It was the most dispiriting moment yet of a dispiriting season for Alexandre Lacazette. With 74 minutes gone and Arsenal leading Sheffield United 1-0, Lacazette’s No 9 flashed up on the fourth official’s board.
Misfiring club-record signing Nicolas Pepe and teenager Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s goalscorer that afternoon, remained on. Lacazette trudged off the pitch, pausing to applaud the home supporters.
The man replacing him? Twenty-year-old Eddie Nketiah, recently recalled from a loan spell at Championship side Leeds over a lack of game time.
With his chasing and harrying of the opposition centre backs, the academy product offered more movement in his 14 minutes of action than Lacazette mustered in the 76 minutes before him.
It’s emblematic of where Lacazette is at the moment. The Frenchman has not scored since December 12th, in a Europa League dead rubber at Standard Liege. His last Premier League goal, just his fifth of the season, came in defeat to Brighton back on December 5th.
It’s been an exasperating campaign and it’s been visibly getting to the Frenchman.
Lacazette has cut a frustrated figure in 2019/20, throwing his arms towards the sky when he misplaces a pass, getting involved in petulant pushing matches with opponents.
His reaction to scoring Arsenal’s late equaliser against Southampton last month was telling. He barely raised a smile after tucking the ball away during the dark days of the Unai Emery era.
When it’s not going his way he can’t hide it. And that filters through to the supporters, his coach and his team-mates – who he labelled “naïve” after Arsenal conceded a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Sheffield United on Saturday.
It makes Arteta’s decision to appoint him as Arsenal captain in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s absence all the more puzzling.
“It’s a concern for me, if he’s concerned about it,” Arsenal’s coach said of Lacazette’s recent barren run. “In relation to his performances, I’m really happy.
“He’s setting up goals for the rest, he’s creating chances for the rest of his teammates, his work out of possession has been phenomenal.”
Despite Arteta’s comments, the seven games since his last strike has reaped one assist and three bookings.
It should be a concern for Lacazette. Admittedly in a team struggling to create chances, few and far between are coming his way. His first and only shot against Sheffield United was an off-target free-kick that immediately preceded his substitution for Nketiah.
And the ones that are falling to him, he’s failing to take. He missed a host of presentable chances in Arteta’s first game in charge at Bournemouth and failed to control a gift-wrapped opportunity in the win over Manchester United, his touch letting him down.
In the draw at Crystal Palace, Pepe’s shot rebounded off the post and fell to him. He hesitated, Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita closed him down and the chance was gone. It was the hallmark of a forward low on confidence in front of goal.
“You can help him by talking to him and giving him confidence, but that ball has to end up in the net,” Arteta continued on Lacazette. “I think that’s the best medicine for strikers. What we have to try to do is put Lacazette in positions where he can have as many opportunities to do that as possible during a game.”
It must be disconcerting to endure the worst run of form of his club career at the age of 28.
He scored 14 in 32 Premier League games in his first season in England, 13 in 35 appearances in his second. In 203 Ligue 1 appearances with Lyon he netted 100 times.
Lacazette’s form deserting him could hardly have come at a worse time for Arsenal given Aubameyang’s three-match suspension, the first of which was served against Sheffield United.
Arsenal’s dependency on Aubameyang is alarming. The Gabonese forward has netted 14 of Arsenal’s 30 league goals this season and without him, Arsenal’s need for goals becomes instantly more acute.
In fairness to Lacazette, no one else is scoring. Arteta has made Arsenal more defensively stable but has failed to revive their attacking threat.
More should be expected from £72million signing Pepe, with just three league goals this season. Mesut Ozil, Matteo Guendouzi, Reiss Nelson and Granit Xhaka have managed none between them. Centre backs David Luiz and Sokratis are joint-fourth top scorers with just two apiece.
Martinelli, who was playing in Brazilian regional football last season, appears Arsenal’s most potent threat and Arteta could well be tempted to deploy him through the middle against Chelsea at Lacazette’s expense.
Arsenal have got lucky despite their short-sighted decision to splash out £110m on two strikers within six months of each other.
Aubameyang’s willingness to play on the left to accommodate Lacazette and the pair’s close friendship off the pitch have meant it’s largely been an effective working relationship.
Yet even from the flank, Aubameyang has long since surpassed Lacazette as Arsenal’s primary goalscorer. Perhaps Lacazette has forgotten how to carry the burden like he did for so many years with his hometown club Lyon.
In seemingly permanent exile from international duty with France, with his Arsenal contract set to expire at the end of next season, now feels like a pivotal moment in Lacazette’s career.
On Tuesday evening, Arsenal travel to Chelsea in a match broadcast exclusively live on BT Sport. Lacazette scored against the Blues last season in a 2-0 victory – one of the highlights of Emery’s time in charge.
Yet that was at the Emirates where he seems to disproportionately enjoy his home comforts. Lacazette has scored 32 goals in 56 appearances at home but just 10 in 50 appearances on the road.
It averages out at 0.6 goals a game at home compared to 0.2 away, 2.8 shots per game at home yet only 1.5 per match away. His last Premier League away goal came over a year ago, in a 2-1 win at relegation-bound Huddersfield.
Tuesday represents another huge chance for Lacazette to play himself back into form. Should he start up front, the pressure will be on the Frenchman to deliver in the continued absence of Aubameyang as Arsenal bid to avenge last month’s home defeat to Chelsea.
Scoring away in the London derby could be just the ticket Lacazette, and Arsenal, need to get themselves out of this funk.