THE ALEXANDRE LACAZETTE CONUNDRUM by Funsho
Class, they say, is permanent; but form is temporary. No matter how long a patch of poor form lasts, supremely talented footballers always end up showing their class. From playing for their countries, to returning from an injury lay-off, to moving to a new club, the best players in the world often tend to be the most adaptable by reaching their topmost level somewhere along the line. In fact, in the case of club transfers, if things work really well, the classiest players end up defining an era like Bergkamp at Arsenal, Cristiano at Real, Cruyff at Ajax/Barcelona, Maradona at Napoli and dare I say, Ronaldinho at Barcelona.
While not necessarily in the class of the above-named players, Alexandre Lacazette’s £46.5m 2017 signing probably promised better than has been realised at this point. And off the back of a fantastic final season with Lyon, Laca was seen as a top centre forward who could transform into world class status at Arsenal; but so far, he hasn’t reached those heights. In all honesty, he is a team player, dependable in the big games, shows so much passion on the pitch, presses relentlessly, has a good hold up play in him to bring others into the game and has even scored a couple from set pieces. In spite of the afore-mentioned good qualities, his form usually gets plagued by factors largely beyond his control, and that’s the focus of this write-up.
First off, Lacazette has never been the main man at Arsenal like he was at Lyon. With Sanchez still in the team at the start of the 17/18 season, and Aubameyang coming in the same month that the Chilean left, our number 9 wasn’t particularly the focal point of the attack. He was also unable to win the full trust of either Wenger or Emery as the team’s best goal-getter, and he’s a kind of player that thrives on the pressure of taking centre stage. Getting substituted by Wenger for Giroud around the 60th-70th minute mark, and getting dropped by Emery for important games like the one at Anfield last season would have done his confidence no good at all.
Moreover, our 18/19 player of the season’s Arsenal career has been punctuated by injuries, reduced game time and goal droughts. For example, he had a surgical procedure in 2018 after missing a late chance against Sp*rs, and some have attributed the miss to that injury. Also, he hardly lasted the ‘full-90’ in the 17/18 season, and Arteta’s preference of Eddie Nketiah at times this year also further limited his game time.
On the goal drought matter, Lacazette’s missing of the few chances he gets is multifaceted in its cause but may be due in part to his shooting technique. He doesn’t seem to get the right balance between SHOT POWER and SHOT ACCURACY. Apart from his superb off the ball movement, Aubameyang is better at either placing the ball far beyond the reach of the keeper (3rd goal vs Valencia (A), 18/19) or aiming to just shoot it at pace past the goalkeeper (vs Burnley (H), 18/19).
Several times, Lacazette sees his shot blocked by defenders (vs Brighton (A), 19/20; he went for power instead of placement) or saved by goalkeepers (header vs Leicester (H), 19/20; if he’d placed the ball right/left of Schmeichel, it would have been a goal). Yet, this may be more about the self-doubt in his mind rather than the shooting technique itself. Conversely, and on a positive note, his NLD goal last season was a good depiction of what he can do when he gets the balance right. The shot was whipped from the edge of the box into the top-left corner. If it had been closer to the middle of the goal post and/or slower than it was, Hugo Lloris could have saved it. With a boost in confidence and more ball work, Laca’s goal return will easily improve drastically.
Lastly, dwelling in Auba’s shadows (like Benzema did for Cristiano) and the false-9 (like Firmino) role appears to be another reason for Lacazette’s meagre goal return – only 12 last season. It’s undeniable that his hold-up play helps to make space for Pepe and especially Auba, but at the same time, it prevents him from more consistently getting into goal-scoring positions.
As was said earlier, Laca is a very useful player, no wonder Juventus and Atletico Madrid appear to be interested in him. Still, the dilemma is that, if Lacazette leaves, Aubameyang may struggle with hold-up play, and if we can’t fashion chances through wing play and via through-balls from midfield, Laca will be sorely missed. Alternatively, if Lacazette stays, he can get better and improve his goal scoring stats.
In any case, a supporter can only hope, and as was said in the kit launch video for last season: for an Arsenal fan, it’s the hope that kills you. Either way, over to you Señor Mikel Arteta.
Really appreciate you taking the time to read.