Great things were expected of Lucas Perez when he arrived at The Emirates last summer fresh from banging in 18 goals in La Liga the previous season. He came with a £17 million price tag and a big reputation and was expected to lead Arsenal to new heights, but it did not work out that way. The Spanish striker was barely given a chance and Arsenal ended up falling to their worst league finish since Arsene Wenger took charge 21 years ago. Now he is demanding to leave the club after an “ugly gesture” that saw his shirt number given to new £52 million signing Alexandre Lacazette. He expressed his frustration at the lack of opportunities he has been given at The Emirates and seems destined for the exit door, but is he right to bemoan his limited playing time?
In a word, yes. Whenever he was called upon Perez looked extremely dangerous. He only started two league games, one Champions League fixture and six cup matches, making a further 12 substitute appearances, but he scored eight goals and has three assists in that short time on the pitch. He also frequently looked like he could make something happen and caused panic in the opposition defence. Just think what he could have done if he was given an extended run in the team.
Given his price tag, he would have been entitled to think he would get a fair chance to prove his mettle. After all, he is not a youngster: Perez is 28 years old, in his prime and desperate to nail down a place in the Spain squad. Competition is fierce for places at Arsenal, but Perez certainly deserved more opportunities to justify his transfer fee and win over the Gunners faithful.
Arsenal started the campaign with two main strikers: Oliver Giroud, a decent finisher but one of the slowest forwards in the business, and Danny Welbeck, a quick and nimble striker but a poor finisher. Perez promised to combine the best qualities of both players and drive Arsenal up the table. After all, you do not score 18 goals for a relegation threatened Spanish side – Deportivo finished 15th in the table and scraped survival – without being a strong finisher, and he is far quicker than Giroud. On top of that, Welbeck is frequently injured, while Theo Walcott is better on the wing, so he should have been starting most games.
Instead Wenger experimented with playing Alexis Sanchez down the middle and the Chilean was a revelation. There is no doubt that Sanchez is the better player, which is why the world’s best clubs are linked with him this summer and the best Perez can seemingly hope for is a move back to Deportivo, but Perez is versatile and could have played out wide. In the second half of the campaign Wenger moved Sanchez back to the wing, but opportunities were still not forthcoming in a central role for Perez, with Welbeck and Giroud preferred, despite neither of them setting the world alight.
He has every right to feel aggrieved. But then again Wenger sees him week in, week out on the training pitch and may have decided he simply made a mistake in signing the Spaniard. Now is the time to sell him and move on. He has behaved with decency throughout, but says the decision to give Lacazette his shirt number while on a pre-season tour, without asking him, is “the final straw”. The Gunners should accept an £8 million loss and sell him back to Deportivo for £9 million, where he will once again be the big fish in the small pond and can stake his claim for a place in the Spain squad for next summer’s World Cup.
Arsenal now have bigger fish to fry. The pond at Arsenal is getting bigger with the arrival of Lacazette and the expected advent of Thomas Lemar. Giroud and Welbeck are going nowhere, and Walcott does not seem to be either, while Wenger keeps insisting that Sanchez will not be sold. Arsenal’s attacking options are now looking more exciting than they have done for a while, and they will surely finish higher up the table next season.
The latest betting on football markets sees Arsenal at even money to finish in the top four next season. That looks a great bet as they will not be distracted by Champions League football and have the firepower to challenge for the title. Just a shame for Perez that he won’t be around to see it.
Martin Green (Who has seen far worse forwards than Perez grace The Emirates in recent times.!)