It has been a great season for Arsenal, as they close in on a return to the Champions League. There will be a lot of decisions to be made this summer, as Mikel Arteta continues to shape the squad in his image. A key one will be whether to renew the contract of Alexandre Lacazette or not. His contract expires at the end of the season, but he has played a prominent role in recent months. The departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubamyang has left the Gunners with few options to play as the centre forward.
Lacazette has benefitted from the certainty of starts, as he is finding good rhythm in attack. Although he hasn’t been a clinical goal-scorer, he offers a focal point and the supporting attacking cast have thrived as a result. One of the common patterns of play has been the Frenchman picking up the ball with his back to goal and creating a big chance by releasing an on-rushing team-mate. As he has developed, the striker has become a lot more effective at creating chances for others. He looks to be a good fit for the style Arteta is trying to coach.
A look at his goals and assists for the season underlines his change of role in the current Arsenal team. Lacazette has contributed four goals and seven assists in the Premier League this season. It could be the first league season since his signing that he doesn’t reach 10 Premier League goals. His consistency has been excellent and he is set to reach his highest figure for assists in the 2021/22 campaign.
It is only when you look deeper into his underlying metrics that a small decline is most evident. His non-penalty expected goals (npxG) per ninety minutes has decreased every year since his arrival. During the 2017-18 season, it peaked at 0.46. This season, he is 0.32 and the lowest ever in his Premier League career. This suggests he is getting into good goal-scoring positions less frequently on a yearly basis.
Some will argue there has been a change of role and that has had an impact, but Lacazette’s underlying numbers have been trending this way since his arrival.
Interestingly, his expected assists (xA) per ninety is the lowest it has been since his arrival from Lyon. Considering Lacazette could be set to finish with more assists than he has previously managed in a single campaign, this is surprising. This season, he is averaging 0.11 xA per ninety, the lowest of all five seasons in England.
The high number of assists Lacazette has accrued is more about good finishing than an improved ability to create chances. Although his xA per ninety hasn’t increased, the Frenchman’s shot creating actions has increased, with an average of 3.71 per ninety. This was 2.15 last year, which underlines the change in role.
It is strange that such a sharp increase in shot creating actions hasn’t led to an increase in xA. A common pattern of play is Lacazette laying the ball off with his back to goal to a midfielder to strike from range. This will be seen as a low xG chance, but Arsenal have good shooters from range. It could also be a result of Lacazette playing the pass before the pass leading to a shot. This would be included in his shot creating actions, but not the xA.
The coming weeks will be interesting to follow, as Arsenal seem to be leaning towards extending Lacazette’s contract. They have been burned twice before with the new deals given to Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. They won’t want to make the same mistake by giving the Frenchman a long contract on high terms.
However, he is currently playing a big role in the team and Arsenal’s squad is small. If they are to compete on multiple fronts, Lacazette could operate as a useful squad player. He understands the role Arteta wants in his system and it would be lower cost than a new signing, should the financial package be a reasonable one.
The main question lies in what Lacazette wants himself: if he is happy to agree to a less prominent role in the squad and a reasonable wage package, a new contract seems likely. If he wants to continue playing regularly or wants one final big contract, a move away is possible.
It is one to follow over the rest of the season.