A New Chapter: Becoming Arsenal’s No. 9

A name known to many football fans across Europe, Alexandre Lacazette made the switch to the Premier League in the summer of 2017 when he swapped his hometown club Lyon, for the red and white of Arsenal.

Having been linked with a host of clubs across Europe, Arsenal perhaps got a little lucky as his almost inevitable move to Atletico Madrid, where he would have linked up with compatriot and close friend Antoine Griezmann, fell through due to the Spanish clubs’ transfer ban.

The French centre forward became Arsenal’s record signing and there was plenty excitement and relief that Arsenal got their man after a few years of speculation linking him with the club.

Lacazette arrived in the capital with a strong record in France. During his time in Lyon he scored 129 goals in 275 appearances, along with 43 assists in all competitions. His record in Ligue 1 was exceptional, equalling almost a goal in every two appearances (100 in 203).

The £47.7m striker had a decent first season in England, scoring 17 times and laying on a further 5 goals in 39 appearances in his debut season. In fact it took him just two minutes to open his account for The Gunners on the opening day of the season.

Despite a decent goal return, his opening months in London were frustrating. Lacazette only completed 90 minutes once in his first 14 Premier League appearances, with that coming in his debut vs Leicester.

Bond with Aubameyang

With Lacazette appearing to be a little frustrated from being hauled off the pitch early, the arrival of Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018, was unlikely to please him further.

Aubameyang arrived on Deadline Day, breaking Lacazette’s transfer record, and had many fans doubting whether Arsene Wenger had faith in the French striker. Some believed Lacazette would be on his way out. How could the two of them possibly fit into the same lineup?

To further his frustration, Lacazette was sidelined with a potentially serious knee injury in early February. Luckily for him, and for Arsenal, it would only keep him out of action for around 6 weeks. During his time out, however, Aubameyang hit the ground running, also scoring on his debut against Everton.

Upon his return from injury, however, Arsene Wenger, perhaps due to a lack of options, began fielding the two strikers together. It was no surprise though, that to fit into Wenger’s preferred 4-2-3-1 shape, or even his 3-4-3, one of Lacazette or Aubameyang would have to play out wide. Wenger opted to use Aubameyang on the left in 4 of the remaining 6 games of the 2017/2018 campaign. In the two games where Aubameyang played centrally, Lacazette did not play. Interestingly, both those games ended in defeat for Arsenal, against Leicester and Man United respectively.

It was perhaps obvious to most people, but for Arsenal to be successful, they had to start both players. Wenger, largely down to injury could not field the two together as much as he would have liked, but he clearly saw something between the two. Something positive.

Despite what many people believed, the signing of Aubameyang actually lifted Lacazette. Maybe it provided him with extra motivation to keep his place in the side. Or perhaps he didn’t see Aubameyang as competition, but as a teammate, as a friend. Fast forward 12 months later and the pair, along with French wonderkid Matteo Guendouzi, have formed quite the trio in the dressing room and seem to be central to the growing harmony in the Arsenal camp.

Signing both Lacazette and Aubameyang in the same season was probably the highlight of Arsene Wenger’s final year in charge of Arsenal. Despite the goals and three FA Cup trophies Olivier Giroud helped Arsenal to win, there was a feeling around the club that they had finally got the striker they were looking for. But just like busses, you wait forever for one to come along…and two come at once.

Unai Emery’s Arrival

Since the great Arsene Wenger departed, plenty has changed at Arsenal. However, one thing that the new boss Unai Emery has kept constant, is the inclusion of both his star strikers.

Much like Arsene Wenger’s system, Emery prefers using a 4-2-3-1, but has also experimented with a 3-4-3 of his own. In these formations, it has once again been Aubameyang on the left. When you think about the play style of both strikers, this makes perfect sense. Aubameyang is blessed with pace and fantastic movement. His ability to appear in the right place at the right time, is second to none. The guy can sniff goals from anywhere.

So you’d think he’d be better placed centrally? I for one believe he is playing where he is at his best – almost like a wide poacher. He has the freedom to ‘pop up’ in the box unmarked most of the time, to tap in. When playing centrally for Arsenal he has looked isolated. Perhaps due to his inability to hold the ball up or reluctance to drop deeper, and Premier League teams generally sitting deeper against Arsenal to guard against those runs in behind.

The solution lies with Alex Lacazette. His selfless nature means that when he plays, he’s not just there to to score goals. He creates space for Aubameyang and other team mates to run into, he drops deep to link up the play, and is also capable of creating chances for others. Lacazette has 5 assists to his name, creating 4 big chances for teammates and attempting 20 crosses.

His chemistry and understanding with Aubameyang are central to Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top 4 this season. You could go as far as to say that an injury to Lacazette would actually prove more harmful to the side, than one to Aubameyang. A look at his play style and stats might show us why this is.

Alexandre Lacazette Stats & Play Style

Lacazette is a striker in the Aguero mould. He maybe doesn’t posses the consistency in front of goal that Sergio has, but he is of a similar build and stature. Both players have a bulldog like attitude to pressing defenders and winning the ball back. They’re not afraid of dropping deep to get a touch, and despite their lack of height, can hold the ball up well and challenge for aerials.

Lacazette has won an impressive 1.3 aerial duels per game. A stat which appears to be even more exceptional when considering that only Harry Kane has won more out of the leagues top 10 strikers.

