Going into next season, Arsenal have a simmering striker issue. They have already banked a lot of their chips on Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, awarding him a hefty three-year contract last summer. It probably wasn’t the wisest move but then Arsenal is not really run by the sharpest people. Aubameyang is here for the next two years and Arteta, having approved the decision to award him the deal, has to build around him for the next season at least.
Alex Lacazette has one year left to run on his contract and the smart thing to do from an administrative standpoint would be to say thank you very much and entertain a sale. Whether Arsenal will be able to tempt a suitor this summer is another matter. At 30 years old and on a significant salary, don’t be surprised if Lacazette sees out his deal.
That could be Lacazette and Aubameyang, both costing the tune of £100m in transfer fees, walking out of the door for free to add to Arsenal’s contractual hall of shame. Assuming Arsenal do find a buyer for Lacazette, it begs the question as to whether they need to buy another striker. Sooner or later, they will have to re-imagine their forward line for the future.
Ideally, if they were to dip into the market for a striker this summer, it would be a young model who could spend a season as a rotational or back-up option with a long-term view to spearheading the forward line in the post Laca-Yang era. Such a signing is unlikely to come cheap and with the midfield and number 10 positions in need of more urgent treatment, it might be tough to source the future of Arsenal’s forward line.
Indeed, it might even be advisable to try next summer when Arsenal, free of the rigours of European competition, will surely have swept back into the top four and Champions League football. *crickets* If Arsenal are to sell Lacazette this summer, it does leave a hole for a team that managed a meagre 55 league goals last season.
Falorin Balogun might well be the future of the Arsenal front line but it’s far too early to make that determination, far more likely for him are appearances in the Carabao Cup and maybe some presence in the matchday squad as the third-choice striker. Eddie Nketiah certainly isn’t the future of the Arsenal forward line and someone the club should be looking to extract value for in the market.
As much as the prevailing impression is that Arsenal have to stop carrying players out of fear of replacing them, or because they always have too much to do to solve all of their problems in one fell swoop, it might be expedient to keep Lacazette for the final year of his contract to fill that void between Aubameyang and Balogun.
Of course, keeping players who are thinking about their final payday or whose futures are not at Arsenal has been a repeat error for Arsenal’s weary executives in recent transfer windows. The other potential solution is to use Gabriel Martinelli as a second-choice centre-forward. It’s a gamble considering Martinelli doesn’t have much of a record there and because, frankly, Arteta knows that a wobbly start to next season might cost him his job.
Gently easing Martinelli into the position with some minutes here and there to test his striker sea legs would be the ideal avenue of experimentation. The problem, of course, is that Aubameyang gets a bad injury in, September, say, then you quickly have to rip off the water wings and throw Martinelli into the deep end. It would be asking a lot to put our season on his shoulders at centre-forward.
However, the contrary argument is that the upside of taking such a gamble would be enormous. Imagine if Arsenal didn’t have to go and spend big money on their successor to Auba because he is already at the club. It would also present an elegant solution for another reason. Personally, I am not convinced Pepe and Martinelli can play in tandem as wide forwards.
I think it’s a case of either / or and both players are among the most prolific shooters and finishers in the squad. A front three of Pepe, Aubameyang and Martinelli contains the squad’s three biggest goal threats but lacks the technical security to regularly generate pressure. If Arsenal were able to accommodate Pepe and Martinelli into their forward line because the Brazilian is playing as a centre-forward, that would be a very elegant solution.
Having two positions in the frontline also generates more minutes for Martinelli next season, if he can simultaneously operate as a back-up rotation option for Aubameyang and Pepe. Per FBRef, Martinelli averaged over three shots per 90 last season (from an admittedly small sample size of six and a half games).
His combined XGA (expected goals + expected assists) was 0.80 per 90- the highest in the Arsenal squad. Eddie Nketiah was second with 0.78 per 90 and Aubameyang generated 0.59 per 90 (0.54 without penalties) and Alex Lacazette 0.60 (0.49 without penalties). Again, one has to put the figures into the context of the sample size; but Martinelli started games against Manchester City (EFL Cup), Manchester United and Chelsea.
Those are centre-forward numbers but, of course, there is no guarantee that he could reproduce them from centre-forward. I happen to see him very much along the lines of Luis Suarez, a player that can play from the left or the centre but I really think he can do the latter with some workshopping and that would certainly be the best outcome for Arsenal given that they have talent in the wide forward positions already.
It is an interesting question as to whether Arsenal gamble on the mystery box and the potential upside that it could bring, or whether they look to the market. Knowing Arteta, I think it will likely be the latter- he knows his job is less secure than it was this time last year so I can’t see him becoming less risk averse than we have already seen. This is perhaps where a stronger Technical Director would step in and make the case for the future over the short-term ambitions of the coach; but I have seen little from Edu so far to suggest he is inclined to do so.