What Hearts fans can expect from new signing Armand Gnanduillet - the striker who thrives on crosses
The signing of Armand Gnanduillet came out of nowhere for Hearts fans.
Much of the signing focus on a new striker revolved around Elijah Adebayo and what looked like being a protracted battle to wrangle him from Walsall before the close of the transfer window on Monday.
However, Robbie Neilson landed the target man striker he desired with the signing of the French-born forward after a short but not so sweet stint in the Turkish second tier where he played back-up to former Hamilton Accies forward Marco Paixao.
It was a deal which the club originally didn’t think was going to be possible, and judging by the reaction of Blackpool fans and the supporters of other clubs in England, it appears Hearts may have pulled off quite the coup.
The main facet of his game which will stand out for fans is his goalscoring. In seasons 2018/19 and 2019/20 he hit double figures for Blackpool in English League One. He was on course for 20 goals last campaign before the shutdown due to coronavirus, averaging 0.56 goals per 90 minutes. Only Ivan Toney, who made a multi-million pound move to Brentford in the summer, scored more.
Eating up crosses
Perhaps most encouragingly, is his ability to score all different kinds of goals.
His main avenue through the ball going wide and him getting on the end of crosses. He had a good relationship with old-school winger Liam Feeney. The veteran wide man would go down the outside, get to the byline and deliver.
Gnanduillet won’t go charging into the area when the ball is wide. He is patient, waits, allowing defenders to go close to the goal opening space for him to attack having weighed up the flight of the ball.
Standing at 6ft3in, he eats up crosses which are floated or stood up, using his height to tower over opponents before directing the effort into the corner. No player scored more headers in League One than his seven last season.
His signing puts more onus on Hearts getting the ball to Josh Ginnelly and Gary Mackay-Steven and for them to send an avalanche of crosses into the box.
Sow, what about a comparison?
Neilson has talked about his focal point being able to link play. This is where a comparison can be made with Osman Sow. Both players have a similar frame and much prefer the ball to feet.
Gnanduillet has good technique. Watching him in action he can easily be mistaken as left-footed but he is adept off both feet.
Getting the ball to his feet allows him to combine with a strike partner or bring others into play. He looks to shift the ball quickly before making a secondary movement to get a return pass.
Mobile and quick, he will be a constant threat in behind and is happy to pull wide, preferring the left-hand side where he is comfortable going on the outside and hitting powerful shots or cutting on to his right and opting for a more measured, curled finish.
Creating space is not an issue for Gnanduillet with his ambidextrous qualities and awkward build. He is savvy when running with the ball or away from defenders, using his long strides and long reach to protect it and keep defenders at arm’s length.
When games are a struggle and Hearts can't find their flow against compact defences, they should be encouraged to keep playing through their new forward due to his ability to create chances for himself.
The aforementioned quality of being able to turn and run away from opponents is a huge addition to the team's dynamic, as is capability at scoring from distance with powerful but placed shots.
In the air
Where he may not be the strongest is the aggressive side of the game.
The 28-year-old, despite being well built and powerful, isn’t a dominating presence in the air. The timing of his jump with his back to goal his hit and miss, while he can sometimes be easily bullied or eased off the ball when competing for aerial balls.
He is much more effective at pinning a defender with his arms and stature, standing and flicking the ball on which means team-mates will have to be alert when the ball goes up to him.
Out of possession, Gnanduillet isn’t a striker who is going to be running around and clattering into defenders. When pressing he often runs towards an opponent but doesn't apply the necessary pressure in the final stage to make it really difficult for them.
He is, however, crafty at nipping the ball away from opponents with his long legs, especially when it comes to slide tackles.
With Hearts in possession, he will be on the move as an out ball and option.
There is no doubt that Hearts have improved their squad with the signing of Gnanduillet and is another player, having penned an 18-month-deal, who should be more than capable of being a key player for the team in the Premiership, should the Championship league leaders ensure they are there next season.
The player brings experience of British football so should be more than used to the rough and tumble of the game.
More than anything he brings a different dimension to the Hearts attack. A physical forward presence, a focal point, goals, pace in behind and a bit of magic every now and then.
Ever since he left five years ago, the club have been searching for an Osman Sow like replacement. Now they have found him.