(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
In his time at Arsenal, Alexandre Lacazette has faced copious amounts of (somewhat unwarranted and overly harsh) criticism regarding his lack of goals or athleticism. In the summer of 2017, the Frenchman joined the club for a fee around the £45,000,000 mark. The hype was vast amongst Arsenal fans, following a history of excellent seasons at Lyon- he had smashed 20 domestic goals in each of his last three campaigns. In fact, the Lyon fan-favourite joined Arsenal as statistically the most clinical finisher across Europe’s top five leagues; he scored a remarkable 28 goals and claimed 3 assists in Ligue 1 despite only starting 30 games. Alex Lacazette signed for Arsenal expecting to be the main man in ArseneWenger’s side, finally the clinical striker fans had been desperately calling for.
Even as a big supporter of the player myself, I think it is fair to say the signing of Alex Lacazette has not quite worked out how we fans would have hoped or expected. The statistics speak for themselves; in his four seasons at the club so far, his highest domestic goal tally over one campaign is just 14. But what is the cause for the drop in goal output for Lacazette?
I think it would be ignorant and unjust to suggest one singular cause for the change in the Frenchman’s fortunes. The one glaringly obvious argument is simply that Lacazette has not adapted well to the Premier League. His clear demise in goal output between Ligue 1 and the Premier League supports that the physicality and play style of the league do not suit the player- he is not particularly tall or fast, which is a clear setback in the English divisions.
Alternatively, I would also suggest that part of the reason for Lacazette’s declining goal tally is due to a revolution in his personal play style. At Lyon he was the focal attacking point, and predominantly stayed in and around the area, poaching goals and finishing inside the area. Alternatively, at Arsenal he has developed to become more of an all-round playmaking number 9, who is less of a box player and more involved with the build up play. The lack of a stable and influential attacking midfielder has meant Lacazette has often lacked service, so consequently has dropped deeper to become the player combining and allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to adopt threatening areas higher up. Essentially, whilst Lacazette evidently has not scored as much as he would want, I don’t think we can pin this entirely on his own failure, and there is actually a lot of good attributes the Frenchman holds.
With just 12 months remaining on his current deal, and now he has reached the age of 30, it is decision time for Alex Lacazette’s future. The options are limited; either we sell up now and try to reclaim as much money as possible, or we extend his contract (most likely for 12 months) to ensure we have his services next season without his contract expiring. I believe, given the circumstances I’ll mention below, giving the player the year extension on his deal would not be as bad of an idea as most Arsenal fans seem to suggest it is.
Firstly, we cannot overlook that come the end of the 2020/21 season, Lacazette finished as Arsenal’s top scorer, both in the Premier League and in all competitions. Whilst this is not overly impressive due to the squad’s overall underperformance (especially that of club captain and usual goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), the statistics cannot be denied. He was Arsenal’s best finisher and number nine this previous season, so unless we replace him with a clear upgrade signing, it would not seem logical to sell.
Another key factor to this situation is Arsenal’s budget. If we have yet another limited budget this summer, I find it unlikely that we will bring in a striker this summer, given some of the more pressing issues within the squad right now. Keeping Lacazette for another year would allow us time to revisit forward options in the summer of 2022, and properly invest in a new long-term goal scorer. Furthermore, if we are realistic, for a player of Lacazette’s age and contractual situation, it is unlikely we will get any more than £20,000,000 if we are to sell the player- and it seems very unlikely we will be able to sign a better, long-term striker for less than that.
Running into the season without Lacazette, meaning our striking options are just Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli and the inexperienced Folarin Balogun, is another option that has been widely discussed by fans. This would, in the opinion of yours truly, be a rookie error. Especially given the poor performances of Aubameyang last season and Mikel Arteta’s apparent reluctance to play youngsters Martinelli and Balogun, it seems a steep risk to enter the new season with this lack of depth. Having Lacazette as a starter or rotation player for a further year would increase depth and add competition to the squad- which can only be a good thing.
Lacazette has also been reported to have been key in the development and progression of several young Arsenal players, such as Smith Rowe who suggest that the Frenchman was the main player who helped him settle with the first team:
“I think Lacazette. Obviously playing together with him up top, I feel like he’s helped me so much on and off the pitch. He gives me so much confidence. As we link-up and play together, he talks to me a lot. I’d probably say he’s spoken to me the most off the pitch.”
His ability to influence and aid the younger players on and off the pitch make him one of the most valuable figures in the Arsenal dressing room, and therefore keeping Lacazette at the club for a further 12 months would allow him to continue supporting the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka- but also tutor the upcoming strikers Gabriel Martinelli and Folarin Balogun. This kind of nurture that Lacazette provides younger players is an invaluable asset, and one that is often overlooked by fans as it is not there to see in plain sight.
Overall, I think Lacazette’s skills and personality both on and off the pitch make him a valuable player for this Arsenal squad, and one that I would personally love to see stay with the club in the 2021/22 season. He is by no means perfect but, given our financial constraints, renewing Alexandre Lacazette’s contract at Arsenal for a further year seems to me to be smart and worthwhile business.