Is Alexandre Lacazette becoming Mikel Arteta's go-to man?
THE NUMBERS GAME: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isn’t Arsenal’s talisman now – after being dropped and failing in front of goal, they have found Alexandre Lacazette can step up to save their season
- Arsenal host Liverpool in a mouth-watering Premier League clash on Saturday
- Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has a dilemma up top ahead of the Emirates fixture
- Alexandre Lacazette has been in good form recently, and was vital vs West Ham
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has struggled to deliver the goods this season
When Mikel Arteta dropped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from his starting line-up against bitter rivals Tottenham, it’s safe to say the backlash would have been considerable had Arsenal fallen to defeat.
Alexandre Lacazette was the man tasked with leading the line in the North London derby, and he certainly repaid Arteta’s faith – scoring the winner from the penalty spot as Arsenal secured the bragging rights with a 2-1 victory.
Arsenal captain Aubameyang was demoted to the bench at the Emirates for turning up late when the squad met up for the crunch derby, and the incident has somewhat summed up his season.
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang give Arsenal different options up top
Lacazette has shone for Arsenal recently, and scored the winner in the North London derby
Arsenal’s talisman, and there is no doubt about it that he is the Gunners’ most lethal player on his day, has endured a rather fruitless campaign in front of goal compared to his usual superb standards.
In his first full season at Arsenal (2018-19), Aubameyang finished joint-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 22 goals alongside Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
The season after he continued his rich vein of form, finishing the campaign with another 22 goals – just one behind Leicester striker Jamie Vardy in the race for the Golden Boot.
But this season, his return is currently just nine goals – which coincided with Arsenal’s disastrous start to the campaign that saw them languishing in an unthinkable 15th place prior to Christmas.
Aubameyang has still shown moments of magic this season, including his hat-trick against Leeds at home in the Premier League in February before sealing Arsenal’s progression to the Europa League last-16 with a brace against Benfica in Athens.
But unfortunately for Arteta, in what has been a turbulent season, his talisman hasn’t delivered often enough and instead he has looked to his younger players, like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe to inspire his side to glory.
Another player who appears to have come to the fore in recent times though is Lacazette, and just like against Tottenham, he has taken his chance well when given the nod.
Lacazette also headed home the equaliser for Arsenal in their thrilling 3-3 draw with West Ham
And once again at West Ham prior to the international break, he proved to be Arsenal’s saviour as they came from three goals down to earn a thrilling 3-3 draw at the London Stadium.
The Frenchman dug Arsenal out of a hole at 3-0 down following a brilliant touch and swivel in the West Ham penalty area before his strike deflected off Tomas Soucek into the net. And he then grabbed the equaliser with a header at the back post late on following Nicolas Pepe’s cross.
In fact, when you compare both Lacazette and Aubameyang, it is the Frenchman who is having a stronger season in attack for the Gunners – which may surprise many.
Lacazette, who has played one match more than his close pal but over 300 minutes less, has scored 11 goals (eight excluding penalties) compared to Aubameyang’s nine (seven).
Lacazette is scoring a goal in the Premier League every 147 minutes while Aubameyang is netting every 214 minutes.
The former Lyon striker has also offloaded 27 shots on target, which is six more than Aubameyang on this front which shows he is getting into better positions for goal-scoring opportunities.
And he has been more ruthless in front of goal, scoring 10 big chances compared to the five of Aubameyang.
Aubameyang, Arsenal’s most deadly striker on his day, has struggled to find his form this term
ARSENAL’S TOP SCORERS IN PL
1) Alexandre Lacazette – 11
2) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 9
3) Nicolas Pepe – 5
3) Bukayo Saka – 5
5) Gabriel Magalhaes – 2
But it is Lacazette’s build-up play that stands out for Arsenal supporters. The Frenchman is particularly good at holding the ball up with his back towards goal, and allowing those around him to flourish with his link-up play.
Lacazette drifts into dangerous pockets and his movement up top allows those around him to vacate the empty space left by him.
And Arsenal have scored some stand-out goals this season thanks to his clever movement and link-up play, most notably against West Brom following the turn of the year as Saka rounded off a fine free-flowing move after brilliant involvement from both Lacazette and Smith Rowe.
Another goal that stands out is Arsenal’s second in the 3-1 win at Southampton in January with Lacazette dropping short to flick the ball around the corner first-time for Saka to excellently finish off.
And Lacazette’s composed build-up play is evident from the stats – helping to create 20 chances for his team-mates compared to Aubameyang’s 15.
Aubameyang has strung together far more passes (520) than Lacazette (425) this season but the Frenchman is more incisive when finding his team-mates.
Aubameyang is more effective cutting in from the left but in Arsenal’s current system with three attacking players – usually Saka, Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard – in behind the No 9, the formation perhaps suits Lacazette more due to his ability to bring others into play.
Lacazette’s strengths lie in holding up the ball and bringing his team-mates into play
The stats also highlight that Lacazette is more effective in the build-up process by taking far fewer touches (slowing the game down less) than Aubameyang while the former also just edges out his team-mate in terms of forward passing accuracy and losing possession ever so slightly less.
Aubameyang’s desire to push or stay wide has also clearly hindered Arsenal’s attack in the past – with Arteta being without his deadly striker in the box where he is needed the most.
The Gunners had come in for criticism, especially after a 2-1 home defeat against Wolves amid their terrible run of form in November last year, for putting way too many hopeful crosses into the box without Aubameyang there to capitalise.
And in fact, Aubameyang was partly culpable for this. The Arsenal skipper has actually delivered 53 crosses/passes into the penalty area compared to just 26 from Lacazette, which shows that he isn’t getting into goal-scoring positions much.
Lacazette’s recent fine form gives Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta a welcome headache up top
Natural wingers or midfielders should be the ones feeding him, not the other way round.
The Gunners need that central figure and focal point up top, and Lacazette is the man currently providing them with that much-needed balance.
With Lacazette in the side this season in the Premier League, Arsenal are averaging 1.5 goals per match compared to just 1.1 with Aubameyang on the pitch.
Lacazette has staked his claim against both West Ham and Tottenham recently, while also shining during the 3-1 victory away at Champions League hopefuls Leicester at the end of February.
With Lacazette in the side, Arsenal at present have a greater balance with the three in behind him able to roam around and intertwine to cause extra threat.
There is no doubt Aubameyang is the greater striker on his day but Lacazette has given Arteta a very welcome selection headache ahead of the crunch clash at home to Liverpool on Saturday.
Against the reigning champions, who will most likely be on the front foot for the majority of the match, perhaps Lacazette’s ability to hold play up and bring his team-mates into the mix will just give Arsenal that outlet they desperately crave.
Once again, it’s a big decision for Arteta. Does he stick with Aubameyang or twist and play just Lacazette in the side in the No 9 role?
Injury concerns for both Saka and Smith Rowe could mean that Lacazette and Aubameyang play together with the latter out wide on the weekend just like at West Ham, but going forward Arteta knows he has a tough decision to make over his main man.
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