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Lacazette exposes Arsenal’s transfer gamble and leaves Arteta in the firing line

3:00 PM MYT 16/04/2022
Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal Premier League 2021-22
The Gunners striker has not scored in open play since December and has netted just four Premier League goals this season in total

It was a decision that always looked risky at the time.

As soon as Arsenal decided not to bring in a replacement when they let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang join Barcelona in January, they left themselves open for criticism.

Everyone knew it, including Mikel Arteta – but he remained defiant.

“When you have a clear direction and process of how you make your decisions, you have to be ruthless," said the Arsenal boss.

“You have to have a certain courage and consistency in those decisions.

“So, if you are tempted to do something, but you think it's going to bring you trouble in the coming months or years, you should not do it. I think we were brave.

“Whether it was good or not, we will only know at the end of the season – and it will depend on whether we have won enough matches.”

The initial signs were good, with Arsenal winning five successive games immediately after the January window came to a close.

But now Arteta’s side have hit a massive bump in the road.

They have lost three of their last four matches in the Premier League, scoring just once in the process.

Arsenal have seen Tottenham move above them in the race for the Champions League and that has seen the spotlight fall once again on the lack of firepower within the squad.

It’s now been four months since Lacazette scored from open play, with his only goal of 2022 coming from the penalty spot against Leicester City last month.

At a time when Tottenham are scoring freely and Aubameyang is flying again, with 10 goals from his first 14 appearances for Barcelona, that question is now being asked as to why Arsenal chose to weaken their squad in January, rather than strengthen it.

“We need to score more goals, that’s for sure and that’s a collective issue,” Arteta said after last weekend’s home defeat by Brighton.

Arsenal go to Southampton on Saturday looking to avoid a third straight defeat in the Premier League.

It looks like they will be without Lacazette on this occasion, with the frontman having missed training this week due to an illness.

And that, combined with his struggles in front of goal this season, has left Arteta in a difficult position.

The Spaniard may not have been alone in opting not to bring in a replacement for Aubameyang, with technical director Edu equally as culpable, but he was the man who decided his relationship with the Gabon international was beyond repair.

In allowing Aubameyang to leave without bringing anyone else in, Arteta put all his eggs in Lacazette’s basket.

Two months on, that now looks like a decision that could cost Arsenal a place in next season’s Champions League.

The France international, who is out of contract in the summer, has scored just four Premier League goals this season from an XG of 9.03 – the biggest negative differential of any player in the English top flight.

He is averaging a goal every 429.5 minutes and has a shot conversion rate of just 9.1 per cent.

When you consider Lacazette had a conversion rate of 28.9% in 2020-21 and 19.2% in 2019-20, you can see how much he is currently underperforming in the final third.

That has left Arsenal reliant on goals from their wide forwards such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe this season, and now that those goals have dried up, wins are proving difficult to come by.

“Laca's contribution to the team in many other ways has been phenomenal,” Arteta said when quizzed on his captain’s lack of goals.

“Of course, we want the strikers to score goals and we know we require them to do that. But Laca has a really important quality, which is that he makes the people around him better.”

Lacazette’s impressive link-up play was certainly a big part of Arsenal’s impressive run around the turn of the year.

While he may not have been scoring, he was creating goals for others, contributing seven assists in 10 games between the defeat at Everton on December 7 and the 3-2 win at Watford on March 6.

But the 30-year-old has not set up a goal since that success at Vicarage Road, with opposition teams seemingly having worked out that stopping him coming deep can nullify the Arsenal attack.

In the 90 minutes he was on the pitch against Brighton last weekend, Lacazette made just eight passes and had just 22 touches – fewer than any other player who started the game.

He also failed to have a single shot.

The issue for Arteta is the decision he made in January to reduce his attacking options have left him with very little alternative to the out-of-form Lacazette.

Arsenal’s manager appears unwilling to give Martinelli a go as his central striker, leaving him with just Eddie Nketiah – another player who is out of contract in the summer.

With a spot in next season’s Champions League on the line, it was a major gamble to let Aubameyang leave without bringing in a replacement.

Arteta described it as a "brave" decision. If things don’t turn around quickly, however, it will ultimately be viewed as a foolish one.