A side to his game which can go unnoticed is his willingness to work for the team. As far as strikers go, he is selfless. This shows by some of the outstanding defensive stats he has for someone in his position. Lacazette makes 1.1 clearances per game, only 4 strikers have made more.

Part of Unai Emery’s philosophy is the high press. In Alex Lacazette he has a striker who is willing and able to press and hassle the back line, and ultimately win the ball back. He’s made 1.2 tackles per game, ranking 2nd in the league for strikers. Lacazette also makes 0.7 interceptions per game, which is unbelievable for a striker and it ranks him highest in the league for his position.

So when we factor in what he does for the team, he begins to look like the full package. Strikers ultimately though, are judged on their finishing, and he has a ferocious shot. He hits the ball so sweet, and when it’s hit, it stays hit. Compared to Aguero, Lacazette actually possesses a higher shot accuracy this season (45%, compared to Aguero’s 38%). At face value you could assume he is a better finisher, but it could just mean he is more ‘safe’ with his shooting. Lacazette has taken 56 shots in 26 appearances, compared to Aguero’s 87 shots in 24 appearances. It could be due to Aguero playing in a highly creative side who dominate opponents. Arsenal tend to as well, but not to the extent of Man City.

His expected goals ratio shows this. Of all the players in the Premier League with over 10 goals, only Sigurdsson (8.69) and Son have a lower xG (6.73). Lacazette’s xG of 9.00 is exceptional when considering he has 12 goals to his name.

This tells us that his goals do not always come from ‘clear cut chances’, they tend to come from shots or chances he creates out of nothing, using his great ball control and technique. It could also mean he is over-performing, which can be positive (as mentioned above) but it could also mean his goals may soon dry out, unless more chances are created for him. Nevertheless, it highlights his efficiency in front of goal.

However, in the last three Premier League rounds, Lacazette has the 2nd highest xG in the league. Only Aguero has more.

If you compare Lacazette with his strike partner Aubameyang (19 goals), he has only scored five fewer than the Gabon international, but contributing to three more assists. We should also take into account that Aubameyang is Arsenal’s penalty taker, with two of his goals coming from the spot.

In terms of converting opportunities, Alex Lacazette has only missed 9 big chances in the Premier League this year. His Arsenal teammate Aubameyang, has missed a staggering 23 big chances. Sergio Aguero, the leagues top scorer, exactly like Lacazette, has missed just 9 big chances. Once again this highlights the Frenchman’s efficiency in front of goal, and perhaps Aubameyang’s wastefulness.

With 14 goals in all competitions this season, Lacazette has also scored the most ‘match winning’ goals in the Premier League this season. 9 of his 12 league goals have been classed as match winners. That’s a staggering 75% of his goals! This goes to show he is a player that can turn the game on its head. Since the departure of Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal have lacked that player who can take matters into his own hands and score when they need it most.

Lacazette is certainly adapting well to life in England and has now scored against 18 of the 22 Premier League clubs he has faced. He is also Arsenal’s only current player to have scored against each of the other ‘Top 6’ clubs (since his arrival).

Additionally, none of Lacazette’s 12 Premier League goals this campaign have been from the penalty spot. If we take into account non-penalty goals in the Premier League this season it would look like this:

Aguero – 16

Salah – 14

Aubameyang – 14

Mane – 14

Lacazette – 12

Kane – 12

Sterling – 12

Son – 11

Sigurdsson – 9

Hazard – 8

Of these players, only Son has played fewer minutes (1525) compared to Lacazette (1836)

The French striker hit the back of the net again on Wednesday night, coming off the bench to score a wonderful free kick against Bournemouth to seal an emphatic 5-1 victory. In doing so, Lacazette became the first player since Robin van Persie in 2012, to score in five consecutive Premier League home games for Arsenal. A stat which really highlights the kind of form he is in at the moment.

It is no surprise then that he has become the focal point for Unai Emery’s side. In the age of the ‘False 9’ it is refreshing to see Lacazette leading the line for Arsenal like a true No. 9 of old, but with the skill and work ethic of a modern day centre forward.

Room for Improvement

Perhaps his ‘honesty’ is the only reason he isn’t in the same bracket as Aguero, Salah or Kane. There have been numerous occasions this season where Lacazette’s trickery in the penalty area has caught defenders out, but his reluctance to ‘go down’ when feeling contact might actually hinder him.

That’s not to say that Aguero, Salah or Kane are ‘cheats’, I would say they are far from it. They’re actually very intelligent forwards, who know just when to go to ground, and how much contact referees will deem sufficient for a penalty.

We should admire Lacazette’s honesty, but in a climate where penalty’s are given for the slightest of contact, you can’t but think there are occasions where another striker would go to ground and win a penalty for their side.

Having said that, when he stayed on his feet against Chelsea earlier in the season, he managed to wriggle past their defenders and score from an almost impossible angle.

A testament to how far his overall game has come since he arrived in England, is that other than being ‘too honest’, it’s hard to think of any part of his game that is lacking. For any Football Manager players out there, the term ‘Complete Forward’ fits him perfectly.

If there is one player that Arsenal can not afford to lose, it’s Alexandre Lacazette. He is irreplaceable in Emery’s setup. Could he be a match winner again on Saturday for the massive North London Derby tie? We’ll have to wait and see. One thing is for certain though, he really is Arsenal’s Main Man.