How Alexandre Lacazette’s role at Arsenal is slowly shifting
By Alex Trad
Make no mistake of it- since completing his £48m move to Arsenal in July 2017, Alexandre Lacazette’s North London career has never truly kicked on. But, as I have alluded to in the past, Lacazette has offered nothing less than hard work and dedication on the pitch since his cross-country switch. And while at times Lacazette has proved himself to be inconsistent performance-wise, no one can fault his relentless work rate.
Stating that, as with any sport the goalscorer is expected to score. As a striker, the onus is on Lacazette to consistently find the netting and with incredible efficacy, especially given the hefty fee that Arsenal incurred with his arrival.
Present day. It’s the start of 2021 and Lacazette finds himself in flying form, recording 5 goals from his last 4 matches in all competitions. Astonishingly, this streak marks the first time in his Arsenal career that Lacazette has found the net in 4 consecutive competitive encounters, and the first time he has done so in 3+ Premier League fixtures since September of this year.
If we compare Lacazette’s individual scoring statistics from this season to the one prior, it is clear that some improvement has been made. In fact, Lacazette has already reached 75% of his total 2019/20 Premier League tally this season, despite playing 16 games fewer and earning less than half the minutes. With 9 goals to his name- including 5 in his last four- the French striker has certainly demonstrated the clinical side of his game of late.
Interestingly, Lacazette registered just 19 goals in his best season in Arsenal colours to date. In 2018/19, Lacazette received the Arsenal fans’ vote for Player of the Season, a testament to his quality. However, it’s clear that the Frenchman took on a playmaker role of sorts in Unai Emery’s first season, as evidenced by the 7 assists he recorded in Premier League action throughout the season.
Still dropping deep to link play between Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and our wide men, however, Lacazette has seen his creative statistics be reduced to nil thus far this season. Primarily owing to Arsenal’s horrid form between October and late last month, the number 9 also struggled to make his mark in league play, and as a result lost his starting position to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian up top. But after the former sustained a minor injury in training, Lacazette found himself a starter again and brilliantly seized his opportunity. Now brimming with confidence, Lacazette has found his scoring boots once more.
All this begs a question, however: will Lacazette manage to maintain this output or will he extend the stop-start progression through his Arsenal career?
As per StatsBomb, Lacazette has managed an average 4.3 non-penalty xG in the Premier League this season. So, his 6 decisive non-penalty strikes in the division signal a slight over performance- even if the quality of chances presented to the French striker have decreased over time.
However, with an average goal/90 ratio equating to 0.73, Lacazette has clearly made good use of the few Premier League minutes that Mikel Arteta has provided him.
One trend that I’ve observed in the French striker has been his newfound willingness to place himself deep in the opposition half on counter-attacks, in contrast to last season where he was primarily utilised as a focal point in Mikel Arteta’s system- namely post-lockdown in the absence of a classic no. 10- someone like Mesut Ozil, for instance.
Following the swift emergence of Hale End graduate Emile Smith-Rowe into the first-team picture, Lacazette has once again been given license to operate further forward in Aubameyang’s stead. As evidenced by his two goals against West Bromwich Albion on last Saturday’s cold, snowy Saturday evening in the West Midlands, Lacazette situated himself closest to goal on both separate counter-attacks, capitalising on crosses from the two other goalscorers that day, Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka. With athletic runners and a natural--albeit inexperienced-- creative number 10 directing play behind Lacazette, the Frenchman’s responsibility within Mikel Arteta’s tactical setup has started to switch from one heavily relying on creative attributes to one which revolves more around individual quality and effective finishing skills.
Still, though, we yet find Lacazette dropping slightly deeper to link play. For instance, he instinctively delivered the killer pass in Arsenal’s highly aesthetic team goal against West Brom at the weekend. His versatility in and around the final third indeed makes Lacazette a crucial footballer in this current squad who quietly goes about his business.
In addition, Lacazette’s spirited high press in recent weeks have led to more errors committed by the opposition. For example, the French striker pressed 28 times against Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom alone.
As was the case during Project Restart, most of Lacazette’s goals came through forced opposition errors due to a high attacking line being deployed by Mikel Arteta. His goal and assist in quick succession against Liverpool back in July instantly springs to mind. And while the Spanish tactician has shifted away from this method in the last couple months, the return of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka’s outstanding displays on the right side of the front three have indirectly given Arsenal forwards far greater chances in front of goal.
Alexandre Lacazette’s role is gradually shifting at the Emirates. Now, the onus is on him to maintain this rich vein of form throughout the remainder of the campaign, so long as skipper Aubameyang continues to fire blanks in front of goal.
Arteta needs a classic goalscorer in his septum and it’s clear that Lacazette is fulfilling the task thus far. Indeed, it is early days still and if past memories have taught us anything, it is that Lacazette is not particularly reputed for maintaining form through large periods of time.
Early days still, but what we’ve all seen in Lacazette of late certainly bodes well for the remainder of his 4th campaign in England.
The #Remontada starts here. We’re all behind you, Laca...