well.
To an extent, Carrick has almost single-handedly kept United’s midfield intact and ticking over, surviving so many midfield partners – many of whom never quite established themselves at Old Trafford.
Now, the prospect of Carrick’s own departure looms large and Paul Scholes has singled out Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos as his ideal replacement.
“I really like Toni Kroos,” Scholes told German magazine Kicker. “When I neared the end of my career, I followed him closely and tried to play like Kroos.
“I was a midfielder with an eye for the goal, but Kroos is one of the best midfield masterminds in the world. Kroos would be perfect at United next to (Paul) Pogba and Ander Herrera.”
Here, we look at five reasons why the German could be the perfect fit.
A prerequisite to any Manchester United midfielder (bar Marouane Fellaini) is a wide-ranging passing ability and even more so in a potential replacement for Carrick.
In this regard, Kroos is second to none. The German’s ability to dictate play has often drawn comparison to former Bayern Munich and Germany team-mate Bastian Schweinsteiger in his prime.
Whether it’s a gentle pass around the corner, an eye-of-the-needle through ball or a ranging cross-field diagonal, Kroos executes every variation with aplomb.
Carrick has never been the most mobile of midfielders or one who regularly crunches into tackles and Kroos, while able to get around the pitch more, also relies heavily on his reading of the game and ability to occupy pockets of space in midfield.
Both have a reputation of always making themselves available to receive the ball and possess superior positional sense. With Kroos acting as a security blanket in midfield, the more dynamic Luka Modric has been afforded the freedom to drive forward at Madrid.
That bodes well for Paul Pogba in particular, who finds himself rather restrained when Carrick isn’t in the team in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Ander Herrera and behind either Juan Mata or Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Carrick was 25 years-old when he arrived at United but only really hit his stride a couple of years later as he matured. Incidentally, at 27, Kroos may be perfectly primed for a starring role in United’s midfield having already gained a wealth of experience at Bayern and Madrid.
There’s no doubt that the German maestro won’t come cheap but given that he has at least six or seven years ahead of him, it’s certainly worth the investment.
Toni Kroos with another classic beauty 😍👌🔥 pic.twitter.com/v3aFjirRqX— Omar 👑 (@OMAR_CR7_) February 15, 2017
One of Carrick’s best assets is the calming influence he has on the rest of the team. He never panics in possession, he’s passionate but never loses his head and Kroos is blessed with the same cool persona, operating with the efficiency and reliability of a German automobile.
In away matches especially, when the opposition is at your throat, that composed figure in midfield who can help get the ball down and string passes together is crucial to relieving some of the pressure.
Toni Kroos 🆚 Espanyol in numbers !— Team Kroos (@SupportingKroos) February 19, 2017
88/95 Passes [92.6%]
3 Key Passes
1 Dribble pic.twitter.com/7WjmNejANX
The one area in which Kroos particularly excels over Carrick is his rate of assists. The German already has nine to his name in La Liga this season while the United midfielder is yet to register in that department.
When compared to the likes of Herrera and Pogba as well, it’s evident that while the Frenchman may be superior in the final third, Kroos is the more natural playmaker.