Recent reports have suggested that English Premier League club Arsenal have stepped up their interest in Schalke and Germany’s talented attacker Julian Draxler. The 20-year-old German international has a reported 40m pound buy-out clause in his contract and with Theo Walcott’s recently-suffered long-term injury suggestions point to Draxler being Arsene Wenger’s target in bolstering their attack.
Draxler signed a long-term contract last season that was meant to keep him at the club until 2018, or at the very least allow the club to cash in on what many think is an inevitable departure. Arsenal were reportedly already prepared to make a bid in the coming summer but with injuries to Walcott and lack of depth in the striker department, Draxler may just become the prime target for the remainder of the transfer window.
But just what is behind supposed Wenger’s interest in Draxler and what kind of player can Arsenal supporters expect?
Few players rose to prominence as quickly as Draxler. Still only 20, Draxler made his Bundesliga debut in January 2011, becoming the fourth-youngest debutant in league history at the ripe age of 17. Prior to that Draxler was already proving his worth for Schalke’s U-19s for which he scored nine goals in 12 matches in the 2010/11 season. Simply put, he was too good for his age group and impressed enough in Schalke’s winter training camp to make the permanent jump to the first team.
It did not take long for Draxler to score get on the scoresheet and show just what a good nose for goal he has. Ten days after his league debut he came on as a substitute in Schalke’s cup match against Nürnberg and scored the match winner with a minute to go. Later that season he would shine as Schalke eliminated Bayern Munich in the Cup semi finals and in April he scored his first ever league goal against St. Pauli. The following month he scored what is still regarded as one of the great goals in German cup history in the final against Duisburg. Draxler finished with the Cup and a season to remember. A new star had arrived on the German football stage.
The following season Draxler became a permanent fixture on Schalke’s left wing and formed a fantastic partnership with Lewis Holtby in the middle. Draxler was crucial in Schalke’s third place finish and run to the quarterfinals of the Europa League. In 2012 he was also handed his first senior cap for the national team with Jogi Löw singing the praises of a player mature beyond his years. Draxler missed out on the EURO squad but it was already evident that he would be a permanent fixture in the national team for years to come. Later that year he scored his first international goal in a friendly against the United States.
The 2012/13 season was a curious one. Lewis Holtby departed to England, leaving a gap in the center for Schalke. With the club failing to land the playmaker of their choice Draxler was finally allowed to play in his preferred central attacking role. There were doubts that his inexperience would hamper him in a more demanding and significant role but Draxler excelled beyond everyone’s beliefs. He scored 13 goals in all competitions and became the youngest player in club history to make 100 competitive appearances.
This season Draxler has reverted back to a wide position with Kevin-Prince Boateng coming in and has been in and out of the squad with injuries but has still scored five goals, three of them crucial in Schalke’s advancement to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Although shunted out to the left again, Draxler’s partnership with Boateng has been a major driving force in Schalke’s best performances and Draxler has again proven to be the team’s most important attacking player.
Style and Strengths
Like most of his peers, Draxler is difficult to categorize positionally. He started out wide early in his career but prefers a central attacking position, namely playing off a lone forward as he did in the 2012/13 season, arguably his best yet. His pace and strength in one-on-one situations makes him a capable and dangerous wide player but his skill set is best used in a freer position with several outlets around him. His two-footedness and creativity along with his strong shooting technique make him an ideal player for the attacking midfield position in just about any formation.
Draxler is an unusual attacking player though. Unlike most expected playmakers or attacking midfielders, Draxler is over six feet tall and does not suggest guile and technique with his frame. Nothing could be farther from the truth of course. One of his biggest assets going back to his days in the academy has been his confidence and concentration on the pitch. Few things seem to phase the youngster and he seems to excel the higher the pressure.
His close control and ability to move and accelerate with the ball are also some of Draxler’s key strengths. His dribbling can be reminiscent of a young Kaka at times and, as mentioned before, he boasts one of the most powerful shots in the league despite a rather inconspicuous outward appearance and sometimes awkward stance on the ball. That element of surprise and sheer unpredictability of his plays is what makes him such a dangerous player. Like Bayern’s Thomas Müller, Draxler can pop up out of nowhere with a touch or play that can unlock an entire defense.
And at Arsenal?
With a midfield featuring technically proficient players like Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mesut Özil a player like Draxler should fit in seamlessly. Very much in the mould of an “Arsenal type” Draxler is versatile and has shown he can adapt quickly to changing circumstances and positions. This season Draxler has played on the left, in the middle and on the right and has even been used up top.
In Draxler, Wenger would have an all-rounder who could fill in for any of his attacking players and even be played up top if necessary. Recent trends in German football have shown more coaches willing to play their attacking midfielders up top and the same could be the case for Draxler. There are few players in his generation that have a better instinct for goal and Draxler’s inherent confidence make him an ideal candidate should the necessity arise.
Whether the move will facilitate remains to be seen. Schalke will definitely not want to lose their crown jewel in a season that could see them miss out on Champions League football. However, if the buy-out clause, a reasonable figure considering his talent, is to be believed and his performances in Europe this season are an indicator, Schalke will find it difficult to hang on to him. Whatever the case, Arsenal would be wise to maintain their pursuit of the youngster and do whatever they can to try and make it a quartet of German internationals at the Emirates.