Arsenal Making Transfer Moves But Are They The Right Ones?



Image Credit: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images 

Written by: StatsBomb

The big six in the Premier League were unusually active in the transfer market this January, with each of them spending big on new talent. Liverpool and Manchester City concentrated on their defence with the signings of Virgil van Dijk and Aymeric Laporte, while a rare swap deal saw Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan switch clubs and land at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively. Chelsea once more raided manager Antonio Conte’s homeland to sign Emerson Palmieri from Roma while Ross Barkley’s future was finally decided as he joined up from Everton. Lastly, Tottenham took advantage of Paris Saint Germain’s summer purchases of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to hoover up Brazilian Lucas Moura.

Possibly the most dramatic storyline from the final days involved a striker merry-go-round. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completed a huge deal from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal, which caused a surplus at the Emirates and the departure of fan favourite Olivier Giroud to rivals Chelsea, while their unsettled front man, Michy Batshuayi, plumped for a loan move to Dortmund and the circle was complete.

The decision from Arsenal to sign another striker mere months on from breaking their transfer record on Alexandre Lacazette raised eyebrows, as did the arrival of both Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - who previously paired up at Dortmund - shortly after the arrival at Arsenal of former Dortmund transfer guru, Sven Mislintat. Following the decision to move stalwart Theo Walcott on to Everton, and following the loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the summer, change at Arsenal has been swift and extensive.

Have Arsenal have decided to pursue a “you can’t have too many good players” strategy and loaded up their forward line? Talk of Mesut Özil signing on for a further three seasons would mean Arsenal’s attack featured two elite creators in Özil and, if he can find his form, Mkhitaryan and two elite strikers in Lacazette and Aubameyang. Regardless, by recruiting the two strikers (each record signings on arrival) there will be an expectation to get them both playing, and a real difference in how Arsenal shape up in attack in a post-Sanchez world.

Last season, Arsene Wenger moved to incorporate Alexis Sanchez as his main central striker, and Olivier Giroud became marginalised, with most of his impact from the bench. This looked like a shift away from a system in which Arsenal’s attackers pivoted and worked off a physically strong focal point. As we can see here from Sanchez's shot location maps, the arrival of Lacazette this season returned Sanchez to a more left sided role and his shot locations suffered.

Sanchez bagged 11 goals from central and close positions last season and missed few chances from there, while this time round he scarcely entered these kind of positions and his shooting was skewed significantly towards deeper and wider positions.

In his place, Lacazette has performed relatively well as the central striker without really hitting a hot streak. His eight non-penalty goals have come against a goal expectation (xG) of around ten but in his time at Lyon he was a reliable penalty box finisher, if not so much the type of player that will crash the six yard box looking to poach. We can see from his performance radar that he is a forward with a variety of skills. Alongside his goalscoring, he is well involved in advanced passing and creativity, while also a capable dribbler:

This versatility in his game may be what keeps him in the first team with Aubameyang surely a lock for the main starting role. Over the years, we have seen Arsene Wenger use Danny Welbeck in a variety of attacking positions and not just as a central striker, and it’s possible that he sees Lacazette’s skill set as versatile enough to move out of the centre. However, although Lacazette spent time in wide and supporting attacking roles earlier in his career, you have to go back to his 2013-14 season with Lyon to see him line up there with any regularity.

Why can’t Aubameyang move out from the centre?

This seems more unlikely due to the nature of the Gabon international’s game. He is far more of a typical striker with goals overwhelmingly his primary function. He will crash the six yard box and make deep runs. If we look at his performance radar, we see huge spikes around everything related to shooting and scoring and far lower marks for passing and general creativity:

Aubameyang is perhaps more of an aerial threat than Lacazette, and in that regard may well allow Arsenal to come full circle in their attacking intent. Giroud’s last season as Arsenal’s first choice goalscorer was 2015-16 where he scored sixteen league goals, seven of which were headers. Lacazette has never scored more than two headers in a league season and while Aubameyang hasn’t managed one this season, he notched ten headers across the previous two campaigns.

That 2015-16 season was also a spectacular year for Mesut Özil, who created 19 assists - seven of which were for Giroud. He may well be relishing the idea of linking up with Aubameyang and having an elite finisher with aerial prowess to aim at once more.

Arsenal have splashed big money to once more upgrade their attacking options, but their vulnerabilities further back on the pitch have been exposed frequently this season, particularly away from home. With these issues unaddressed in the transfer window, it might be left to Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Özil to outfox and outscore the opposition if Arsenal are to get their season back on track.

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