Is it time to start worrying about Alexandre Lacazette?
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
It feels odd to say this, but not much is going wrong at Arsenal Football Club. A heartbreaking injury to Granit Xhaka aside, the squad is healthy, has gained serious league momentum, and is working as a cohesive unit. It's a joy to watch, and an unexpected one at that, given our form in August.
So, of course, here I am raining on that parade. Things may be all sunshine and rainbows for the locked-on first team, but for a certain Frenchman, the forecast is a little bit "doom-and-gloom." I am, of course, speaking of Alexandre Lacazette.
More well-known for his famous bromance with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang than for his goalscoring exploits during his time in England, Lacazette was roundly considered to be slightly superfluous to squad requirements this summer, and there was a clamor among Arsenal fans to offload and reinvest his wage output, which is hefty.
126 days past 30 years old, and having peaked at the wrong time, he failed to attract suitors, and thus has been shuttled into a bit-part role at the club, which has me wondering, what comes next for Laca? Surely, he can't be happy with the lot handed to him by Mikel Arteta.
In three matches this season, he has played the full 90 minutes once, against Wimbledon last Wednesday. Though his Carabao Cup goal tally is nothing to be scoffed at—two goals and an assist over two games—he's earned them against teams he should be beating in his sleep.
While a healthy record in domestic cup competition can do wonders for a striker attempting to build up confidence and resume a good streak of form, Lacazette's 32 Premier League minutes after six games don't exactly smack of that trend taking place. Rather, it seems like he's being shunted to the side.
The former Lyon hitman tends to suffer from a massive lack of self-belief when he's not in form and playing constantly, an affliction which I enjoy referring to as his "confidence monster." This affliction scuppers his ability to build his way back up to a starting berth, a burden somewhat eased by his teammates, who know of his struggles. And for a player of his particular disposition, this type of situation is the peak of awful news.
Frankly, Lacazette is the third-choice striker at Arsenal, simply because of the priorities of the club. Both Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun have been touted as players for the future, and Arteta is visibly committing himself to their development. They won't start over the Frenchman quite yet, but they have a secure future, and the same cannot be said for Lacazette, with a contract extension nowhere in sight, and not likely to manifest. The club is already contending with the issues of accommodating a striker over 30; they won't want to saddle themselves with another.
It's not as if Lacazette's talents have diminished. He's still the best finisher in this squad, his ability to drop deep aids the buildup of the squad greatly, and he's an excellent pressing forward—he intercepts, tackles, presses, and causes shots and goals based off of defensive actions at a ridiculous rate. He still has a knack for opportunistic goalscoring—he puts 51.1% of his shots on target, and he routinely outperforms xG, season by season.
Unfortunately, Arteta seems to have figured out that his best tactics lie in rapid buildup and countering hard on the break. Every goal we've scored this season has come from a breakaway scenario, bar none. And Lacazette prefers to lie deep in a possession schematic, which works well to break down a low-lying block, but he lacks the mobility or the positioning to operate in a counter-attacking setup.
I would argue that there's a potential hole to fill at No. 10, as Ødegaard and Smith Rowe cannot play every match, and the Frenchman has impressed there against inferior opposition, but honestly, that might be his best chance at finding a hole in the squad, and it's a slim chance at best, given Arsenal's glut of flexible attacking talent.
With no real present in sight—the FA and Carabao Cups can only get you so far—and no future either, it's time to start worrying about Alexandre Lacazette. Frankly, I feel quite bad for the Frenchman, but that's football. A sale this January would be the best alternative, but I don't even see that happening. It's going to be a long season.