Who should be Mikel Arteta’s first choice number 9 for the remainder of the season?
Cast your minds back about sixth months; the start of the 2020/21 season. Following a successful FA Cup campaign and a subsequent Community Shield victory, things were looking on the up for Arsenal- and the fans were only further pleased following the news that captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be signing a new contract with the club.
A new three-year deal, as made official on September 15th of last year, would secure the services of one of Europe’s best goalscorers- and a man who had been far and away the club’s best player since he joined back in 2018. Fast forward to the present day, and I think it is far to say the opening months of Aubameyang’s new contract haven’t gone as swimmingly as could have been expected.
Despite being given the opportunity to operate down the middle (where it has previously been stated he prefers to play), his performances have been hardly a shadow of the Aubameyang we have been accustomed to over the last two or so years. It has reached the point where a genuine question has to be asked: should Mikel Arteta stick with his captain as number nine, or is it time he look at some of the club’s other options to fulfil the role…
Option 1: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Despite his underwhelming season so far, the first apparent option to fill the number nine role would be continuing to persist with Aubameyang- and hoping he can rekindle his form. His is, based on merit, easily the best option- but unless he can start to get back to his former glory, he really does not deserve to be starting.
Aubameyang’s juxtaposition in form between this season and the previous two has been nothing less than perplexing. Whilst the more cynical may push the agenda that he secured his new contract and now has taken his foot off the gas, so to speak, this seems out of sorts from a player like Aubameyang. Whilst money obviously plays a significant role in the modern game, Aubameyang’s motives throughout his career have always seemed football based.
Before extending at Arsenal, he did not hold out for more money, but instead wanted assurances that the club would look to invest in players to become more competitive. Therefore, the idea that he is only focused on the money now seems an unfair accusation to make, in my eyes.
Other fans think that Aubameyang, now 31, is simply declining from the player he was- and yet this, too, seems unfounded to me. His demise has been all too sudden to be simply down to the fact he is ageing. It has to be something else. We must also remember- he did score a hat-trick just days ago against Leeds. He still has ability.
In my eyes, the reason behind Aubameyang’s poor output so far this season is much simpler than the ideas presented above. A mixture of poor form and a lack of confidence (both feelings that all players experience at some point in their career) have hit Aubameyang at once, as well as the system Arteta wants to play not particularly suiting the Gabonese striker.
Regardless of the explanation for his poor form, I think the best decision for the team is too have Aubameyang benched for the short-term future and let one of the following options have a shot at centre forward.
Option 2: Alexandre Lacazette
Alex Lacazette is another clear option to become the first-choice striker at Arsenal. Like many fans, I too have been confused by the absence of Frenchman in recent weeks. Despite being a stand-out player alongside Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka in Arsenal’s impressive run from Boxing Day and well into January, Lacazette has been dropped to the bench for the last three games- and has been substituted on just once in that time for a 17-minute cameo against Manchester City.
Prior to his removal from the side, Lacazette was Arsenal’s top scorer in all competitions. In his nine Premier League appearances between Boxing Day and the last game he started, against Aston Villa, he had collected seven contributions- scoring five times and assisting twice. Whilst the last two seasons have been rocky for Lacazette, it began to look as if we were seeing him reach the form we saw in his Player of the Season winning 2018/19- but now, following him being dropped, it’s hard to say whether we can assure he’ll continue his good performances if put back in the team.
Arteta’s reasoning behind Lacazette, however, isn’t totally flawed. Looking at the three options I’m highlighting in the piece, Lacazette is by far the most likely to be heading out the door this summer- and a move away for the 29-year-old is far from unfathomable. Therefore, it makes sense for the manager to favour players he sees staying in his squad on a more long-term basis. I would certainly like to see Lacazette back in the side, as any player who is signed to the club should be used appropriately right up until their exit. I think Lacazette most certainly has a part to play for the remainder of the season.
Option 3: Gabriel Martinelli
The third option to fill the role as Arsenal’s number nine is young Brazilian star Gabriel Martinelli. Despite playing just 374 minutes this season, I would argue that out of the three options, Martinelli is the most built to fulfil the role that Mikel Arteta wants from his striker. He has the capabilities to come deeper and link the play, make runs in behind, can press relentlessly and also has a far greater aerial ability than both Aubameyang and Lacazette- which could prove pivotal given the number of crosses the likes of Tierney, Pepe and Saka have provided this season.
Martinelli, however, is undeniably a much greater risk to start than the two more experienced and significantly older strikers in our squad. His recent battle with a long-term injury sustained in training and several subsequent setbacks have had a severe impact on his minutes and therefore he’s yet to have a run of games to date. It seems as if Arteta prefers him in the number nine role based on both what’s been reported on The Athletic and from how he’s been used recently- so giving him the chance to prove himself at centre forward could be very beneficial in the long-run, even if it takes him time to reach his stride.
In summing up, I do not think there is one single answer to the question of who should be Arteta’s first choice striker. Alternatively, I would suggest there is much more depth to it than merely that. In the short term, at least, I think it is wise to have Aubameyang benched for a period- to reignite that fire in his mind to get back to his best. In the case of Gabriel Martinelli, whilst believe moulding him into the starting eleven as the striker should be the long-term aim, with the difficult fixture list ahead it is Lacazette who I would turn to for the upcoming weeks.
So, in answer to my original question: ‘Who should be Mikel Arteta’s first choice number 9 for the remainder of the season?’, I would say that for the coming weeks it should be Alexandre Lacazette, with the idea of getting Aubameyang back in as soon as he’s firing- and even further down the line setting Martinelli up in the role.