Yesterday morning I went out for my morning run in the pouring rain of Northumberland and I was listening to a post match podcast, which triggered some thoughts in me about Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The thoughts revolved around the fact people are talking about us playing 4-4-2 and also trying to work out what positioning Lacazette is playing in.
Auba’s role is nice and clear. He’s the goal-machine, the end-product merchant, the guy off the last man and as evidenced by Saturday’s disgraceful decision not to send off Johnny Evans, the guy who wants to play off the last shoulder. He may not have the same pace as four years ago, but he can still turn a man and his predatory instincts in the box remain the same. So it’s easier to define his role in the team and since the start of the season – thankfully – the whole ‘Auba out wide’ approach looks to have been largely dismissed by Arteta. I’m glad and I’m sure you are too; Aubameyang isn’t getting any younger and we can’t have a player who is spending his time chasing down balls out wide in the autumn of his career. If you think about the requirements of a player playing out wide, it just doesn’t make sense to have him there, because he’s not a ghuy who is going to weave in and out of players and he isn’t just going to drop a shoulder and kick and run beyond a defender out wide either.
Whether or not this new found approach is by accident or design interests me though, because as with a few instances in Arteta’s Arsenal managerial career, it doesn’t 100% feel like it to me. Remember when injuries and poor form forced Arteta to go for ESR and the impact it had at home to Chelski last Christmas? That turned in to a master stroke and Arteta needs huge props for taking the risk with that new side he adapted last Christmas, but it didn’t feel like he had that in his plan all along. So I’m wondering if the same is true about the current approach?
But then as I was running yesterday I started to think about Lacazette and trying in my head to work out what type of position he is playing. He’s not playing the more modern number 10 like Ozil, or Smith Rowe has played at times, because he isn’t drifting all over the pitch to collect the ball and be the link man. He does do a variation of that, but I feel like it is more centrally than anything else. The number 10s we’ve had in that position – even Odegaard if you think about his touches as he collects the ball wide right quite a lot – all seem to drift in to the wide positions more. I just had a quick look at a touch map of Lacazette’s and he collects the ball in lots of different positions, but it’s never too far out wide in either direction. So I don’t think he’s the Ozil/ESR/Odegaard number ten.
Nor is he the ‘little’ in a ‘little and large’ combo as a support striker. The distances between him and Auba are quite tight when we get the ball and it seems to be working having them close together, but I wouldn’t put him as the left forward to Auba’s right though, just in my opinion. So what is he?
Maybe he’s like a ‘false nine’ in our team, even though we are playing with an actual nine in our team with Aubameyang up top? Everyone is used to seeing the false nine with wide players who run beyond and provide that attacking threat. We’ve seen Pep lean in to it with his wide forwards, plus Firmino drops deeper to collect with Salah and Mane being the main goalscorers, but in this Arsenal team we play with Aubameyang as the clear central goalscoring point of attack. So maybe what Lacazette is doing is to play that position and maybe that is the best way to get something out of our two senior strikers when they are both on the pitch.
It is working right now and if this becomes a more consistent formation then that’s absolutely grand. But it is only a short term plan. It’s super short term if you consider that the AFCON is in January and Aubameyang will be off for January onwards. But it is also short term because Lacazette is likely off in the summer on a free and Aubameyang will have one year left on his deal and will be 33 in June. So if this is what Arteta is looking at as a new approach then he’s going to need to start thinking about who can play those two roles longer term.
Perhaps this is just a short term fix though? Or perhaps this was used for these two games because of the two opponents we were up against? Aston Villa and Leicester both went three at the back and there was a need to have both Auba and Laca picking up balls distributed from midfield, defence and also through those brilliant pinged passes from Ramsdale. It pulled one of the three out to man mark Lacazette as he dropped deep and meant we could move apart the central defenders. But in the second half Leicester pulled off a central defender for a more attacking player and went more direct with more numbers in the final third. We couldn’t really get much joy in the final third. More teams will have watched this and will be thinking about how to counter this approach with Arsenal and so perhaps Arteta will be mindful of this and has only used these players in this way for these two games?
I suspect he’ll give it another go against Watford because you don’t change a winning team, but Watford played with a 4-4-1-1 against Southampton and if they do the same against us at the Emirates then perhaps the approach that is needed will need to differ. In any event it will require some thinking on the best approach and I’m just pleased that we seem to have a group of players that can be shuffled in the team to adapt to an opponent. We have players in form like Lacazette and players like Odegaard who could come in and I think despite a poor couple of games will still be great for us if selected. The future is positiive and the way in which players are adapting to formation approaches by the manager is encouraging. But what do you think?
Catch you all tomorrow.