The Alexandre Lacazette conundrum- Should we consider selling the Frenchman?
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
Arsenal and Mikel Arteta have a big decision to make regarding Alex Lacazette’s future- both short-term and long-term, with the summer transfer window just a few months away. He’ll be 30 when his current contract expires and he’s going through the worst goal drought of his career. The big question thus arises- does Arteta build around Lacazette or does he bench him and play someone else through the middle with a more long-term plan? Or, do we cash in on him this summer with reported interest from Atletico Madrid.?
When Laca was signed from Lyon in 2017, we all watched his YouTube compilations, which showed the type of quality striker the fans had been crying out for, for multiple years- a nimble-footed sharpshooter who had an incredible goal-scoring record and was still only 26. Let’s all be real here- Wenger had to splash the cash heavily on a goal-scorer, especially after failing to sign the likes of Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, just to name a few.
He certainly got the goals early on in his Arsenal career, but they were more due to his individual ability rather than coherent team play. There were numerous times during games where he would make runs off the last defender but no one had the confidence to look up to play the pass, and he therefore cut a frustrated figure. The tactics implemented were also pretty strange then, as Arsenal preferred to go long from goal kicks when Laca was on the pitch, and short when Giroud came on, which is contradictory to their strengths.
He was still adjusting to the league and his strengths then were running in behind rather than coming towards the ball. Injuries and form restricted his minutes considerably in his debut season but a good structure was required to make the most of his qualities as a Number 9. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also came in midway through that season and this complicated his role in the team, despite their chemistry.
His work-rate has always been undesputeably excellent, irrespective of whether he was scoring goals, and this was one of the main reasons why he was voted Player of the Year in 2018-19. So many of his goals were to do with individual brilliance rather than a system of play. Stats have clearly shown that Arsenal’s chance creation was very poor and it was only a matter of time before the goals dried up. All the signs during that ‘unbeaten run’ in 2018 showed it was a statistical anomaly due to individual brilliance and it was only a matter of time before it caught up. As always, Stats don’t lie.
When Arteta picked up the reins, our defence was certainly a massive issue but sorting out the attack also was important and it is still plaguing the team. With Aubameyang suspended, the burden will obviously be on Lacazette but he’s not exactly getting the quality of chances he’d expect. Since the United game his service has been very limited, so criticising him when he doesn’t score is a baseless argument.
The bulk of the chances in recent games have been falling to the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Reiss Nelson, and this is a result of his holdup play. His assist against Palace is evidence of that, whilst Martinelli’s goal against Sheffield United came because Laca dragged the centre back out of position, leaving Martinelli to attack the space and score. His role has changed from the poacher in the penalty box to playing with his back to goal, so his presence in the box is much more restricted.
Benching him is not an option because nobody else can do the same role and Arsenal struggle to control possession in his absence. What he does is not the same as what Firmino does at Liverpool and their characteristics are fundamentally different. He’s had to change his game completely to fit into the team, which suggests that Wenger and the scouting department didn’t plan for how he would fit into the team.
Arsenal are desperately looking to lower their wage bill in the absence of Champions League football and are progressively looking at younger players to solve this. It seems highly likely that one, if not two, out of the trio of Laca, Auba and Ozil will be sold to solve the wage situation and free up funds to spend on younger players.
Arteta is currently focussed on getting the best out of the current squad rather than implement his own vision, so the summer window is going to be crucial. The Spaniard wants to build a structure that is not reliant on particular players, akin to Liverpool and City, so unless something drastically changes, it’s hard to see Lacazette, at 28, changing his style to fit in and cashing in on him in the summer would be the sensible thing to do.