Arsenal’s demolition of Everton Saturday night was a hugely encouraging performance all-round. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang slotted seamlessly into the team, while the much-criticised duo of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka both turned in outstanding performances. One would be hard-pressed to pull any negatives from such a dominant win. Every single player who made it onto the pitch was exceptional on the night. There is, however, one player whose future appears to be hanging in the balance: Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal’s previous record signing. It would be unfair to write off the Frenchman just yet. If Saturday was any indication, though, the man from Lyon is fighting to save his Arsenal career.
Alexandre Lacazette’s Arsenal Career is at Risk
How did Lacazette end up in this position? Seemingly replaced after only six months the as spearhead of Arsenal’s attack by Aubameyang and relegated to the Europa League team. It’s easy to forget that his Arsenal career started almost perfectly. A debut goal against Leicester was followed by a stunning strike wrongly disallowed for offside against Stoke. He played little part in the August Anfield debacle, but added to his tally with a fantastic strike against Bournemouth and a brace at home to West Brom. He then added to his total at Everton before coming off the bench to pull a goal back vs Manchester City. His goals against Huddersfield and Manchester United were his last before a barren spell which may have convinced Arsène Wenger to dip into the transfer market.
A Lengthy Goal Drought
Lacazette failed to find the back of the net for eight straight Premier League matches, and provided only two assists during this period. His goalless run coincided with Arsenal regularly dropping points. In fact, the Gunners were only able to win two of those eight matches, failing to win against basement clubs West Brom, Southampton, West Ham, and Bournemouth. With Alexis Sanchez misfiring for very different reasons, Lacazette’s diminishing returns cost arsenal badly. Aaron Ramsey, another reliable goalscorer, was unavailable through injury, and Lacazette was unable to shoulder the extra burden.
His general play seemed to decline as well. His first games were characterized by quick runs in behind the defence, but increasingly he was found coming into midfield or staying static and flat-footed as the ball moved around him. He was finally able to snap the streak against Crystal Palace this month. He followed this up, though, with his worst performance for Arsenal to date.
An All-Time Low
As rumours of Aubameyang’s impending arrival began to intensify, one would expect Lacazette to up his game and give his manager a real selection headache come the end of the window. Instead, Lacazette was truly awful away to Swansea. His hold up play was ineffective, he gave the ball away regularly in promising positions and offered zero goal threat. He looked fatigued and was off the pace. When Lacazette was played in behind, Swansea captain Frederico Fernandez, hardly famed for his speed, caught up to the labouring centre-forward easily. It came as no surprise that Lacazette was dropped against Everton. Aubameyang demonstrated everything missing from Lacazette’s game at Swansea: pace, link up play, physicality and world-class movement.
Where Did it All Go Wrong?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why things have gone wrong for Lacazette, especially recently. Most likely it is a combination of factors. He has clearly been left frustrated with Wenger’s decision to substitute him in the 70th minute without fail. Every forlorn trudge off the pitch seemed to chip away at the striker’s confidence. The step up from Ligue 1, where Lacazette had spent his entire career, also can be difficult for some players. Until this summer, Lacazette had been a one club man, so the transition may have been extra difficult for him.
Lacazette’s barren spell came over the Christmas period, when he had been used to having an extended break instead of increased fixtures. This could also be contributing to the fatigue he has shown of late. Lacazette’s Arsenal teammates must also shoulder some of the blame. They have not always played to his strengths, and have often failed to create clear goal scoring chances for him. Interestingly, he boasts a very decent conversion rate of around 22%, further suggesting his problems are not all of his own making.
How to Turn Lacazette’s Arsenal Career Around
Lacazette has not had a poor season, but he hasn’t torn any tress up either. The arrival of Aubameyang makes life at Arsenal very difficult for him, but there is a way back. First, he must make the most of the opportunities he is afforded. Whether these are substitute appearances in the league, or starting berths in the Europa League, Lacazette must make a difference on the pitch. Secondly, he must demonstrate an ability to link up with new boys Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. These are undisputed first choice players, and Lacazette must prove to Wenger that he is able to form effective partnerships with both to get back into the team on a regular basis.
Finally, he must show a willingness to adapt. He may be asked to play in the hole behind Aubameyang, or out wide at some points during the season. Lacazette must be open to this, or risk losing his place permanently.
The arrival of Aubameyang is not the end for Lacazette at Arsenal, but it is a massive challenge. He must become stronger, both mentally and physically. He must the most of every single minute he has on the pitch. Lacazette is still a supremely talented player, and can offer immense quality going forward. The Europa League could be the place for him to rediscover his confidence and prime him for a return to first team action.