Arsenal have reportedly commenced negotiations with Schalke over the transfer of Julian Draxler and could make him their second major German signing of the season should they reach an agreement for the ultra-talented attacker. So what are they paying for?
Having joined Schalke as an 8 year old in 2001, Draxler is very much a product of the club’s youth system and has shown promise since a very early age. He remains the second youngest outfield player to start a Bundesliga game at the age of 17 (after Nuri Sahin of Dortmund), and is the youngest person in Schalke’s history to have played more than 100 times for the club. Having played at youth level with Germany from the age of 16, he was eventually given his first cap for the full German team in 2012 at the age of 18 and is now regularly selected. He signed a new contract with Schalke in the spring of 2013 to extend his stay in Germany to 2018. The contract includes a minimum release fee clause of £37m.
Draxler is simply an all-action attacker that can play anywhere across the front line. He’s a left winger by trade, but can operate on the right, and even behind the strikers. Last season, he was predominantly used in the number 10 position, but with the arrival of Kevin Prince-Boateng, Draxler’s versatility means he can still operate from the left to accommodate the Ghanaian. However, Draxler himself has stated that he prefers to play through the middle. When playing on the wing, although he can cross the ball well enough, he prefers to beat defenders and get as near to the opposition goal as possible before pulling the trigger or cutting the ball back for one of his team mates. He will not refuse a chance to shoot from range. He’s almost like a cross between Arjen Robben and Frank Lampard – the dribbling skills of Robben combined with the awareness and shooting ability of Lampard.
His biggest strengths are his pace and quick feet, which make him a nightmare to defend against. He loves to run at the defenders and possesses more than just a step-over in his repertoire of tricks. He also seems to have found his scoring boots recently, as he hit 13 goals from 39 appearances last season, which is very impressive for a 19 year old who was sometimes playing out wide. If Draxler has an opportunity to shoot, you can be sure that he will. He is becoming known for scoring some spectacular goals from distance, and the fact that he even attempts these shots reflects that he has confidence in himself – a trait which all top players must possess. He can also drift from the left to the centre due to the freedom given to him at Schalke, and can often be seen making penetrating runs directly through the heart of the defence. He is completely two-footed; the only way you can tell that his right foot is slightly stronger than his left is when he strikes a dead ball – apart from that, if you were to watch videos of him dribbling or shooting, it’s almost impossible to work out which his stronger foot is.
As is expected of any 20 year old footballer, there will be some areas that need improving. There aren’t many with Draxler, but his tall frame prevents him from having the low centre of gravity that other dribblers such as Ribery, Messi or Hazard have; making him prone to the odd tumble. He’s not a diver by any means, but a tall person running at pace needs only the slightest touch to be brought down. However, as Cristiano Ronaldo has proved, a bit of upper body strengthening will remedy that problem, and being only 20 years of age, he has plenty of time to develop his physique. As mentioned earlier, he is not scared of having a shot, but a lot of these shots come from 20 yards and beyond. He has scored a few spectacular, long range goals, but what you don’t see on YouTube compilations is the number of efforts which do not hit the target. Again, this is not a flaw in his ability, and as he grows as a footballer, his decision making will improve.
When Arsenal spend £42m on Mesut Ozil, combined with the success that he’s had, it’s difficult to imagine that they would then spend a further £30m on another player that would play in the same position. Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United is a prime example of what happens when you have two great players fighting for the same position – ultimately one will suffer. Arsene Wenger jokingly dismissed his reported interest in Draxler, claiming that he already had ’17 players on the flanks’, but given the new reports of Arsenal talking to Schalke about a possible transfer, it would signify that Wenger has lost faith in the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Miyaichi, and ageing Rosicky. Podolski can play on the left, but has openly stated that he doesn’t enjoy it as much as playing up front, and then there is Theo Walcott, who is great when he isn’t on the treatment table, and another one who has urged his boss to play him through the middle. So, it looks like Wenger does need an 18th winger. Arsenal tend to play with one striker, so you can imagine Draxler and Cazorla either side of Giroud with Ozil pulling the strings in between the lines. If by any chance, Ozil is not available for selection, Draxler would be brilliant cover, but it is more than likely that he would spend most of his time playing in a wide position.