In the tough world of the Premier League, where every point won feels like ecstasy, Luton Town are right in the running of a serious upset. Much to the dismay of Garth Crooks, said upset would be us staying up. We're only one point away from the holy grail of 17th, the sacred position that would keep us safe. The question now is whether grabbing an extra striker could be the game-changer we need. So, let's chat about it – how could a new attacking player help Luton Town dodge the danger zone in the Premier League?
As we continue to fight against the odds, the glaring need for an additional striker option becomes apparent with the Bolton fixture fresh in the mind of Town fans. The relentless nature of top-flight football demands an arsenal of attacking prowess capable of unlocking defences, permitting Rob Edwards to secure these vital extra points. Plenty of time this season we have fallen short of the cut-throat nature needed to survive at this level: namely Wolves at home, West Ham at home, Fulham away, and Burnley at home.
With the stakes being so high, and the club being so close to safety; these are three options that could help us secure the utopia of Premier League football for a second season. In Luton fashion, rather than opting for three players who demand stupidly high fees, I will be providing a 'budget' striker, a 'mid-range' striker who wouldn't be cheap, nor break the bank, and a 'premium' striker who will cost a pretty penny but significantly help.
The Budget Brilliance
Ali Al Hamadi (21) - AFC Wimbledon on a permanent deal
As mentioned earlier, this option would be a typical 'Luton signing,' as pundits might label it. The player is reportedly available for around £1.2 million, which, while a bit of a stretch for the budget in recent times, shouldn't be an issue thanks to the Premier League riches.
At 21, Al Hamadi is far from the finished striker, and I want to be clear about that from the start. However, you can't overlook the fact that the young Iraqi has scored thirteen goals and provided six assists in 23 League Two games this season. He's fallen short of his expected goals (xG) of 15.52 by -2.52, indicating that he's not the finished product yet still boasts an impressive tally of 13 goals. However, this might be balanced out by his expected goals on target (xGOT) of 12.85, a metric that measures the likelihood of an on-target shot resulting in a goal, suggesting he is scoring when he should be with a differential of +0.15 xGOT. Ranking in the 94th percentile for strikers across the whole of League Two indicates that he's regularly shooting and getting into the right positions.
Scoring is not the only strength he brings to the table. Al Hamadi has some of the best numbers for strikers in League Two at chance creation, having created 33 chances – putting him in the 98th percentile against fellow strikers in the league. These chances have led to his six assists, ranking him joint-fourth in the league and a league leader compared to other strikers. Al Hamadi is also number one for successful dribbles, touches in the opposition box, and possession won in the final third. The latter is particularly noteworthy as we know Rob Edwards demands his strikers to consistently work hard and lead the press, and Al Hamadi has shown he can meet these expectations.
Of course, there are areas for improvement, most notably in his aerial duels won. He's slightly above average in this area with 27 aerial duels won, ranking him in the 59th percentile. However, his aerial duel win percentage of 30% places him in the 38th percentile.
Josef Martinez (30) - Free transfer
This deal could arguably be a ‘premium’ deal, but I have ranked it in the mid-range as Martinez is available on a free transfer, as such, slightly higher wage demands would be negated by the lack of a transfer fee. He was a player we will link to in the summer, with bizarre rumours circulating that Lionel Messi was blocking the transfer. However, he is now available on a free and boasts are significant pedigree.
According to the Miami Herald, Martinez was reportedly on $4 million a year, or around £3.1 million, which equates to around £60,000/week. Even in the Premier League, we would not stretch this far, and the player would have to significantly cut his wages, although he would be playing in the best league in the world and at 30 years old, chances like this are unlikely to come round again.
Martinez is an excellent finisher. He reached 100 goals faster than anyone else in MLS history, ranking as the ninth-highest scorer in the competition. In the 2023 MLS, he finished on seven goals from 1741 minutes played, averaging a goal every 249 minutes – not very impressive I will concede. However, this could be partly due to Inter Miami’s very poor performance across the season. In the 2022 MLS season, he scored 9 goals, with a goal every 161 minutes, equating to better than a goal every other game. Similarly, in 2021 he averaged a goal every 137 minutes - an impressive figure. Working back to the 2023 season, while having a rather poor season by his standards, some of Martinez's figures make some notable reading. An 85.4% pass accuracy is significantly higher than the likes of Adebayo (74.6%) and Morris (61.6%) which shows he is tidy when in possession and with his 7.24 xG and seven goals, he knows how to finish. He is very much a ‘fox in the box’ striker, across the past three seasons only 3 of his 28 goals were from outside the box.
On the other hand, I do have some concerns as with any player. Coming in at 5 foot 6 inches, he is not an aerial presence and boasts a different stature from both Eli and Carlton, nonetheless like other players of his size, if you play into his feet, he's very strong at holding up the ball and laying off a pass. I don't necessarily class it as a negative as in certain games it may prove valuable to have a different profile, giving defenders something different to think about.
Something that would require improvement though is his defensive contribution. Ranking in the 50th percentile or below against other strikers in most defensive areas is something that would rapidly have to change, and given he would be joining in January, there would be a question mark over whether there is enough time for him to adapt to the Rob Edwards style of football.
Chuba Akpom (28) - AFC Ajax on a loan deal
As stated by the title of this section, this is a premium player, Chuba Akpom is the most experienced of the three in English football and likely the most unachievable here. The Town were credited with an interest in Akpom during the summer, but in my view, this would have to be a loan deal. I don't believe he would want to take the risk of dropping into the championship, nor do I think Ajax would like to let a €12 million signing leave only six months later.
After an incredible season in the Championship in 22/23 it hasn't all worked out for the ex-Boro man, with him only playing 387 minutes in the Eredivisie this season. This move would also provide a reunion with summer signing Ryan Giles, a player who laid on plenty of assists for the striker previously. Despite his relative lack of minutes, Akpom’s figures make for a positive read. He has 4.88 xG and 4.77 xGOT with five goals to his name - once again demonstrating his clinical nature and something that we will require given the limited chances we create. Winning 50.7% of his duels is a figure that ranks him in the 76th percentile against other strikers in the league, a much higher percentage when compared to Elijah’s 34.8 and Morris’ 42.1.
Similarly, to Josef Martinez, Chuba doesn’t tend to defend from the front with 22 recoveries (30th percentile) and 6 possession wins in the final third (54th) percentile, something that would quickly need adaptation. These figures represent a fairly large drop off from his 22/23 season where he ranked in the 53rd percentile for recoveries and the 73rd percentile for possession wins in the final third – a change in style between clubs may account for part of this as well.
Something that has remained consistent is his duel wins which he won 50.1% of last season ranking him in the 85th percentile. Last year he was also the league leader among strikers for goals, expected goals, expected goals on target, non-penalty expected goals, and shots on target. I don't need to go into much depth about Akpom from last year as many of us will know just how good he was.
My final take
As us Luton Town followers cast our eye on Premier League survival, I believe any one of these three striking options will help in quest for sustained top-flight football. To summarise, the 'budget' pick, Al Hamadi, offers youth, goal-scoring prowess, and impressive chance creation. The 'mid-range' Martinez, comes without a transfer fee, showcasing his proven goal-scoring ability in the MLS. Lastly, the 'premium' Akpom, with vast English football experience, presents a familiar face who oozes class. As we navigate the second half of the season, which of these options could help in securing the coveted 17th position?
Share your thoughts on the ideal choice for you!