When Mikel Arteta decided to alienate Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang from the Arsenal squad, he took the boldest decision of his managerial career yet.
This is not a coach who is afraid to make a bold call, also sending the likes of Mesut Ozil packing during his short time in north London. However, both decisions have seen the Gunners come out the other side a better team.
Martin Odegaard has settled in extremely well in England as his natural heir behind the striker, with only Trent Alexander-Arnold creating more chances than the Norwegian midfielder since the back end of November.
Meanwhile, since Aubameyang was given the freedom to join Barcelona, Arsenal are one of the most in-form sides in Europe.
Although Arteta’s men were given a reality check against Liverpool on Wednesday evening, their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is still in their hands.
They have two games in hand but there is a sense that their top-four hopes rest on how clinical they can be.
That’s where the Aubameyang topic becomes a bit controversial. Without their former captain, they do lack a cutting edge up top and after missing out on Dusan Vlahovic in January, a big opportunity to strengthen got away from them.
Yet, in Alexandre Lacazette, they have a player who is proving to be a pivotal cog in Arteta’s well-oiled machine. In the words of Albert Sambi-Lokonga, he has been “bringing the fire” to the team ahead of a crucial stage of the campaign.
The Frenchman has only scored twice in his last 11 Premier League fixtures but in that time has registered seven assists. That makes the Arsenal skipper the joint sixth-most creative player in the top-flight this season, showing that he does offer plenty to the team.
Indeed, strikers who give more of a creative threat have been all the range over the last few seasons with Roberto Firmino making a living out of being the supply line to Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
Parallels can easily be drawn between the Brazilian and Lacazette who is so often the man that the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe look to in order to feed them chances.
Speaking about the 30-year-old following the club’s 2-0 win over Leicester last weekend, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp went as far as to compare him to Harry Kane’s playstyle too.
Redknapp concluded: “Sometimes you just need that player to show and bring people in to play, but it only works if you have pace going the other way because Lacazette does not have that.”
Although the former Lyon attacker lacks the same cutting edge he had in front of goal before joining Arsenal, he still offers plenty and should Arteta’s team clinch top four in May, he will have played a vital part.
Compared to players in the same position across Europe’s top five leagues in the last year, Lacazette ranks in the top 5% for assists per 90 (0.33), the top 10% for shot-creating actions (3.36), the top 14% for through balls per 90 (0.19) and in the top 13% for successful pressures (29.7%).
What that tells us is that the £46.5m signing provides the side with an awful lot more than just goals, something that is difficult to replace and ultimately why Aubameyang received the axe.
Kane is quite clearly the better centre forward but when comparing the numbers mentioned above, Arsenal’s number 9 performs more shot-creating actions and applies more successful pressures of the ball per 90 minutes than the Spurs striker.
Lacazette also makes more passes that lead to a shot (1.43 per 90) and completes more passes into the 18-yard box over the same period of time than Kane.
Therefore, the only areas that let Arsenal’s main striker down is, of course, his finishing and ability to progress play when running with the ball.
Once upon a time, an attacker was paid simply to put the ball in the back of the net but if modern football has taught us anything, it’s that every position on the pitch is constantly changing.
To be a goalkeeper you now need to pass well, to be a full-back you need to have good technical ability and possess the quality to put the ball in the box, and as a striker, you need to be able to link the play, something the likes of Kane and Firmino do perfectly.
Lacazette too has benefitted enormously from the changing nature of modern football but at the same time, his lack of natural instinct inside the penalty area could well cost him his place at the Emirates.
His contract expires at the end of the season and despite his efforts, it would be a surprise if either party deemed him staying on as the correct verdict.
As much as his hold up play and creativity benefits Arsenal, they need someone who can also score consistently.