Arnold's attacking change for Caltex Socceroos strike-force to fire
Caltex Socceroos coach Graham Arnold says his versatile strike-force is primed to fire in the upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Nepal and Chinese Taipei.
Arnold announced his 23-player squad for the two matches on Friday, which includes three out-and-out strikers in Jamie Maclaren, Adam Taggart and Apostolos Giannou.
The trio all possess unique qualities and very different avenues to goal, which Arnold hopes to exploit starting against Nepal in Canberra on Thursday night.
“There’s three number nines. Jamie (Maclaren) is in great form, you can see he’s got a lot of energy,” the Caltex Socceroos boss said.
“He’s very happy in that Melbourne City camp and was very impressive against Brisbane (Strikers) in the FFA Cup the other night.
“Adam Taggart is equal-leading goal scorer in South Korea and he’s looking fantastic.
“And Giannou is a hard-working, bigger striker.
“I’ve changed the way we play a little bit to help those boys more with our wingers (playing) more inside.
“I really expect those boys to start stepping up now.”
Maclaren has been in sparkling goal-scoring form for City, playing a key role in the club’s surge to the FFA Cup 2019 Final.
The 26-year-old has scored in every round of the FFA Cup, netting six times in just four appearances including a brace in Tuesday night’s 5-1 Semi Final victory.
And Maclaren says returning to his home town has greatly benefited his mental and physical wellbeing, and it’s showing through his performances.
“I feel like my body is in a great place at the moment,” Maclaren said.
“About a year ago I was in a bad place, and mentally it started to affect me.
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“I’m in a great place now, mentally and physically it’s really good...I just can’t wait for this season to start, but I’m also so excited to go into camp on Monday.
“I don’t take these things for granted, being selected for the Socceroos has always been a dream since I was a kid.
“Every camp you’re pushing for places and I’m no different, I have to make sure my club form is good and warrant that selection.”
But Maclaren’s path into Arnold’s starting 11 is not clear-cut.
Also in contention is Taggart, who is enjoying a superb season in the K-League with Suwon Bluewings.
Taggart is currently equal-top scorer in the league, with 16 goals for his side, which is currently sitting in mid-table.
It was that form that saw Taggart start in Australia’s opening qualifier against Kuwait last month, but Maclaren is not shying away from the competition he faces to regain a starting role in the side.
“You look at Taggart and what he’s done so far in Korea, it’s fantastic,” the City striker said.
“He deserved that start against Kuwait... players that are in form and scoring goals deserve to play.
“At the end of the day you’re representing your country whether you’re on the bench or even if you don’t feature, you’re still a part of this fantastic group.
“These games that are coming up, I want to feature and I want to score goals for this country.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of and it’s a great opportunity in the next two games to stamp my authority and show that I deserve to be at this level.”
Joining Maclaren and Taggart in the squad is Giannou, currently plying his trade for AEK Larnaca in Cyprus.
The big number nine provides another unique option to Arnold in a strike-force assembled not just to score goals, but to score heavily.
“I expect us to be ruthless,” Arnold said.
“They’ll all be playing for a position further down the track, they’ll get an opportunity to show us and show the country what they can do.
“I expect performances to get greater and greater as we go along because they’re starting to understand what we’re doing.
“We worked a lot on our attacking patterns and making sure we’re making good forward runs in behind and penetrating.
“I did an independent analysis of our performances over the last year since I’ve been in charge, (to see) where we were lacking in certain details.
“Our build-up was very good but the final third was an area we focussed on even more in the last camp.
“We had the opportunity to work with those players for five or six days and that’s pretty much why we’ve stayed with the same squad, so when they come in they know exactly what we’re doing from the last camp, and that will continue."