There has been a lot of debate about Chris Wood’s performance since joining last month. It was crucial that we signed a striker and the New Zealand international had a proven record in the Premier League. In our perilous position, it looked like a smart piece of business for the short term.
Since his debut, he has started every game and we have yet to taste defeat, taking 11 points from a possible 15. It is an exceptional record and Wood has played his part, offering a focal point to the attack. He does provide us with a presence in the final third, while his dominance in the air gives us an effective out ball.
However, he has struggled to carry much of a goal threat. Considering he has managed to score at least ten Premier League goals in each of his seasons as a top-flight player. more is expected from him in the final third. Wood has had ten shots on goal in his five matches and only one has hit the target. There is clearly a confidence issue in his movement and decision making in the final third.
There was a moment during the win over Aston Villa when Wood was running forwards with the ball in space. Ryan Fraser made an excellent run inside Lucas Digne, but he was ignored by Wood, who blazed over from range. He snatched at the chance and it underlined his lack of belief in the final third. If he was more confident, the strike would have been better or he would have made the correct decision to play in Fraser for a better chance.
It is a small sample size, but Wood’s stats show perfectly the good and bad parts to his game. He has yet to register a goal or an assist, while his underlying numbers show a limited threat in the final third.
The New Zealand international is averaging two shots, 0.2 shots on target and two shot creating actions per ninety minutes. His average of 0.19 expected goals (xG) and 0.04 expected assists (xA) per ninety minutes are lower than Eddie Howe would want from his striker. To provide context, Joelinton in central midfield is averaging higher for both during the same run of five matches, with 0.26 xG and 0.13 xA.
Wood is operating in the final third, yet he is carrying a lower threat than a player who has been heavily criticised for his own attacking contributions. For £25 million, we need our striker to be more influential in attack, especially when we lack goals in the rest of the team.
Although his impact in the final third has been underwhelming, Wood has offered a lot to the team. He is a key part of the forward press, with an average of 16.6 pressures per ninety minutes. This is a change of role from his time at Burnley and he has adapted well. Howe will be pleased at how impactful he has been at unsettling the opposition players.
His main strength is his aerial presence, as he is averaging 13 successful aerial duels per ninety minutes. This is more than any other Premier League player during this period. It is a clear strength and he has been vital in relieving pressure on the defence, as they can go long in the knowledge he will win the ball more often than not. There have been some good shooting positions worked from Wood winning an aerial duel.
It is too soon to be overly critical of Wood, as he has helped the team on the pitch and results have been good. He is offering a presence in the final third and he is selfless in the work he does for the team.
However, if we are going to score more goals from open play, we need more from the striker signed in January. During his time at Burnley, he has been a very streaky player, which suggests that he may go on a goal-scoring run if he gets one.
Hopefully the first comes this weekend.