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Love him or hate him – here’s why Lacazette deserves a new Arsenal contract

LACA-MARMITE

Lacazette is Marmite to Arsenal fans.

Some point out how he has played an instrumental part in all of Arsenal’s recent resurgences, as a vital cog around which our youngsters spin; others are eager to brand him as an ineffective and wasteful striker. Both camps, as is generally true in this Age Of Divisiveness And Pearl-Rattling, are correct. It is possible to be both things at the same time…

Question is: does Lacazette have a role to play in The Process, which we are all implored to trust?

Let me start by saying that I’m not a statistician, I think their use is fairly described in the following statement:

“Most people use statistics like a drunk man uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination”

I find stats as interesting as most people, however I’m not convinced that they are the be-all and end-all of understanding the Beautiful Game.

I’m expecting an onslaught of xGs, mAs, bCm and other outrageous slings for merely confessing that I would like to see the Frenchman given a contract renewal. My wish is not based on a spreadsheet of genius analysis, or a mastery of mathematics: I can’t stand toe-to-toe with the StatsBomber and slug out why Lacazette’s numbers should earn him an extended stay at the club. No – my conclusion comes from decades of watching Arsenal play football, and knowing that there are certain “immeasurables” that don’t get captured by computers, there are certain unquantifiable qualities that nevertheless affect how a team performs.

Players with better metrics aren’t always better for a team. Sometimes a footballer brings out the best in others, by bringing ethereal but essential elements such as confidence, resilience, solidity, or they inspire by example, work ethic, belief.

lacazette

It doesn’t matter whether you are watching EPL online, on TV or at the stadium – the process of observation is a vital part of acquiring expertise in any field. Different people view the same events in different ways: some see things in a more linear, flowing manner, others are drawn to individual events, snapshots in the evolution of a game. This can also affect how an observer feels after a game in which their team wins 1-0 – after 90 minutes of shoddy performance and one flash of brilliance: two fans could walk away feeling very differently. One may be ecstatic, the other disappointed.

Context always matters, too – a scrappy 1-0 win in a cup tie is obviously an outcome to celebrate, whereas a scrappy 1-0 win over a struggling bottom-of-the-table team may be cause for concern. At what stage of the season the result happens is also important: at the tail end of the season, those 3 points are everything, even a single point Away against a top team can seem like a massive victory. Truth is – the points dropped in the first few weeks of the season are as costly as those at the end: their value is just not as apparent.

At the beginning of a season, it feels like time is on your side: errors can be corrected, mojo found.

This should be obvious – but it’s not. It’s human nature to be caught up in the moment. Good coaches know that the season is measured over 38 games – and not single performances. Even the best teams have chinks in their armour: the Liverpools, Citys and Uniteds of this world have suffered huge losses at the hands of minnows. In the end, it is consistency that wins out.

Which brings me back to the Lacazette situation, and a couple of observations I’d like to make that support my desire to see his contract renewed (whilst simultaneously believing that it won’t be).

Lacazette does not play as a traditional number 9 – in the style of a Van Persie, Adebayor, Wright or Kanu. He tends to play more as a pivot, a fulcrum – drawing in defenders, and then with an accomplished first touch, creates opportunities for other players to transition into a successful attack. He is a disrupter, and spends large parts of the game pressing, harrying, putting pressure on opposition player and forcing turnovers.

His work may not be the final or even penultimate act in a goal-scoring movement – thus escaping registration in the reams of statistics generated in a football match – but it is often the initiation of one. Laca doesn’t get the credit for the assist, or the big chance created – but if you analyze goalscoring events from beginning to end, you’ll find that he has often played a vital role in making them happen.

By all accounts he has other intangible qualities – the youngsters speak highly of him as a positive influence in training and in the dressing room. He doesn’t make a fuss, he’s not difficult to manage – and he has often played second fiddle to more mercurial players – asked to come off the bench, or played in the less glamorous games, where stat-padding is not as likely.

His statistical record lamppost at Arsenal is actually sturdier than a drunk might have thunk: 8th in all-time Premier League Goals/Appearance ratio. 10th in goals, 11th in assists. He has a remarkable penalty conversion rate, and impressive shot-on-target numbers. His Big Chances Missed numbers are comparable to Aubameyang’s, Giroud’s or Van Persie’s…

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I think part of the problem is that people are judging Lacazette by the number on his shirt, rather than for the role he is asked to play in Arteta’s Arsenal. His link-up play, his work-rate, his defensive reliability, his no-fuss, head down, hands-on attitude is often the beating heart of the team. He is relatively injury-free, and despite being subbed frequently, he has played and impressed for the full 90.

(For what it’s worth: I’m not against having players perform their hearts out for 70 minutes and then get substituted: I think 5 or 10 minutes is not enough time for a substitute to have a real impact. Football is stuck in a traditional mindset that Rugby is fast discarding.)

For a brief period, in a 442 alongside Aubameyang, Alexandre showed the role he could perform as an enabler for the more temperamental, more accomplished striker alongside him. Giroud performed a similar role – both for Arsenal and for France. Aubameyang’s behavioral issues put paid to that partnership – but there is a reason that their bond was always so strong: Aubameyang knew that his hard-working French bro’ played an important part in Auba’s own success.

I believe Laca still has a couple of decent years left in him. Giroud was similarly dismissed and went on to win Premier Leagues, Champions League and Europa League cups after leaving Arsenal, playing an huge part in Chelsea’s success.

35 is the new 30. By losing Laca we would be losing a key senior player, a regular goal and assist contributor, and someone who always plays for the cannon on his chest.

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