Football Features

Serge Gnabry is becoming Germany’s one-touch goal machine, and Arsene Wenger was right all along (kind of)

By Muhammad Butt

Is Serge Gnabry becoming Germany's most deadly finisher?

Published: 16:47, 10 September 2019 | Updated: 17:55, 29 September 2019

Serge Gnabry is Germany’s top goalscorer in Euro 2020 qualifying.

The German has five goals, putting him ahead of all compatriots (Marco Reus and Leroy Sané have three each, no one else has more than 1). In fact, only three players (Eran Zahavi, Artem Dzyuba and Marko Arnautovic) have scored more than Gnabry across all teams in qualifying.

Gnabry’s good form extends further back than this year, as well. The Bayern Munich man has a remarkable nine goals in just 10 internationals. He made his debut for Die Mannschaft in 2016 and started off with a bang, hammering in a hattrick against San Marino in his very first match. But after 30 minutes off the bench in a friendly against Italy, he vanished from the set-up until the return of the Nations League.

Fast forward a year and you almost can’t imagine Germany putting a team out that didn’t have Gnabry in it. He’s become that essential to this new-look German side. And why? Because he scores goals regularly, and not just bangers, but because he scores simple goals really well.

Look back to his debut; his first goal sees him pick up a stray San Marino pass inside the area. He’s in the inside left channel, takes one touch to control the ball and then without any hesitation bends the ball into the back of the net. His second sees him stroll into space behind the defence and finish smartly from a cross. A sharp, first-time finish. The third goal is more of the same from Gnabry, who peels off the shoulder of defenders, although this time he is wider and connects more sweetly with Thomas Muller’s cross.

Three goals and you’d be forgiven for thinking Gnabry is just another goalscoring left wing-forward. And while he can be described as such, for sure, when Jogi Low brought him back into the side in 2018 he had grown his game. At that point he had spent a season loan at Hoffenheim getting tutored by Julian Nagelsmann, learning the intricacies of the game and expanding his tactical horizons.

This, of course, would not be a surprise to his former coach at Arsenal. “Of course he will certainly end up in a few years centrally because he can give a final ball as well,” said Arsene Wenger back in 2014 before admitting that “congestion” had forced Gnabry wide and, eventually, out of the Arsenal side entirely. Not that Gnabry has suffered since then. In fact, the move from Arsenal to Werder Bremen had not been the club’s preference. His Hoffenheim loan adventure earned him a first-team spot at Bayern Munich, all of which, as previously mentioned, led to a return to the national side.

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Gnabry’s first game back was Germany’s loss to France, but in the second he was once again on the scoresheet. This goal showed what he had been learning under Nagelsmann, as he made a run through the heart of the pitch just off the shoulder of the last defender. Kai Havertz slid a perfect ball through, Gnabry hit the afterburners to get to the ball first and then finished instantly with his left-foot. This was the goal of a ruthless striker, someone who understands how to move off the ball and that early shots sink goalkeepers.

He was scoreless in his next game against the Netherlands, although he did set-up the opening goal with a gorgeously deft first-time pass with the outside of his boot that left Virgil van Dijk for dead. He was torturing Van Dijk in his next international as well, showing that while he had learned some new skills, he hadn’t forgotten his old ones. Cutting in from the left, he danced around Van Dijk like he wasn’t there and hammered a thunderbolt into the top corner from the edge of the box. A stunner.

Nothing came in his next game away to Belarus, but when Germany hosted Estonia there were yet more talents unveiled. Gnabry had shown he could be a goalscoring wing-forward, and even the kind of rapid central striking figure that can run into space behind defence, but against Estonia he displayed another skill: the simple “striker’s goal.”

Playing as a false nine, Gnabry was at the head of the attack. He dropped deep to get play started and overload the middle but was always on hand to apply the finishing touches to moves. Twice Gnabry ensured he was in perfect placement, dead centre of the box, to apply simple first-time finishes to crosses that came in. It was a consummate display of striking professionalism that would have made Miroslav Klose proud.

He carried that forward into his next international, too. Again the Dutch were the opponent and this time Gnabry opened the scoring with a simple enough goal; playing in attack again Gnabry once more suckered a Dutch defender out of position with his movement; this time it was Daley Blind who got exposed. A superb Joshua Kimmich pass into the space Blind had left should have seen Lukas Klostermann score, but his effort was saved. However, Gnabry had been following the move as the trailing man and he pounced at exactly the right time to bury the rebound and open the scoring. If he was Klose against Estonia, here he emulated Lukas Podolski.

Finally, against Northern Ireland it was Gnabry who killed the game in stoppage time, this time recalling his goal against Russia he once again timed his run superbly, hanging on the last shoulder just long enough for Kai Havertz to slip a pass in behind. He sped up onto the ball, waited for the goalkeeper to advance and then slotted it under him for his ninth goal in 10 international games.

Wenger predicted Gnabry would go on to play centrally. Whether as a forward or an attacking midfielder is unclear. Probably he meant both. But Wenger also – perhaps surprisingly – compared his former player to Alan Smith on account of “the way he holds the ball up but also his distribution and goalscoring.” Gnabry’s technique and skill are unquestioned but his scoring instincts are really something else. With the exception of his debut goal, which took two touches, and his storming wondergoal against the Dutch where he clearly took five or more, all of Gnabry’s goals for his country have come from a single touch. That’s seven first-time finishes out of nine goals. Gnabry is a player who doesn’t overcomplicate things and while he isn’t an orthodox striker, when played as a false nine he carries with him a genuine potency.

As it stands, Jogi Low’s Germany don’t have a recognised figurehead in attack. At least, that’s the perception. All the old stars are gone. But what has become apparent over the last year of football is that Gnabry is the perfect blend of Klose, Podolski and his own unique talents to the point where he is already Germany’s major danger. Nine goals in 10 games is a staggering strike rate, but then the idea of Podolski scoring 49 goals for his country – more than he managed for any club – is fairly wild, too; Germany will always create chances and if Gnabry can continue to play with the kind of focus he has shown thus far, there’s no reason he can’t keep on scoring supremely for Die Mannschaft.