Mikel Arteta says he likes what Alex Lacazette brings to the team but admits the Frenchman has endured a ‘difficult’ season so far.
After scoring 19 goals and making 13 assists in 3,327 minutes last season, the Frenchman was rightly voted the club’s player of the year. Popular on the terraces and hard-working on the pitch, he looked to be delivering on his big price tag.
2019/20 has been very different. He carried an ankle problem into the season which eventually ruled him out for a few games and on his return he looked rusty leading the line in a side that was starting to fall apart. Having been a mainstay of Unai Emery’s starting lineups, he was less fancied by Freddie who started him on the bench for three games in a row.
Mikel Arteta initially gave Lacazette plenty of opportunities – he started the first seven games of the Spaniard’s tenure – but after failing to score in any of them, it was little surprise when he turned to other options.
Even before the Covid-19 lockdown, Eddie Nketiah was increasingly preferred from the off and that continued on Wednesday at Manchester City when football made its return. More time on the bench has led to more speculation about his future with Atletico Madrid – long-standing admirers – said to be weighing up a move.
So what does the boss make of Lacazette? Does he have a future at the club? And how do you rebuild a player’s confidence? Those were the questions posed in his pre-Brighton press conference.
“Alex is a player that I always liked,” said Arteta. “He’s the type of striker who can do a bit of everything.
“He’s very talented at combining and linking with each other. The work rate and the way he competes for every ball, it’s rare to find [that] in a striker. And then he has this ability to put the ball in the back of the net when he’s in front of goal.
“It has been a difficult season for him and not just for him but for other players too. We’ve been trying to manage that. He had a lot of continuity with me but he had a spell where he was finding it difficult to score goals.
“In the last few weeks (before lockdown) he looked much better and was a threat and he scored some important goals as well. I want to give him confidence, game time.
“I think the way he came on against City in a really difficult scenario, he showed a lot of willingness to help his teammates and team…I am happy for him. We have two strikers that have to fight for their places and I want that type of competition within the squad.”
He added: “Everybody needs it [confidence] and a striker probably more than any other player on the pitch.
“At the end, confidence is related to the amount of goals they score per minutes. At the end, they can do everything very good but they get judged on the amount of goals they are scoring.”
It seems strange to be saying it, given how important he was last season, but if we’re looking to raise funds this summer to reinvest in other areas or contract extensions, Lacazette seems like a decent candidate. His current deal ends in 2022 which means we’ve got some leverage with interested parties and he’s still got a few years ahead of him.
Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to a squad rebuild, not least the future of his good pal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Like so many players in the squad, there’s an air of uncertainty over their future and that’s far from ideal with important games to come.