The 2021/22 campaign has been one of progress for Arsenal. An awful start that saw them lose three in a row by a scoreline of 9-0 has been followed by a steady incline that, at present, sees the Gunners on course to secure a Champions League place for the first time since 2017.
One of the reasons for this has been Mikel Arteta’s attack finally clicking. When in possession, Arteta has always asked his Arsenal strikers to drop deeper to link up play, as well as being a presence in the box.
When out of possession, meanwhile, the Spaniard requires his forwards to press when the opportunity arises.
Despite probably being the better all-round forward, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was never great at this and it is probably not too much of a coincidence that Arsenal have been creating a lot more since he was frozen out and then sold to Barca.
From the start of the season to Aubameyang’s final game in the Premier League on December 6th, Arsenal had a non-penalty xG of 20.99 from 16 games, working out at 1.31 NPxG per 90.
Since Aubameyang was frozen out and Lacazette has been used as Arsenal’s only centre-forward, the Gunners have produced a NPxG of 20.39 in 12 games, which works out at just under 1.7 NPxG per 90 – a significant improvement.
What makes Alexandre Lacazette such a good fit for Arsenal?
Why is this? Well, as already mentioned, Arteta asks his centre-forwards to drop deeper and link up play when in possession and Lacazette is excellent at this.
The former Lyon man much prefers playing with his back to goal and will always look for a layoff over turning a defender to try and work a shooting opportunity.
This was evident last weekend during Arsenal’s win over Aston Villa. During the game, Lacazette had the chance to let the ball roll across his body to shoot, with that looking the most likely option.
However, the Frenchman instead opted to hold the ball with his back to Emi Martinez before misplacing a layoff and yelling furiously at both Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka for not being on the edge of the box to receive the ball.
For the most part though, Arsenal’s young forwards have formed an excellent understanding with Lacazette, as demonstrated by this goal scored by Bukayo Saka vs Watford.
That is one of seven assists Lacazette has managed in the PL since Aubameyang was dropped – with no player in the division managing more in the same period.
Why Lacazette needs to be replaced/supported
However, though Lacazette is a very good fit for Arteta’s Arsenal, he does have some drawbacks.
The first is that he is out of contract in the summer and currently set to leave on a free.
Even if he does end up staying beyond 2021/22, though, it is obvious Arsenal will need to find some proper support for Lacazette ahead of a season with a lot more games due to European competition.
The main issue with Lacazette, however, is he simply does not score enough. Granted when you ask a striker to drop deeper and help link play, it is bound to impact his goalscoring somewhat.
But the 30-year-old has scored just two non-penalty goals in the English top-flight this campaign. And if Arsenal truly want to start competing with the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, they need a striker who can do everything Lacazette already does, whilst scoring on a more consistent basis.
How Emanuel Dennis compares to Lacazette
But who could replace/ support Lacazette next season?
Finding someone who can outscore him really would not be that hard, however, finding someone with a better goalscoring record and that is able to create as much as him is more of a challenge.
One player who could fit that bill is Emmanuel Dennis of Watford. Despite 2021/22 being his first season in England and Watford looking likely to be relegated, Dennis has already scored nine – nearly a third of Watford’s league goals this season - and assisted five in 27 league matches for the Hornets, meaning he has been directly involved in almost half of Watford’s PL goals this term.
So, that already gives him one up on Lacazette when comparing the duo.
But how does he stack up to the Frenchman in regards to chance creation?
Dennis is a natural centre-forward but can be used as a left and right-winger also, meaning he does naturally drop deeper anyway.
Dennis, for his part, is also excellent at creating chances for his teammates. At the time of writing, the Nigerian has racked up 11 goal-creating actions in the Premier League this season at a rate of 0.46 per 90.
Lacazette, meanwhile, boasts similar numbers of 9 GCA at a rate of 0.53 per 90.
Elsewhere, Dennis has produced 81 shot-creating actions in the PL this term at a rate of 3.35 per 90, whilst Lacazette has 63 at a rate of 3.71 per 90.
So, despite being in a much worse team, Dennis is creating a similar number of chances to Lacazette this campaign, suggesting he wouldn’t have too much of any issue linking play if deployed up top for the Gunners.
Dennis is also boasting similar pressing numbers to Lacazette, with the Watford star managing 167 pressures in the attacking third this season, compared to Lacazette’s 163.
Therefore, the numbers do indicate that Dennis is a better goalscorer than Lacazette who can also create plenty of opportunities for those around him.
Will he be the man Arsenal look to in the summer? He could certainly be a cheap option if Roy Hodgson’s side go down.
Watch: Lionel Messi’s top 10 greatest goals of all time
Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo’s top 10 greatest goals of all time