February 17, 2022 update: As Dušan Vlahović rejected the Gunners to sign for Juventus, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal turned their attention to Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak.
But their attempts to prise the Sweden international form La Liga were undone by their unwillingness to bid his reported €80 million release clause, even as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed for Barcelona and Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah edge closer to leaving the North London club on free transfers.
Real Sociedad’s unwillingness to negotiate at a lower price means that Arsenal’s hunt for a new striker might need to move on elsewhere.
Arsenal’s transfer plans aside, Isak is playing at a very high level despite his numbers tapering off slightly from their 2020/21 highs.
Note: This profile was first written in summer 2020. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.
Who is Alexander Isak?
Born just before the turn of the century, Alexander Isak was raised just north of Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm. The centre-forward was picked up at the age of five by his boyhood club AIK Fotboll and went on to spend 11 years in their academy.
On February 28, 2016, Isak made his senior debut for the club at the age of 16. His strong beginning as a senior player was amplified by his brace against cross-city, arch-rivals Djurgårdens IF, and he was quickly labelled the next Zlatan Ibrahimović.
After netting ten goals in 24 appearances throughout the 2016 calendar year, Isak was hot on the radar of one of Europe’s most famed talent-finders, Borussia Dortmund. The German side acquired his services on a long-term contract in January 2017 for an undisclosed fee, thought to be worth €9 million.
In his time adjusting, Isak only made a handful of appearances across Dortmund’s second and senior teams. With not much luck breaking into the first team, the Swede was loaned out to Willem II in the Netherlands towards the end of the 2018/19 season. His spell was a resounding success, as he scored 13 in 16 matches and played a big part in helping Willem to a cup final. Along the way, he became the first player in Eredivisie history to score a hat-trick of penalties.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and whilst Dortmund might not have had the room to fully integrate Isak, Spanish side Real Sociedad more than certainly did. After being given plenty of time to adjust after joining the Basque giants last summer, Isak began to hit blistering form during the early months of 2020, including a memorable performance in a Copa del Rey quarter-final tie against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Alexander Isak's style of play
Isak’s technical ability is largely fantastic. Despite often receiving possession with his body too square to the ball, his ability to spin and open his posture up is great, as is his awareness to make first-time layoffs and combine with close-by team-mates.
Although his first touch lacks consistency, as do some of his short passes, he showcases consistently excellent close control in tight spaces and an ability to shift the ball and his body in alternate directions very sharply – a skill made all the more impressive when you appreciate his tall, rangy frame. This can also be seen in some of his one-on-one attempts, where he is comfortable shifting possession onto either side of his body.
His positioning and movement for the ball are exemplary too. His sense of how and when to drop closer to the ball are great for linking play from side to side and creating overloads from the flank. Equally impressive is his use of this technique in executing double movements to make sharp runs into the drawn-open channels, putting to use his blistering levels of acceleration.
Where Isak lacks most in terms of movement is actually in the penalty area. His runs for crosses lack dynamism and direction, as well as desire to an extent, so he relies on the ball falling kindly for him in unexpected positions to create shots from them.
His shot generation is, otherwise, absolutely impeccable. His general awareness to maximise the space he has to receive is expertly done and, despite his shot placement quite often being too close to the goalkeeper or high and wide, he gets into countless shooting positions in each match, while he has the confidence to execute shots with either foot.
This has occasionally hindered his decision-making, though, as he can be too fixated on lining up his shots to recognise openings around him.
Isak has also proven himself to be a formidable counter-attacking threat. He is comfortable offering and operating down both the left and right sides of the pitch, testament to his mobility and technical quality; his link play and speed with and without the ball add up to him being a clinical target up front.
Despite his distinctive, lanky figure, Isak is yet to master his physique. His resistance to physical pressure is best seen in the way he gets his body across the ball, but it could be better when receiving with his back to goal.
As an aerial target, he is not massively dominant – in fact, he is more threatening running onto long balls from the goalkeeper due to his pace and change of direction when chasing down kicks.
In terms of his defensive work, Isak is not the most relentless presser: his approach is quite laid-back and unfocussed, despite illustrating enough awareness to curve his presses where necessary.
He works hardest for the ball when chasing passes in one direction back towards the goalkeeper, or when counter-pressing balls he has given away. In those cases, he makes plenty of good challenges.
Forecasting Alexander Isak's Future Prospects
The Swedish striker is a joy to watch. The broadness and balanced strength of his abilities will likely continue to see him thrive as his career develops. His recent purple patch was clearly far from an anomaly, as displayed by many of his immaculate performances in one the world’s elite leagues.
Some of the rough edges, like his control of the ball, are minor and speak to inconsistency rather than serious issues. Though his accuracy and penalty box movement are weaknesses, they do not seem to impede him as much as they might other strikers. If he can master a consistent technique and hit corners with more regularity, he will rifle shots in for fun – just as he will if he can make the committed vertical movements in the area, with sharper variations to trick defenders; stuff that he executes well in general play.
On his current form, it is hard to see Isak being able to stay in the Basque country for long. A bigger team prying him away almost feels like an inevitability for the 20-year-old, and there is no doubt many clubs would benefit from his presence up front. His development has invited opportunities to break into the senior national team.
After making his Sweden debut in 2017, it was only last year he was given his first consistent run of matches for the side, including his competitive scoring debut. At this rate, it would be no surprise to see him work his way into the
Isak is a technically strong, dynamic attacking threat that can create his own shooting opportunities and thrives in transition.
Isak’s first touch can be a little inconsistent and he is surprisingly weak in the air for his size.