Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Skills and the tutelage of Alexis Sanchez - Chuba Akpom joins Albion from Arsenal as a creator for the Championship finale

Albion have gone for speed, bags of tricks and enthusiasm with the only new addition to their squad. The Chubatron is highly rated to the tune of a £25,000-a-week contract from Arsène Wenger, and he says he’ll play anywhere to rack up the minutes – not least likely, it seems, the left wing, where he’s been occasionally deployed by his parent club during EFL Cup games and in pre-season, when he was at his most prolific.

At 21, Akpom has grown up as an admirer of Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Alan Shearer, Patrick Kluivert and the Brazilian Ronaldo, and is experienced at all levels of England and Arsenal’s pretender ranks.

“He’s capable of creating things on his own – he doesn’t rely on chances being created for him,” Gareth Southgate, the England manager, said of Akpom, following a 3-0 win against Kazakhstan 15 months ago, in which he scored on his under-21s debut.

“His work out of possession was very good. He’s a confident player. He’s got ability. He just has to keep progressing.”

Southgate was impressed by Akpom’s on-loan performances at Hull last season, including a debut goal against Huddersfield - who his first appearance for Albion might come against - in what would become a promotion season.

It took him more than two months to score again, and a further eight games to score the only goal of a win against Bolton. All of his league goals were home ones, but his cup goals were all away: one at Accrington and a hat-trick at Bury.

Although he never dropped out of the picture at Hull, Akpom is essentially unproven. The signs are promising, though: Jürgen Klopp wanted to sign Akpom during his reign at Dortmund, and the man he succeeded at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, was openly interested in signing him two years ago.

Commitment will be key here. Akpom’s heart seems to have remained very much in north London during his brief, goalless loan spells in 2014 and 2015, when he flitted between training at the Emirates and playing for Brentford, Coventry and Forest.

He has experience of a top-of-the-table promotion push with the Bees. “It was different to what I’ve been used to,” he said, admitting some surprise at the physicality of the lower divisions three years ago.

“Getting the three points is huge at senior level. To be top of the league is such a big thing, and it was really exciting to be part of it all.”

His pedigree, if his goals and assists for Arsenal’s youth and reserve sides are anything to go by, also promises much. In training, he is inspired by Alexis Sanchez. “He makes me want to work a lot harder to reach his level,” he says. “It’s really motivational.

“The Championship is a tough league. You’ve got to have good fitness and be mentally prepared.”

A now-permanently signed Glenn Murray should guide him through the battles of an opening stretch of fixtures where he will need to combine robustness with his undoubted creativity, and he also offers a quicker option upfront if Baldock continues to miss out through injury.

There isn’t tremendous pressure on Akpom to score goals. For club and player, it’s a low-risk signing and, potentially, just the extra striker needed for the run-in.

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