Alex Lacazette: The Perennial Trier
By Sumaiya Vawda
Signing two strikers for a combined £100 million in the space of six months is eyebrow-raising. That it was frugal Arsène Wenger doing the bidding was rather unbelievable. The January 2018 signing has grabbed the headlines, donned the captain’s armband and carried most of the goalscoring burden since his arrival. Yet, recent performances have had fans question his suitability to this team, while inadvertently praising the earlier signing’s skill set.
In a hyper-polarized world, Lacazette and Aubameyang are disparate flavours, despite both primarily identifying as strikers. At their best, movement is to Aubameyang what a quick swivel-and-shoot is to Lacazette. Standards expected of the players differ beyond goal-scoring. Why is this the case? In part, this may be down to an internalised hierarchy of player capabilities prevalent amongst fans. Of greater significance, may be that in an Arsenal loss where the team fails to score, we can visually account for what Lacazette did and where he failed. The same can’t be said for Aubameyang.
Body language and overt involvement in a game seems to have its own metrics. When the heads drop on the best players, they are vilified for not caring enough. When a homegrown player presses persistently, he’s described as passionate and ‘knows what it means.’ When the imposing centre back starts a routine of pointing, he’s said to be ‘taking charge.’ Getting your body in the way, dropping deep, availing yourself for a pass and driving with the ball is more noticeable than an off-screen run, changes in body position and quick thinking. Correspondingly, we hold a level of sympathy and endearment towards players who are seen to work up a sweat, never shy away and try their all through a game. This is the portrait of Alexandre Lacazette. At the beginning of the season, Lacazette was deployed to facilitate play. This meant he was too deep in some phases and often left the team without a presence in the box. The post-Boxing Day revival, however, has included him combining well with the younger players. He provides a good wall pass around the corner to Saka between the opposing left-back and centre back or Smith Rowe running from deeper, and knows how to use his body against defenders.
It’s easy to forget that the Frenchman was Arsenal’s 2018/19 player of the season, racking up 19 goals and 11 assists- several coming against the big six clubs and in crunch European ties. Such was the belief in his strength of character that many thought he, not Aubameyang, would lift the team in that season’s Europa League final. Neither striker did. Injury plagued his start to the 19/20 campaign, and physical deficiencies became apparent upon his return. Arsenal’s number 9 struggled with his touch and taking quick shots. Subsequently, the goals dried up away from home.
Undoubtedly, he is currently enjoying an improved season. Try as he might, however, Arsenal need to move past him. The 29-year old has never scored more than 15 league goals in a season for the club- an output criticism commonly levelled at fellow countryman, Olivier Giroud. Simply put, he’s been underwhelming. Lacazette can hold the ball up, but this can be enhanced by the ability to turn and run off a defender. Aerial prowess coupled with endurance up front would also benefit the team.
Lacazette is the boxer who will take all of the punches, bear his bruises, return for the latter rounds and likely lose, with the crowd heartened by his showing. Comparatively, Aubameyang has the swiftness to avoid the punches. He has proven capable of landing a killer blow, but when his methods fail, it can feel like he’s slinked to the ropes to see out the fight. Arsenal require a striker who can persistently try and also walk away with a win.