It’s so early in the summer, I haven’t yet even built my fantasy team that I will inevitably lose interest in by October, yet Arsenal have already just played their first match of their pre–season, a leisurely 2–0 win over Sydney FC.
Is it too early to draw long–term and lasting conclusions from one game in the middle of summer? Absolutely!
Is that going to stop me anyway? Absolutely not! But there was one thing that definitely stood out for me.
It took 14 minutes for Alexandre Lacazette to display why he’s a better fit for the way Arsenal want to play than Olivier Giroud.
In games like this, it’s a lot easier to judge a player’s natural tendencies than on big pressure occasions, purely because there no expectations on that player to fulfil a certain role or job. They can just play in the manner they feel comfortable in, and as a result, you can see how they like to operate.
So whenever Lacazette got the ball, it was interesting to see not only what he did, but how he did it.
When he finally came onto the pitch during the 68th minute (Really, Arsene? You couldn’t have waited another 20 seconds so that it would’ve been the 69th minute instead and I could’ve said ‘Nice’? Sigh.) he was played not in his natural position of striker but just behind Giroud instead. But it was clear from the first time he received the ball as to why he had been asked to play deeper.
Any time Alexis Sanchez receives the ball, his only thought is how to go forward with it. Sometimes he drills a forty yard pass into space, sometimes he tries to dribble past three defenders, sometimes he shoots from thirty yards out. There’s a directness and a consistent desire to push the tempo that helps Arsenal incredibly when attacking. Too often have Arsenal been guilty of looking for the easy sideways ball when a more difficult forward pass was available.
Lacazette showed that he too has this mentality.
He was always pushing forward, always playing little through balls for overlapping runners, always looking up whilst trying to beat a defender. Everything he did was done with the intent of attacking, and attacking at pace.
But there was one moment that summed up how he differs from Giroud; his goal.
Yes, it’s a tap–in. But keep your eyes on the run Giroud makes when the cross is about to come in.
He initially goes towards the near post, which was the right decision, but then changes his mind and goes towards the far post, behind the defender and out of position. Considering how many goals he scores by running near post, it is baffling as to why he runs to the far post as often as he does.
What he ends up doing is taking himself out of play, which, as a striker, is a cardinal sin. If he’s making a decoy run to drag a defender out of position, then it’s an error, because he’s the striker. He’s the one who supposed to be in the best position to score, not the worst.
Now watch what Lacazette does. He doesn’t bomb into the box as quick as you might expect him to because there’s a pocket of space between him and the defender. If he can keep that space open, then the winger has a far easier cross to execute. It’s a tricky balancing act between taking enough time so that you don’t run into an area that the defender can cover, but also not take so long that you never get into the right position at all.
It may seem like a small detail to point out, but Arsenal’s attacking deficiencies over the last few seasons haven’t come from not creating enough chances, but from not taking them. Too often, our striker has had the opportunity to put himself in a great position to score, but makes the wrong decision and the chance goes begging.
In Sydney, we had the sight of two of Arsenal’s strikers attempting to put themselves in the best position to score, and one of them ended up behind a full back whilst the other gave himself five yards of space in the centre of the penalty box.
If Lacazette can be a regular threat from deep like he was today, then Arsenal’s attacking threat changes completely, from having two players who are dangerous both on and off the ball in Alexis and Mesut Özil, to three.
Chelsea won the league on the back of having three players up front who could pop up in any of the front three positions at any time and be dangerous. Eden Hazard and Pedro would run around Diego Costa like moths around a light bulb. Trying to man mark any of them is a nightmare unless your name is Rob Holding.
If Arsenal harbour any ambition of winning major silverware in the near future, then their attack has to be just as clinical as Chelsea’s.
Giroud is a fine player with a skill set that is the envy of many, but it doesn’t include the one asset that Arsenal needs most; the ability to attack a defence from anywhere, at any time.
He is, as he has shown last season from his performances off the substitute’s bench, a fantastic Plan B.
Lacazette is Plan A.
And it only took 14 minutes to show why.