Arsenal’s 2018-19 player of the season, Alexandre Lacazette, is enduring a torrid time with the Gunners in recent weeks. The Frenchman has failed to find the net in nine consecutive matches in all competitions, and has managed only five Premier League goals in 18 appearances this season thus far.
If the goalless draw against Burnley is anything to go by, Mikel Arteta needs a no.9 capable of consistent goal-scoring form if Arsenal are to pose any sort of challenge for the top six, let alone the top four.
The Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership
Many a time last season did we see these two combine to score under Unai Emery. This season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has had to do it all on his own in several matches, and you have to wonder how significantly their league position would worsen without the 30-year-old’s ability to always be in the right place at the right time.
Even when playing out wide to accommodate Lacazette as the main striker, Aubameyang has nearly always been the one to cut inside and finish. Off the pitch, it’s clear these two have a strong friendship and always joke around with each other in training, which should translate into good team chemistry on the pitch.
Under Arteta’s system, that clearly isn’t the case. The Spaniard favours a 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette leading the line and Aubameyang on the wing, meaning one of Gabriel Martinelli or Nicolas Pepe is unfairly left on the bench.
When Emery played a three-at-the-back system, we’d often see both strikers spearheading the attack, being supported by the wing-backs and midfield behind them.
This proved to be a highly effective approach throughout Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, as the two of them dispatched Valencia over both legs in the semis with exceptional conviction.
Lacazette’s last goal contribution was to set up his striker partner’s opener against Crystal Palace before his sending off. At this point, the pressure was on Lacazette to dust himself down and emulate Aubameyang’s goalscoring form as best he could in the next three games.
But two blanks against Sheffield United and Chelsea followed by no minutes in the FA Cup against Bournemouth left both Lacazette, and Gooners, rightly frustrated.
Could a deeper role be the answer?
Despite his worrying lack of goals, Arteta still trusted the 28-year-old enough to start him at Turf Moor and leave Pepe on the bench. This in turn shifted Martinelli to a right-wing role as Aubameyang returned to the left-hand-side following the end of his suspension.
The young Brazilian, having been so impressive over the last three matches, clearly struggled on the opposite side and was far less effective than we know he can be.
Furthermore, Mesut Ozil is enjoying his rejuvenated no.10 role in the team, but is another one lacking any sort of killer instinct.
Several Arsenal fans, myself included, continuously called for Ozil’s return when Emery would leave him out of the match day squad, and were excited to see how the German would respond to a manager with more faith in his ability.
While he’s shown flashes of his former self, it’s clear he’s a shadow of the footballer he once was. Arteta may look at Ozil and want him to be the Kevin De Bruyne of this Arsenal side, but that just isn’t going to happen.
On the other hand, Lacazette displays some top qualities for an attacking midfield role regardless of his goalscoring form. The Frenchman is terrific on the turn, can play a deadly pass and always looks to bring others into the attack.
We saw evidence of his hold-up play in the second half against Burnley, when it almost looked like he would score a very similar goal to the one at the Emirates against Sean Dyche’s side. On this occasion however, he turned and fired straight into the arms of Nick Pope, but this shows there’s a lot more to his game than goals.
Aubameyang has to lead the line from now on, I think nearly everyone would agree on that. Martinelli’s current form makes him impossible to drop, and while Pepe hasn’t taken to the Premier League by storm like we hoped, the 24-year-old is the best natural winger we have.
For me, the two viable options are to either drop Ozil and try Laca in a midfield role, or drop Laca and forge ahead with an attacking quartet of Martinelli, Ozil, Pepe and Aubameyang. Arteta clearly has a big decision to make in the coming weeks, and for the sake of Lacazette’s confidence and Arsenal’s form, I’m sure hoping he makes the right one.