With a squad so top heavy it resembles a footballing bobblehead, it feels odd not to have more faith in the Arsenal attack than I do at this moment. Surely, with Mkhitaryan returning to fitness, Iwobi coming into renewed form, and the loan of Denis Suarez to bolster the ranks, we should all be more certain than at any point this season, Arsenal will prosper going forward. Reading back over that sentence, noticing the names mentioned, and the patchy, bordering on lacklustre offensive displays over the past few weeks are the reasons why I am nervous. Looking at it from a player-to-player perspective, I’m going to assess the options, hoping to provide some insight as to whom, if anyone, you might want to back.
Whether you think he’s underperforming or overperforming this season, it is difficult to deny that the Gabonese striker has certainly had an impressive goal-scoring return. Ironically, after an early spell of surpassing his xG, his comparative struggles in front of goal since the start of the year now see him exactly equalling that underlying metric; xG per 90 and goals per 90 of 0.67. Sitting on 15 goals and 4 assists for the season, it is easy to see how he’s been able to notch 5 double digit points hauls this season. But why, as a current owner, am I unsure about him, especially with two favourable fixtures on the horizon?
The dual blow of a Lacazette red card and a 1-0 loss in the 1st round of Arsenal’s Europa League tie. Going into the home leg needing a win, Emery will certainly play his strongest side, and with Lacazette absent Aubameyang is as certain as any to start. With 4 fixtures over the following 9 days, culminating in a huge North London derby away at Spurs, I’m not confident in saying he will start the middle two fixtures – those which most would be purchasing him for – at home to Southampton and Bournemouth. Although he has been getting very consistent minutes recently, this can be explained through the Mkhitaryan injury reducing Arsenal’s options in wide areas. With a fit attack at the start of the season, Aubameyang and Lacazette were played together far less frequently than they have since injuries struck. Thankfully, as an owner, Aubameyang is the type of player who has proven he can put explosive performances from the bench, but the rotation risk is enough to sway me away from captaining him, and would certainly give me pause for thought over bringing him in.
Then there is the issue of the wider Arsenal attack, and how disjointed it has looked in recent matches. Scoring 2 open play goals outside the box this season, Aubameyang is a player who needs service. Without the overlapping runs of Hector Bellerin on the right flank, a main source of potential cut-back/low crossing chances is gone. The build-up play has looked disjointed, and the reliance on the Iwobi – Kolasinac partnership means that there hasn’t been many avenues for Arsenal to create chances.
As a premium striker who needs but lacks creativity from his teammates, risks over rotation, and only two favourable fixtures to capitalise on, I don’t think the argument to bring him in to your FPL team is as simple as many are portraying. For me, I will not be selling him, but neither would I be looking to bring him in, certainly until I saw a more convincing display from Arsenal as a team going.
The obvious/only other option would be to invest your ‘Arsenal allocated’ striker slot to the Frenchman. You’d be saving a pretty penny, with his current value sitting at £9.5m, and at 10.2% ownership amongst active players, differentiating yourself from a lot of FPL managers out there. I suppose the argument has always been that, choosing between the two, ‘you get what you pay for’. Lacazette has just 2 double digit returns this season, and sits on 10 goals and 5 assists. When most are considering this transfer as a means to take advantage of a short spell of favourable fixtures, that lack of explosivity could be concerning.
To his credit however, Lacazette boasts 13 matches of over 5 points, and has only blanked once in a home fixture he’s started since Gameweek 12 (he was brought off at half time against Huddersfield). His recent form is also impressive, failing to return in just 3 fixtures of his last 10; those are further mitigated when considering 1 was a 19 minute cameo at Anfield, and another away at Manchester City. Certainly from a FPL perspective, I feel like he represents pretty good value at the moment.
He has been passing the hallowed ‘eye-test’ as well. Paying close attention to him, you notice how comparatively more central to Arsenal’s build-up play he is. This is partly due to the fact he won’t be played out wide, whereas Aubameyang can be farmed out to either wing. He is much more comfortable with his back to goal, and often drops a little deeper to act as a creative sound-board for the midfield. Without Ramsey or Ozil, much more of the play focuses around him. Fans of the underlying metrics will be pleased to know the data reflects this. A comparison between Lacazette and Aubameyang sees the Frenchman come out in assists per 90, key passes per 90, and xGChain per 90 (the total xG of every possession the player is involved, excluding shots and key passes) in per 90 minutes.
He has also displayed his dribbling ability, with a good run and powerful drive into the net against Cardiff, showing the ever-improving all-round nature of his game. That red card came out of frustration, and his rueful look after showed he knew the mistake he had made. However, for fantasy managers this may present an opportunity, as his ineligibility for the home match makes me feel very confident that he will be starting at home to Southampton.
If you are taking a short-term approach, I think bringing in Lacazette could prove fruitful.
Hopefully I’ve been able to provide some clarity over the Arsenal striking options. My main concern is not necessarily over the ability of the two individuals themselves, rather the overall form and cohesion of the Arsenal attack as a collective. Without chances, Aubameyang will really struggle to get goals regardless of a favourable fixture. In a side lacking creativity, Lacazette’s link-play and ability to act as focal point for the build-up will result in him spending less time in the advanced positions Aubameyang basically lives in. Ironically, if somebody said they absolutely had to buy a player to profit from Arsenal’s good run of fixtures, I wouldn’t dissuade them from either Iwobi or Kolasinac.
Iwobi has a greater rotation risk, and Southampton at home is a very ‘Ozil’ fixture, but his consistent involvement in the side, along with improved performances and returns have led him to be one of Emery’s more reliable squad members. The Bosnian brute just behind him, practically plays as a left winger, and the frequency with which the side looks for his overlapping runs means he will rarely go a game without creating good chances. Equally, Ainsley Maitland-Niles could emerge, despite being listed as a midfielder; Mkhitaryan’s return opens the possibility of a similar link between the two, that Iwobi and Kolasinac enjoy.
Ultimately, none of the Arsenal assets feels like a ‘sure thing’ at the moment, so I think you should be prepared for possible disappointment; as an Arsenal fan, I’ve had a fair amount of practice! My recommendation is what you have, keep hold of. If you are looking to bring a player in, seriously consider the reliance you place on that player, given the risks I’ve hopefully illustrated.