Mikel Arteta is backing Alex Lacazette to find his scoring boots in the closing stages of the season after handing the Frenchman the captaincy armband and the responsibility of leading Arsenal’s attack.
Having started the season playing second fiddle to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the 30-year-old, in the aftermath of his close friend’s bust-up with the manager, has become a fundamental piece of the Gunners jigsaw.
Far from prolific in front of goal, it’s a turn of events few would have predicted last summer and a situation that looks all the odder given the player is into the final months of a five-year contract with the club.
Despite the noise about his future – former club Lyon have already gone public with their desire for a reunion – Lacazette retains the faith of Arteta.
“He has a really important role in the team,” said Arteta ahead of Thursday’s game with Wolves.
“Off the field and on it. He has been unlucky because he has had the chances to score as well, some goals in the last few weeks.
“He needs to continue to do that, to generate those chances for his team-mates, to be in front of goal in the positions we ask him to be in. The goals will come.
He added: “We have to live with those expectations. He knows as a striker what is demanded of him, and that is to be involved in goals and the chance creation of the team.”
While Lacazette’s hold up play, willingness to drop deep and experience are useful, there’s no hiding that his output in the box is sorely lacking. This season he’s scored five goals in 24 matches; that’s once every 287 minutes, almost exactly half the rate he was scoring at last season. We need more.
For the moment, it sounds like he’ll keep getting picked although it was interesting to hear Arteta say he’s tempted to start all four of Gabi Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard at some point.
On a separate note, the issue of the Arsenal captaincy also came up in the manager’s press conference. We’re certain no other club gets pressed on this quite so much but after some on-field confusion during last week’s win over Brentford when Granit Xhaka refused to take the armband after Lacazette was substituted, Arteta was forced to clarify the situation.
“It [the captaincy] is defined and Granit said to Eddie that he [Kieran Tierney] is next in line and that is why he gave it to Kieran. I think Kieran was really proud of it.
“Rob [Holding] is there as well, as the second one when he is playing. It is not easy. I understand it’s confusing. But you have to understand we have a lot of issues and more captaincy issues…I guarantee that is not what we need.”
He added: “There will be a thorough process in the summer, when we have time, when we have no competitions. We will do it the right way, the way I want to do it.”
In some respects, the comments raise more questions than answers. Just a few weeks ago, Arteta specifically namechecked Xhaka and Lacazette as his two leaders.
Since then the Frenchman has been given the armband outright and now Xhaka is down the pecking order in fourth. Hmm…