After enduring a difficult debut season at Arsenal, one that saw him play second-fiddle to Alexis Sanchez and then be essentially replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January, this could well be the campaign in which Alexandre Lacazette finally explodes into life in the Premier League.
Leading the line with Aubameyang out wide, the Frenchman was the star of the show as the Gunners made tough work of a trip to Cardiff City on Sunday – scoring, assisting and hitting the woodwork in a majestic Man of the Match performance.
With that in mind and Emery still very much trying to work out his strongest winning formula, we take a look at three potential consequences of Lacazette’s immense display…
Aubameyang started out on the left wing against Cardiff but as the game went on, and the Welsh side twice drew level, Arsenal’s two goalscorers became more and more of a natural front pairing, linking up to great effect in the final third. Playing two up top is a risky strategy in the Premier League these days because it leaves teams naturally outnumbered in midfield, but Lacazette and Aubameyang’s performance in tandem might just be enough to convince Emery it’s a gamble worth taking.
Although 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 remain potential options, the most plausible subsequent setup would appear to be a midfield diamond. Arsenal’s squad lacks natural wide players anyway, so removing them from the equation would solve an imbalance Emery’s inherited from Arsene Wenger, and it would also allow Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to do what they do best – bomb down the flanks.
If Lacazette and Aubameyang are starting together every week, then Emery will need some alternative options to fill the bench and give his strike partnership respite from time to time. While much of that remit will likely fall to Danny Welbeck, the only other experienced centre-forward in Arsenal’s first-team squad, his contract expires at the end of the season and Emery will be keen to look to the future, especially in the Carabao Cup and early stages of the Europa League.
Which paves the way for hugely promising youngster Eddie Nketiah to really make a name for himself this season after bursting onto the scene last term with an unexpected brace against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup. Quick, clinical in front of goal and seemingly with a good head on his shoulders, the 19-year-old could become a real star for the Gunners if he’s given the right opportunities.
Regardless of whether Emery opts for a diamond midfield or sticks with his 4-2-3-1 setup, Lacazette’s involvement pretty much rules out the chances of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan coexisting in the same starting XI, although recent team selections suggest Emery is already coming around to that way of thinking.
After all, while Aaron Ramsey can at least be trusted to do his fair share of work off the ball, even if his gallops into the box leave the Gunners a little too open at times, playing Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette across the attacking midfield hub is only asking for disaster – and if the Gunners gaffer does decide to switch to a diamond engine room, there simply won’t be room for two playmakers in it anyway.
Considering how much money both of those players are on and how tight spending is at the north London club right now, losing their place in the team could quickly result in a departure by the time January comes around. It is, after all, money Emery could be spending on other areas of the squad.