Let me start with the admission that I have a soft spot for Alex Lacazette. I can’t quite grasp what it is with Lacazette that made me adore him; his style, his work rate, his celebration and energy on the pitch, I don’t know what but there is something there. However, while Lacazette always had the appreciation of most of the fans, he has never been loved like Aubameyang or Alexis. Now he is in a very delicate phase of his career and there is a conversation to be done. So let’s have it.
When Lacazette was signed for Arsenal many of us thought that this is the kind of striker that could finally guide us to the title. 2016-2017 was the first season that we missed out on Champions League football and the reasoning to go all-in for Lacazette was totally justified. He had finished as the second top scorer (28) in Ligue 1 the previous season behind Edison Cavani (35) and everyone thought that he could give a different dimension in our attack that season. Many niggling injuries later and after a lot of squad cohesion troubles, he has finished the season scoring only 14 goals in the league. While he played 32 times, he was substituted in or out many times, as he struggled to adapt to the physicality of the league. The fact that he outperformed his xG shows that he has the predator instinct that he has shown in his career; also during his Arsenal career, when he is playing the team has higher xG compared to when he is not playing.
The 2018 – 2019 season was very similar in terms of output for Lacazette. He showed that he could cope with the physicality of the Premier League and he started to build a good connection with Ozil. While he played more games and more minutes, he scored only 13 goals in the league but he also had 8 assists in his game. The crowd appreciated the work rate that Lacazette showed on the pitch and he was voted him Fans player of the Season. There were a lot of promising signs in his game and his adaptation, more specifically his defensive contribution and possession contribution.
This was the most disappointing season for Lacazette, but also for the whole squad regarding the league position and performance. He played his least amount of minutes last season (1874) and this was reflected on the goals he scored (10). He has been very consistent in his goals per 90 in his Arsenal career (0.57, 0.47, 0.48 per season) but he was hampered with injuries and really struggled to find consistency in the crazy season that was 2019 – 2020. Arteta seemed to like the hold up play that Lacazette provided to the team and he started to use him as a pivot that the rest of the attack moved around him. That is a smart move because it seems that with all his injuries over the last seasons he has lost some of his pace but he has toughened up. Therefore he is the player that can hold the ball and spray passes to other players running in front of him.
This season Lacazette has excelled in many different attributes of the game. Let’s go through them one by one.
He is not getting many chances in and around the box but the ones he gets he makes sure to find the target (69%), by great distance to the second one (Nketiah 57.1%). Also take a look at his Non-penalty xG per shot (npxG/Sh).
This stat shows us the amount of chances a player creates for his teammates. While Lacazette is not first in this category, for a striker the amount of chances he creates are incredibly high.
But I think that is also a bit expected. Having a look at this average position on the pitch this season, one can realise that he has a really fluid role and position.
Arteta has transformed Lacazette to an all rounder; in many games you will see him drop really deep to get involved in the build up play, or float wide to create space in the middle for others to occupy. He is really a great teamplayer, has great spatial awareness and can link up with his teammates easily.
Talking about selflessness, we can look at Pressures in the game. Lacazette is first in this category with some difference from second place Saka (especially considering that Lacazette played significantly less minutes this season). While his successful pressures are low, he leads by example, constantly annoying opposition defenders and midfielders with his pressing game.
In the tactical analysis article after the loss to Tottenham, I wrote a section about recruitment and the contract situation. More specifically I wrote this: “[…] The point is that I hear that Arsenal need a playmaker, a no.10 of some sorts that will create more chances and help the team progress the ball. Do we need such a player though? If so, who? And how are you going to secure this player in the winter transfer season?” […] “Contracts ending the summer of 2022: Elneny, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Nketiah, Nelson. The same argument that is true for Sokratis can be applied for Kolasinac here. He has a massive contract but his last 2 seasons are very, very poor. If he is up for sale, who is going to offer such a big contract to Kolasinac? Lacazette is a saleable asset, but definitely on a big loss. A 29 year old striker that has a very bumpy performance on the pitch; also a very lucrative contract, almost 180k pounds per week. ” (Wow, hindsight is a nice thing, eh?).
Lacazette has less than 18 months remaining on his current contract and this is the crucial summer regarding his future. Arsenal has only two options really; either try to sell him and reinvest this money to a similar player or extend his contract one or two more years and focus on bringing someone younger to learn off Lacazette. I don’t know where I stand on this, on one hand I really see how useful Lacazette is to the way we play but on the other hand I don’t want to have another heavy contract to an aging player. Of course if Arsenal decide to keep him, there is a need for a younger back up, and unfortunately I don’t think Nketiah suits that role. One thing is certain, Arteta and Edu must be very careful on how to approach this summer transfer season.
By Stelios Mouratidis