Before Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City this weekend, Arsene Wenger tempted fate, admitting that Alexis Sanchez had suffered “a little hamstring alarm” against Dynamo Kiev. The Chilean striker had to exit the game early and now the club will have to assess the injury to see just how long he will miss.
Just like every other transfer window since the dawn of time, the North London club will be linked with every available – and unavailable – striker around the world. One name that will definitely be mentioned is that of Olympique de Marseille forward, Michy Batshuayi.
Arsenal may need the reinforcements in January, but despite scoring 10 goals in just 15 games, it doesn’t mean the 22-year-old forward is ready to make that jump to the Premier League.
"My preferred destinations are England or Germany,” the forward told Belgian press during his last season with Standard Liege. “If you ask my favourite team, I'll say Arsenal.”
"It is a club with a good philosophy, where youngsters get their chance. I've been an Arsenal fan since I was a kid.
Unsurprisingly, that quote sparked a million “come and get me” stories – but in the end, after scoring 21 goals in 24 games, the 20-year-old signed for OM, lured by the prospect of playing at the Stade Velodrome under the guidance of mercurial coach, Marcelo Bielsa.
Both he and the team from the south of France enjoyed a fruitful debut season. Helped by the creativity of Dimitri Payet and André Ayew plus the guidance given to him by fellow forward Andre-Pierre Gignac, Batshuayi scored nine goals in his first campaign.
He was well protected by Bielsa. Gignac was the undisputed No.1 option in the Marseille attack, but the Belgian was his willing deputy. He made 26 appearances in Ligue 1, but only six of them from the start. Most of his goals came from the bench, often used as OM’s super sub.
Although he was the reason he moved to France, Batshuayi admitted that Bielsa wasn’t the most hands on coach. Daily interactions and instructions came through the Argentine’s assistants, stark contrast to the situation he faces with new boss Michel.
Marseille are a much changed side this season. Bielsa is gone. Gignac, Ayew, Payet and Gianelli Imbula also left in the summer, causing younger, more inexperienced players to play a bigger role in the team.
Batshuayi knew he would be thrust into the limelight, and although he has coped well with the increase in pressure and minutes, it has shown some definite cracks that were masked due to his fleeting appearances under Bielsa.
"Michy has progressed a lot,” Michel quipped last month. “He is scoring goals. That counts and that’s what is required from a striker. But we feel that team requires more help during games. In Lille, I told him the game was over. He said he wanted to score a third…he can still improve, learn to read the game better.”
The incident Michel is talking about came away from home at Lille in October. With Marseille winning 2-1, the home side had come back into the match and were pressing for an equaliser. Batshuayi won the ball in his own half, impatient he tried to push forward down the wing, but needlessly gave the ball away.
Michel’s reaction on the sideline was priceless, with a tirade of abuse was hurled towards the young forward. Rather than showing a calm head and game savvy, Batshuayi obviously felt there was an opportunity to seal a 3-1 win. It was clear that both he and Michel were on a different wavelengths.
“He is improving every day in training. Each day he understands better how to play his position,” a calmer Michel told journalists later that week. “Tactically he is progressing. He fights more and more. In Lille, he made several mistakes but it's a good match overall."
Batshuayi has already bettered his goalscoring return from last season, but with increased minutes, and with no other striker in the squad, that is of no real surprise.
Outside of his goals, you would like to see better movement off-the-ball and the ability to create his own opportunities in and around the box. There is a feeling that a few of his goals are more in spite of him being there, rather than his influence on the game.
Someone has to play upfront for Marseille, and at this point, the Belgian is the only option.
Last season, he showed great awareness inside the box, and a gift of controlling the ball and turning quickly in confined areas. His mixture of pace, power and athleticism was hard to stop. We’ve not seen as much of that this this year. The burden of leading the Marseille attack is obviously weighing heavy on his shoulders.
At this stage of his career, Batshuayi is in the best place to develop further. He will play almost every game and he doesn’t have the pressure that comes with a Champions League club in a country where the football is played at a breakneck pace. In France he can learn the position, learn his role and do it in front of 70,000 passionate fans – definitely the best place to try and cement a place in Marc Wilmots national squad next summer.
Don’t be surprised if the Belgian ends up at the Emirates at some point in his career, just right now, it would be a move in the wrong direction.