He’s still technically an Arsenal player, but Lucas Perez – who is spending this season on loan at Deportivo La Coruna in Spain – is a forgotten man in England.
That’s partly because of the fact that the Spaniard didn’t exactly stand out during his season at the Emirates Stadium last year, and partly because it has seemed obvious for some time that he has wanted to return to his homeland rather than play (or sit on the bench) in the Premier League.
This season you could say it hasn’t worked for him either. Although Perez has appeared 33 times in La Liga this season, his Depor side have not thrilled and are instead already relegated to the Segunda Division. It’s unlikely that Perez will join them next year – above all, the money required to bring him from Arsenal to the Spanish second tier will probably be a stumbling block – and will have to rebuild his career elsewhere. A move to another club in Spain is clearly possible, but although Perez’s stock in England may be low, he could yet make his mark on the Premier League under the right manager.
That could well be at Arsenal. A new manager next season will reportedly have just £50m to spend this summer, a figure which is a far cry from the ‘war chest’ headlines thrown around every summer. That could be a tactic to prevent the Gunners overpaying when it finally comes time to splash the cash this summer, or it could be that the board simply don’t want to entrust a new manager with substantial funds straight after the departure of a manager who’s been there since the days when England had only one automatic Champions League place.
Repurposing Perez could make sense for a new manager if that’s the case.
But this could also be a chance for the Spaniard to find a new Premier League club – one where he might actually play some first team football. The obvious suitor should be Newcastle United.
The Magpies’ squad looked short on Premier League quality at the start of the season, and Rafael Benitez has worked wonders not just to keep his side out of danger at the wrong end of the table, but also to make his defence look like one which belongs at this level. Next season, perhaps a new recruit along the defensive line might be needed, but you get the feeling that it’s some extra firepower up front that will take Newcastle to the next level.
This season, Lucas Perez has scored seven goals and contributed with five assists in a team which has won just six league games all season and could well go down with just 29 points from a 38 game season (they have two games left, but both are against decent sides in Villarreal and Valencia).
It’s a decent return from an attacker who hasn’t had the best of seasons, but then it’s hard to play well in a team doing so badly. With a solid defence behind him and a bit more going on around him, he could well shine.
Perhaps the biggest bonus for Newcastle, though, would be the fact that Perez is versatile and can play anywhere along the front line. With a target-man style forward like Islam Slimani (whose contribution has been minimal, but you’d expect a similar kind of player to be on Benitez’s shortlist this summer) Perez can drop into a wider role to support, or he can play in a central attacking role when required.
A versatile attacker who is comfortable across the forward line and who contributes with both goals and assists is a rare commodity, and given Rafael Benitez’s ability to fashion a functioning Premier League team by playing to the strengths of the players at his disposal, you’d imagine he’d find the perfect way to get the best out of a player who clearly has talent, but who has had a thoroughly frustrating last few years.
If he could recapture the form that saw him score 17 goals and bag eight assists for Deportivo in the season before Arsenal signed him, he would certainly be a catch for most Premier League clubs.