If football was based on scoring alone and the defence didn’t count, it would be hard to see many clubs that come close to Arsenal in terms of talents upfront.
Over the years, the Gunners have been blessed with reputable strikers upfront and most of their shortcomings have come at the opposite end, in defence, rather than the ability to put the ball in the opponent’s net.
From the likes of Ian Wright to Dennis Bergkamp to Thierry Henry and a certain Robin Van Persie, those names indeed stand out when giving top strikers in English football a shout.
The current holders for that esteemed title are the duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
The pair have formed a formidable partnership over time and were particularly immense last season.
The Frenchman was named the Gunners’ player of the season while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the club’s top goalscorer with 31 goals and the joint Golden Boot winner in the Premier League with 22 goals.
It is the dream strike partnership which made Arsenal fans excited – creating their trademark handshake celebration that looked a joy to watch whenever it clicked to perfection.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in all competitions for Arsenal this season:
• 31 goals • 19 goals
• 7 assists • 11 assists
The dynamic duo. 👬 pic.twitter.com/Xt926aNx4l
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 13, 2019
Despite all of the goals and luxury they offered last season, It was the same old story – another disappointing season with no Champions League football.
Their efforts were more than just commendable for Arsenal but the same couldn’t be said of their defence. Sadly, that theme has followed suit this season and it could yet prove to be another “déjà vu” campaign for the forwards and the club as a whole.
In the wake of poor results recently and a sense of decline under Unai Emery, reports have emerged the club are struggling to agree new contract deals for the star pair. More prominent have been reports linking Aubameyang with a move to Spanish giants Barcelona – one which seemed to continue the trend of all Arsenal captains being prized away by other clubs.
As per Transfermarkt, Lacazette’s contract expires in the summer of 2022 and it’s understandable to see why he’s stalling for a new one. At 28, he’s in the last “big” contract stage of his career and any long-term contract with Arsenal potentially keeps him in the club till his 30s, a time where he would have dropped physically and in terms of financial value as well.
For Aubameyang, It is a more likely case of seeing him leave should the current problems and struggles persist.
The 30-year-old’s contract expires in the summer of 2021 (Transfermarkt) and the same worries for him obviously apply to that of his partner. Reports suggest the pair are tired of the Gunners absence from the Champions League and are stalling to see what becomes of their season before they make a decision. Fair enough.
In line with these events, It brings one question Arsenal fans are usually not willing to hear – do the Gunners need Aubameyang and Lacazette at the same time?
They deliver – but Arsenal should consider selling one of them
A striker is brought in to score goals that can help translate to winning trophies. Two elite strikers mean the club are intent about the attacking purpose and it signifies what is supposed to the blueprint of the club.
Sadly, Aubameyang and Lacazette seemed to have under-performed (based on their reputations) and it does make you wonder if they are good for each other or the opposite.
Take a Barcelona team for instance whose defence hasn’t been the best in recent time as well. Lionel Messi (48) and Luis Suarez (22) managed a staggering 70 goals between them last season as per Marca. Yes, those numbers didn’t see them win the Champions League but was enough to see them win the La Liga. Aubameyang and Lacazette had 50 goals between and we can agree that only a few more goals could have been all the Gunners needed to avoid Thursday night football this season.
For all of their goals, Arsenal have not won a trophy with them or even finished top-four if we’re being less critical.
Aubameyang and Lacazette’s friendship on and off the pitch has been their strength but has also been their weakness, sadly so.
“Being friends and training together so much makes it much easier,” Lacazette said.
“We get together and laugh a lot,” Aubameyang said. “We share the same idea of football. It’s the first time that I’ve played with a striker like Laca, but the fact is that we understand each other well and that makes it more natural and it makes the difference.”
Arsenal are renowned for playing with a lone-striker upfront and that has seen Aubameyang deployed as a left-winger more recently, not much might be made of it but a closer look gives the factual point that two top strikers are a luxury at the club and it’s only a matter of time before the club might cash in on one of them.
Just if Aubameyang was the only lone-striker at the club, he could easily have scored 40 goals in total last season. For Lacazette, It is the same problem as well. Emery is sometimes tempted to tweak the tactics and start Aubameyang centrally – seeing him with a dejected look on the bench at times.
One can only be spoilt for choices when they are available to you in the first place. The reputations they both have means Emery would not want to step on either’s toes – which is why Aubameyang plays on the left just to accommodate his friend and partner Lacazette at the centre.
Without the other, either of the pair becomes more lethal and clinical upfront, knowing the burden “mainly” depends on him as the big-name forward. Take a cue from the likes of Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero.
Harry Kane is Spurs top man and the closest person to a scoring support is winger Son Heung-min who doesn’t boast the reputation the England captain commands.
The same could be said for Aguero who has Gabriel Jesus as his deputy. Despite Jesus pedigree and his growing reputation as well, he’s nowhere close to Sergio Aguero and you see how such notions play in the minds of these forwards and sees them improve their game week in week out.
Over at Arsenal, it’s a clash of heads and one of Aubameyang or Lacazette can simply “relax” knowing he has another “world-class” partner that should equally score goals as well.
This season, Aubameyang has averaged 2.2 unsuccessful first touches per 90 minutes and has been dispossessed 1.2 times per 90 minutes. It is only a small sample size but those numbers align with his career totals.
More concerning, however, he averages just 22.3 passes per game in the Premier League and 0.5 dribbles per game, both very low totals that show his overall lack of involvement in play (Stats via Whoscored).
Simply put, it translates to the fact that when Aubameyang isn’t scoring and winning games for the team, he doesn’t offer too much upfront.
Now, Aubameyang is an elite goalscorer, a superior goalscorer to Lacazette. But his hold-up play, his general impact on matches, his skill with the ball and ability to drop into midfield and help progress attacking moves is far below that of the Frenchman. And these comments help display why.
Consider Arsenal recently brought in Pepe as well and you see how the Gunners have prioritized their attack but failed to do the needful where it is needed – the heart of defence. For Arsenal to get back to glory days, a heavy overhaul is needed at that back-line. One that would be close to what they coughed out for Nicolas Pepe.
All of which leads to one final question:
Who should Arsenal cash in on?
With Aubameyang at 30, it looks more likely he could be the one to leave eventually, leaving room for Martinelli and Nketiah to come back and be top deputies to Alexandre Lacazette. Or perhaps Martinelli replaces Auba on the left as well.
Martinelli and Nketiah might still be youngsters but already have what it takes to be top forwards. Martinelli’s seven goals in nine games so far (Whoscored) is much testament to that.
In pre-season, Nketiah was Arsenal’s top scorer with four goals and that was a glimmer of hope of what to expect from him in the future. Spending the season on loan at Leeds, the striker would no doubt be getting the needed experience to come back and thrive in the Arsenal team.
Despite being 30, Aubameyang is still valued at €70m as per Transfermarkt, that cash could come in handy for the purchase of highly-rated defenders. Just recently, Footall.London revealed that Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano – who has been linked to Arsenal has a release clause which was recently reduced to £50m. Surely, €70m (£59.9m) clearly puts Arsenal in a good position to secure his services.
Strikers may be hard to come by in this current transfer market, but on the long run, Arsenal already seem to have able replacements and backups for the future.
What is needed now is a massive change of personnel in defence and to do that, cash and lots of them will be required. The sale of one of Arsenal’s most important players can help fund that problem. Aubameyang and Lacazette are great partners to each other but the Arsenal defence keep showing time and time that having both of them together simply remains a “luxury”.