When Pierre Emerick Aubameyang arrived at Arsenal in January 2018, he immediately struck up a friendship with Alex Lacazette. It’s a friendship that surprised many of us considering that Aubameyang had essentially been bought out to replace Lacazette – at least we thought so. By the time of Aba’s arrival, Lacazette was experiencing a drought and soon after, it was discovered that he needed knee surgery.
Wenger had clearly been reluctant to sign Lacazette, which was available in the market for at least two summers before his arrival. Having failed in the pursuit of Suarez and Benzema and experimenting with Alexis Sanchez as a center-forward, Arsène felt he could not wait any longer to try and get the club to have Olivier Giroud as a goalscorer.
The irony here, of course, is that Lacazette’s goal production is lower than Giroud’s. His total of goals in an Arsenal shirt (in all competitions) is 17, 19, 12 and he currently has 15 goals for the season. In Giroud’s five full seasons at Arsenal, he has managed 17, 22, 19, 24 and 16.
The two are very different types of players, clearly and Wenger has probably seen that Lacazette is a more favorable attacking style for his Arsenal side. Basically the two are enablers or foils, not quite the striking centerpiece of a team fighting to win the game’s big prizes. Aubameyang is much more in the category of a player you can hang your teeth on. hat to score 25-30 goals per season.
Aubameyang didn’t replace Lacazette, as many of us suspected, but ended up supporting him. Chiseled into a slightly awkward left wing role, Auba was seen as an elite enough scorer to play slightly out of position without unduly affecting his goal tally, while Lacazette could play his favorite role and facilitate Arsenal’s attacks. .
The relationship on the pitch has always been a bit awkward, although off the pitch they remain best friends. The players’ respective contractual situations further impacted this dynamic. After single-handedly winning Arsenal the FA Cup, Aubameyang was given a three-year contract with a substantial salary. Lacazette currently has one year to sign his contract and turns 30 in May.
Essentially, Arsenal have already backed their horse. With Willian, 32, joining a big contract, the club simply cannot agree to devote more resources to a striker on the wrong side of the age curve. Asking Aubameyang to chase Trent Alexander-Arnold down the sideline is not the way to go about his career given he will be making around £ 300,000 a week by his 34th birthday.
Arsenal have more responsibility for looking after Aubameyang’s legs and his career than Lacazette. The sagacity of that move can be debated, but it cannot be reversed, it is the decision the club have already made – whether he did it with a clear head is subject to guesswork.
With the emergence of Emile Smith Rowe and the signing on loan from Martin Odegaard, Arsenal have seriously increased their creative potential in the New Year (i.e. raised it from near zero ). Arteta eventually gave in and played Aubameyang in the middle and hey hop his previously impoverished form improved and he was better able to use his elite ability to find space in the penalty area and find chances to score goals.
Meanwhile, a sort of online cultural war has broken out between Camp Lacazette and Team Aubameyang. In the age of social media, it’s not unusual for these kinds of cliques to form among fans, as we are becoming more protective of our own opinions than ever before. We went through much the same online showdown between “Ramsey fans” and Wilshere fans ”a few years ago. In this “LACA v AUBA” debate, I am not without guilt.
Yeah, Aubameyang can’t tie the game.
– Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) April 8, 2021
It’s completely understandable that this divide has arisen as Arteta essentially has a choice of two intriguing binaries. Lacazette ties the game well when he goes deep, he is better in this aspect of the game center-forward than Aubamayeng. As always, in online discourse, hype ensues.
Aubameyang can tie the game pretty well, despite the protests of many. However, Aubameyang is undoubtedly superior at finding space in the penalty area and shooting on goal. Aubameyang is superior to most strikers on the planet in this regard. Once again, Lacazette’s shortcomings in this area have also been hyperbolized – he’s scored more goals this season than Cuba after all.
In short, Lacazette’s game is built on combinations, he likes to connect. Aubameyang is built on finding space and it requires you to log out as the space opens away from the ball. Often strikers like Aubameyang are seen as peripheral or, worse, disinterested. I don’t agree with that, I just think his work takes place away from the ball. Space doesn’t just open up for you, you have to work to create it and find it. An attacker like this makes a hundred unsuccessful shuttles before getting their reward.
Regardless of the white noise of online chatter, Arteta’s role is to try and make the most of the attacker he chooses. Because they’re so different, it’s not so much about which individual is superior, but how you build the team to make the most of their attributes. They are entirely different and their attacking partners must be configured differently.
Lacazette endured a miserable night against Slavia Praha last week in an attack starring Willian. The Brazilian has his qualities (even if he barely showed them in an Arsenal jersey) but none of them complements Lacazette’s qualities. The mixture of Willian and Lacazette is not penetrating enough and carries too little threat to the penalty bench.
Likewise, the attack against Liverpool was misconfigured with Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe starting together. This trio does not have the technical properties to hold the ball and create pressure. Auba returned to his best game in the middle with moving creators around him to carry the ball around the area.
Lacazette put in a great performance against Sheffield United, playing alongside two aggressive wide players in Pepe and Martinelli, who like to charge the penalty area and shoot. It was Martinelli who followed when Pepe’s second-half shot was blocked by Aaron Ramsdale. If Auba had played he would undoubtedly have swallowed that rebound as well. Willian or Smith Rowe probably wouldn’t.
Importantly, at Bramall Lane, Arteta also positioned Dani Ceballos near Lacazette. Laca likes to combine with one-touch passes, just like Ceballos. Played closer together, the duo could play wall passes all evening while Martinelli focused on raiding the penalty area. Lacazette had a good relationship with Mesut Ozil for much the same reason.
When it comes to being on the penalty bench, Lacazette is more of a garnish than a main course. Left alone, he cannot carve out a nook or cranny in a crowded area like Aubameyang can. He prefers to drift around the penalty spot looking for outs and for this to be effective he needs support runners (therefore, not Willian). Auba, on the other hand, can find these positions to have fun if there are enough creators around him.
They both outperformed very slightly based on their chances at Arsenal. I’m not sure you can tell their quality of finish is any different. pic.twitter.com/UzKQQMNQBu
– Calum Isaacs (@CalumIsaacs) April 12, 2021
Essentially, Auba is a lot more in the Mane, Salah, and Cavani murder squad bracket by volume. He misses a lot of good chances, but most elite forwards do too; skill is not disturbed by missing and regaining these goal spaces repeatedly. Feed it and it will score.
Lacazette is a facilitator and that means he needs players to help him facilitate and, most importantly, players who can fill the penalty area to support him. Arsenal have already made their choice, from a financial standpoint, and should prioritize Aubameyang via the center accordingly, however, whatever Arteta chooses to play at the center-forward it is important that he selects the right partners for them to prosper.
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