How to get the best out of Alexandre Lacazette
As was noted in part one, the performances of Alexandre Lacazette are not awful, despite the poor goal return this season. The Frenchman is still averaging a key pass and 2.4 shots per game, but cannot find the net himself. This article looks at why this could be, and in turn, offers potential solutions on how to coax Arsenal’s number 9 back into form.
To begin with, it must be said that a lot comes down to the striker himself- Lacazette’s trademark finish is a turn with his back to goal followed by a quick shot, which he demonstrated several times last season. With his own confidence at an all-time low, he is much less inclined to take the risk of turning with the ball to get a shot away, especially whilst he is often surrounded by defenders. There are ways, however, to make this decision far less risky, and in turn, allow the Frenchman to shoot more. In this article, I will outline three.
Utilise the youth
Despite bursting onto the scene with a very competent performance against Liverpool, Joe Willock has found his game-time this season restricted in the league. The youngster has racked up just 580 minutes across 18 appearances in the premier league, starting just six games. In fact, he is yet to start a league game under Arteta. This has coincided with Mesut Ozil’s reintroduction to the side, who has filled Willock’s only viable position in Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 system.
Similarly, Ainsley Maitland-Niles should see his time in midfield increase in the coming weeks- the result of a combination of Hector Bellerin’s return to fitness and the signing of Cedric from Southampton. Both Willock and Maitland-Niles offer more energy than Arsenal’s current midfield, as well as greater developmental options for coming seasons. In Maitland-Niles’ case, it will at the very least demonstrate whether he has a future in central midfield, the position which he claims to be most suited to. Answering this question could have fundamental and wide-reaching consequences for Arsenal’s summer business.
With the wavering form of Matteo Guendouzi, who as a young prospect could perhaps do with some time out of the spotlight, both Maitland-Niles and Willock offer possible alternatives for Arteta upon the club’s return from Dubai.
Drop Mesut Ozil
Arsenal’s side is currently very unbalanced. Specifically, the midfield is suited to a double pivot, with Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira best working in tandem, with Mesut Ozil filling in at no.10, whilst they would be ill-suited to a 433.
The same cannot be said for the attack, where Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suit a 433 far more than they do a 4231 with a defensive double pivot. Lacazette’s tendency to drop into the space and try to link up Arsenal’s attacks tends to see him conflict with Mesut Ozil’s aim to do the same. Often, they will occupy the same space. This in turn leaves other areas of the pitch vacant when Arsenal attack. Logically then, it would make more sense to operate with one of these two, and instead utilise a player with different qualities in the no.10 role. Provided, of course, that Arteta retains the 4231.
Both leading sides in the Premier League, Liverpool and Manchester City, operate on the face of it with a 4-3-3 formation. With Arteta’s only coaching experience coming at Manchester City, it would be entirely unsurprising to see his long-term philosophy unfold in the 433 which he experienced under Pep Guardiola.
With the top four effectively out of reach, it would seem sensible that this transition could happen sooner rather than later in the Premier League. Instead, Arteta will surely be prioritising the FA Cup and the Europa League, in a vain attempt to salvage Arsenal’s season. This would involve dropping Mesut Ozil, and instead operating with two “floating no.8s”. This would not suit some of the players in the midfield, such as Granit Xhaka, but would instead play to the strengths of the Lacazette. The Frenchman is most effective with midfielders running beyond him, which takes defenders away from him and allows him to utilise his skills most productively. Whilst neither Maitland-Niles nor Willock can replicate the performances of Aaron Ramsey, they are certainly an improvement on current proceedings.
The conundrum of Alexandre Lacazette is difficult to solve with the current personnel within the squad, which is fundamentally unbalanced. To persist with the Frenchman is likely to be beneficial in the long run as Arteta looks to implement a 433, but a midfield overhaul would be needed. In the short term, investing in the youthful options of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock could offer the squad greater balance going forward, which in turn could help turn some of Arsenal’s 13 draws into victories.