Summer transfer window 2017. Lyon president Jean Micheal-Aulas released a statement thanking Arsenal bound Alexandre Lacazette and wishing the Frenchman the best for the future. Aulas raved on about the 26-year-old forward:
“I am very pleased about Alexandre’s success. Apart from being one of the best attackers Olympique Lyonnais has ever known, Alexandre has a certain charm, and I have become attached to him.
“He is now a very responsible and ambitious young man and will carry the image of OL into the Premier League.”
Alexandre Lacazette had just signed for Premier League side Arsenal, for a reported fee of £46.5m, with £6.1 million in add-ons. The transfer was a record-breaking move, making the Frenchman Arsenal’s then biggest transfer, and simultaneously Lyon’s biggest sale.
Currently, in his fifth season at the North London club, Lacazette has registered 71 goals and 36 assists in 199 games (stats via Transfermarkt). However, his contract is due to expire this summer, and all signs point to the 30-year-old heading out in June. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang already gone, and Eddie Nketiah also on his way out, Arsenal have been linked to a host of centre-forward options.
Recent reports suggest that Arsenal do want to extend Lacazette’s contract, albeit by one year. This could theoretically prevent the Gunners from losing a key player on a free transfer. It also provides Edu with some breathing room in the hunt for Lacazette’s replacement.
What made Alexandre Lacazette such an asset for Arsenal? Do Arsenal still need a new centre-forward? Let’s dive in:
Role At Olympique Lyon:
Lacazette was the primary goal-scoring threat for Lyon. Prior to his Arsenal move, the Frenchman had 76 league goals across 3 seasons.
However, Lacazette’s role itself was not too different. Olympique Lyon largely used a 4-2-3-1 formation. This meant that the Les Gones had Maxwel Cornet and Rachid Ghezzal who were effective down the flanks, while Nabil Fekir or Matheu Valbuena acted as the playmaker.
A notable observation is how Lacazette’s quality shots are concentrated closer to the goal. Playing with a creative trio behind him, the Frenchman was able to focus his energy closer to the goal in the final third. So, while he had the freedom to drop deeper and link up with his teammates, he was also bestowed with the responsibility of goal-scoring and could play closer to the goal.
In the first half of the 2017-18 season, the thrived under Arsene Wenger. Having displaced fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud from the starting XI, Lacazette was often used along with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the attack.
Wenger often used a 3-4-3 with a narrow front 3. The proximity of the forwards allowed effective build-up play in the final third. Either two of Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette could hold off the opposition centre-backs, allowing the free man to receive the ball between the lines.
The Gunners often tried to crowd out opposition centre-halves. This allowed a more direct approach, as the French striker was able to make deadly runs on the blindside of the markers too.
The winter transfer window of 2017-18 brought in a few major changes. Olivier Giroud’s departure triggered a transfer merry-go-round. The Frenchman joined Chelsea, who sold their own out-of-favour striker Michy Batshuayi to Borussia Dortmund. Arsenal broke their transfer record one more time to secure the services of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the Germans.
Separately, Arsenal also sealed the infamous player swap, allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave in exchange for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The induction of the two new faces led to a tactical shift, under the reins of new manager Unai Emery.
Aubameyang was one of the fastest forwards in the world at that time. At Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel had deployed the Gabon international on the left flank to accommodate Marco Reus in a central role. Emery attempted a similar set-up.
Aubameyang was a proven goal-scorer, but not that adept in hold-up play. This presented Emery with a natural solution: To have Lacazette start in an advanced role and drop deeper, while Aubameyang could start from a wider role and move higher up.
However, Aubameyang was already 28-years-old at the time of his signing. As the former Dortmund man aged, his speed began to decline. Hence, Aubameyang down the flank became less of a threat and had to be moved closer to the goal. As a result, Lacazette began to get involved deeper and deeper in the build-up phase.
The departure of Mesut Ozil further necessitated Lacazette’s involvement in the deeper areas of the field.
Arsenal had no natural creators in the side. They lacked a solid creator in the middle of the park to pull the strings and translate possession into chances. Lacazette was also relegated to the role of deputy centre-forward behind Aubameyang.
Lacazette In The Rebuild: The Leader Or The Restraint?
Lacazette has found himself in a new role this season. Arteta has entrusted the Frenchman with the captain’s armband, and as the striker in front of exciting young players like Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli. However, the 30-year-old has struggled on a personal level.
Lacazette has just 4 goals to his name so far in the league. He has 7 assists to his name but has registered only 1.9 xA. This means that although the Frenchman has not really created quality chances, he has benefitted from clinical finishing by his teammates.
Alexandre Lacazette remains one of the most important players for Arsenal. The French striker is one of the most experienced players in the squad. His hold-up play is still very good. The former Lyon hitman has been an important part of Arteta’s plans.
However, Lacazette is replaceable. He averages just 2.24 shots every game, 8% of all Arsenal shots this season. His finishing has also been below par. Lacazette’s 4 goals come from a staggering xG count of 7.6. Initially, Lacazette’s contribution in the build-up was an added benefit to Arsenal’s game. The Gunners had the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and even Aaron Ramsey who were potent in the box.
Gradually, Lacazette’s profile became a necessity for two reasons:
- To accommodate Aubameyang’s movement and positioning in the advanced areas
- To compensate for a sub-par midfield that struggled to create chances.
However, Arsenal today have the third-most shots in the Premier League. The likes of Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey, Odegaard, Smith Rowe and Saka have all taken up the responsibility of ball progression and chance creation. Arsenal no longer need a centre-forward to perform those functions anymore.
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On the other hand, Aubameyang’s departure has created a void higher up the field. Lacazette’s inability to impose himself as a genuine goal-scoring threat has frustrated the Gunners against more compact defensive units.
Arsenal need a profile to do exactly that. To cause problems to opposition defence, to directly run at or behind their lines and disrupt their structure. They need a player who can effectively translate quality spells of possession into quality chances.
Alexander Isak could be a quality acquisition for the Gunners. Other names like Gabriel Jesus, Dominic-Calvert Lewin, Jonathon David and Armando Broja have also been linked.
What are your thoughts on the Frenchman? Should Arsenal extend the contract of Alexandre Lacazette? Who can they sign as a replacement? Let us know in the comments.
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