Is Alex Lacazette the most underappreciated squad member at Arsenal?
By Alex Trad
Before assessing the evidence that demonstrates Alexandre Lacazette’s overlooked contributions to our overall team play and the squad as a whole, first let’s set the scene of his Emirates career. It’s July 2017. Fresh from another prolific campaign for Lyon, Lacazette once again showed himself to be one of Europe’s brightest forwards at the age of 26- therefore on the cusp of his supposed prime years as a footballer. Having netted 37 goals across all competitions the season prior, the Gunners appeared to have finally secured the ideal centre-forward when they smashed the club transfer record to bring in the Frenchman, in turn defying the club’s usual reticence to spend big in the market in the positions needing most strengthening. Since then, though, Lacazette has seemingly endured a mixed first 3 seasons in North London and has to date failed in attempts to emulate his unstoppable 16/17 form. A slow start to life in N5 culminated in then chief of recruitment Sven Mislintat’s decision to bring in a striker he knew personally from his time in Dortmund: none other than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Once again the Gunners topped their previous transfer record, this time bringing in the ever-prolific Gabonese international, who’d forged himself a continental reputation during his time with the Black and Yellow. Whilst much noise was made with regards to Lacazette’s place in Wenger’s first-team, a strong personal conclusion to 2017/18 preceded a phenomenal all-round performance the campaign after. That said, the wealth of success Aubameyang has enjoyed since arriving has indeed overshadowed Laca’s important influence within Emery and Arteta’s respective tactical setups. It’s not exactly surprising either, mind. In fact, he’s little distinguished in most of the individual statistics many take as the marquee ones for a typical centre-forward. Seeing as Lacazette fulfills far greater duties than a typical forward, however a fair barometer for the 29-year old would mention defensive contributions, linkup play, ability to hold the ball in tight space... the list goes on.
Inspiration for this piece comes from a number of tweets I saw do the rounds on Twitter that denotes the impact of Lacazette’s presence in the starting eleven for the aforementioned Aubameyang as well as now club record acquisition Nicolas Pepe. Under the guidance of Mikel Arteta alone, Aubameyang and Pepe have managed 0.42 and 0.2 goals per game in the France international’s absence. Remarkably, these tallies soar to 0.86 and 0.33, respectively, when Lacazette was selected from the onset of the 90’. And whilst he’s far from enjoyed a productive campaign in the final third, Alex Lacazette’s all-round attributes far surpass those of any current squad member. Yes, his threat to opposition defenders has lessened of late. Indeed, his 12-goal haul represents the worst such tally of his career since 2013. But what he brings to this team is both undervalued and too often dismissed solely due to his often poor finishing. This season Lacazette has managed an impressive 1.2 and 0.8 passes into the final third and into the penalty area per 90 minutes, respectively. In addition, his ability to pick out teammates in difficult circumstances- namely when his services are isolated up top and the flat three behind do not offer him license to remain further forward- is often crucial to our progressive play. As such, he is resigned to dropping deep and providing a creative outlet to Xhaka and Ceballos. A 2-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Guardiola’s Manchester City rings to mind. In fact, he averaged a respectable 2.71 shot-creating actions and 0.52 goal-creating actions per 90 this year, whilst also proving successful in 25% of his attempted presses. That, and his ability to fend off opponents, is telling of Lacazette’s balanced technical and physical repertoire. Lately, though, rumours have circulated with regards to a potential departure for Lacazette. Atletico Madrid have previously shown interest in the French striker, whilst noise has emerged from Juventus’ camp of late amidst Champions League disappointment for both clubs. Andrea Pirlo, the newly-appointed Bianconeri boss, has reportedly considered the possibility of bringing in Lacazette, as per David Ornstein of the Athletic. “Arsenal, I think, would be willing to do a deal for the right price or in some kind of swap,” Ornstein noted. Indeed, Juventus have reportedly expressed their desire to exchange up to three of their fringe squad members to secure the Frenchman’s signature. And with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the verge of penning a contract renewal, it comes across as no surprise that Lacazette will be weighing potential future destinations in the coming weeks of the window. The Serie A outfit are looking to sell current no. 9 Gonzalo Higuain in hopes of rejuvenating what’s an aging crop of footballers.
It’s widely understood that the fee the club would receive as a result of Lacazette’s potential departure would immediately be used to fund the possible signings of Gabriel Magalhaes or Houssem Aouar, for example. Whilst his offloading would present a number of benefits to the club, keeping hold of the former-Lyon man is of interest for Mikel Arteta. Expect an enduring transfer saga all throughout the window, as Lacazette’s time with the Gunners could either be nearing its conclusion or be carried into the ever-approaching 2020/21 season. Irrespective of the end result, though, it’s essential that we recognize the hard work Lacazette has put in ever since shaking hands with Wenger those three years ago. A truly special talent that any club would be fortunate to have at their hands, and a distinguished servant of our beloved club.