Mikel Arteta has a dilemma to solve when it comes to the centre forward position at Arsenal.
He currently has five players capable of playing in the role, of which three have committed their futures to the club for the long-term – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Folarin Balogun and Gabriel Martinelli.
The selection headache looks set to be eased somewhat by the impending departure of Eddie Nketiah, but the questions over Alexandre Lacazette’s future remain unanswered.
The Frenchman has just one year left on his deal, with his future uncertain, but from some of the Gunners’ early games in pre-season, it looks as though a decision may already have been made.
Aside from the 4-4-2 they set up in against Hibernian, which can largely be disregarded as a fitness exercise, Arsenal have played in a 4-2-3-1 their warm-up matches so far.
While Arteta has previously suggested that his dream formation is a 4-3-3, the Spaniard revealed in an interview last year that there are other factors which are more important in his team selection than starting positions.
“For me the way we occupy space and who is going to move in there is more important than the formation,” he told DAZN.
This was on full display in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Milwall, where the front line was constantly interchanging its positions.
Perhaps the best example was for Balogun’s goal.
The Hale Ender came on the second half as a left-winger, but drifted infield to the centre forward position to latch onto Willian’s through ball, before eventually scoring the Gunners’ fourth of the day from just over the right-hand side of the penalty box.
There were plenty of other occasions where this was on display. For instance, in the first half, Nketiah’s golden headed chance came as he drifted into the six-yard box from a left-wing starting position, with Aubameyang – the starting number nine for the day – peeling off to the left to create more space for him.
Nicolas Pepe could also be seen coming central at times, while Emile Smith Rowe was frequently spotted picking up the ball over on the right-wing.
Starting positions are little more than just that for Arteta, who prefers to have a positionally interchangeable front line.
This makes them more difficult for opposition defenders to track as we often see with Arteta’s mentor Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, who regularly doesn’t even play a centre forward, instead often preferring a false nine.
This creates something of a problem for Lacazette, who despite starting his career as a winger, lacks the mobility to play the role of the positionally versatile striker his manager seems to want.
It is perhaps for this reason why Arsenal haven’t opened discussions over a long-term contract extension with the Frenchman this summer, and are willing to let him leave for the right price, with Atletico Madrid having reportedly submitted a £13million bid.
That is not to say that Lacazette doesn’t have anything to offer the Gunners.
He was the club’s top scorer last season and looks set to continue that form into this campaign if the excellent display against Milwall is anything to go by.
The 30-year-old is also a great influence on Arsenal’s young dressing room, with Smith Rowe, Balogun and Bukayo Saka among the many youngsters to have publicly highlighted his welcoming approach.
It is perhaps for this reason the decision has been taken to continue to involve him in pre-season prepartions.
As previously mentioned he was involved against Milwall. Joe Willock, Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac, who have all also been linked with a move away from the Emirates, were not.
However, as Arteta looks to move closer towards his perfect Gunners side he knows that ruthless decisions will have to be made. Lacazette it seems, despite his popularity, could end up being a casualty of the tactical progress the Spaniard wants to see.
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Source by Football London