Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette is a big fan of statistics. He's not the most data-savvy player but in his constant search for improvement and how to become a better player, he's taking more of an interest.
A few days ago, a friend showed him a graph about the Premier League's most involved goal scorers -- simply put, the centre-forwards who are taking a significant part in their team's build-up play (or not) and who also have chances to score (or not). Alongside Wolves' Raul Jimenez, the Frenchman is the No. 9 in the Premier League with the highest mix of involvement in his team's play and chances, ahead of even Roberto Firmino, for example.
Lacazette is a key part in the way Arsenal build their attacks. He's used a lot with his back to goal to hold the ball up or in transition to help create space, either with the ball or without the ball, for his teammates. Against Sheffield United on Saturday, it was Lacazette's great through-ball for Nicolas Pepe that led to a cross and a chance for Gabriel Martinelli. It was him again slotting the ball first time for Bukayo Saka on the left-hand side to cross for Martinelli to score the opener.
From Day 1 since being unveiled as Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta has been very clear: a lot of the Gunners' patterns of play going forward would be built around Lacazette's movement and touch. In a sense, scoring goals is easy if you get good delivery, but being able to score, assist others and also link play is much harder. Players who can do it all are exceedingly rare.
Despite Arsenal's position in mid-table, Lacazette is one of the most complete strikers in England at the moment, so it's come as a surprise that some fans are criticising him for a lack of goals. He's gone seven games since he last found the back of the net, an unwelcome streak -- and one he wishes wasn't still ongoing -- but he has a far more important role to play for this Arsenal side in transition than simply finishing attacking moves. Without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is suspended for two more games following his red card vs. Crystal Palace, Lacazette has even more responsibilities. He wore the captain's armband against Sheffield United and could wear it again on Tuesday at Chelsea.
Speaking of Chelsea, Arsenal's last meeting with the Blues on Boxing Day, which Arsenal lost 2-1 in the last 10 minutes, is a perfect game to highlight Lacazette's full body of work. The former Lyon forward Lacazette played 90 minutes, had no shots, no assists and no passes leading to a shot. Yet he played a key part in everything good Arsenal did for an hour, before dipping in intensity like the rest of his team down the stretch.
Since the arrival of Arteta, Lacazette's expected goals tally are lower than they were under Unai Emery, because he is far more involved in build-up play and not just there to convert chances made for him. His movements are taking him away from the goal so he can play a more active role.
In the Premier League this season, Lacazette has five goals and two assists after 16 games. His expected goals are 4.21 and 1.98, which means he's basically scoring the chances that he should be scoring, though if you look at it, not many chances are actually coming Laca's way. In comparison, Aubameyang has 14 league goals, outscoring his xG by almost 4 (10.25). Without his best friend Aubameyang on Saturday, he seemed a bit more isolated too, which could be the case once again at Chelsea on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Mikel Arteta is very happy with his striker, who, let's not forget it, was named Arsenal's Player of the Season last year after scoring 13 goals and giving eight assists in the league.
"I am very happy with his performances and the way he contributes to the team. He is setting goals for the rest, creating situations for his teammates. His work in possession is phenomenal. He is a very important player for me. We just need to put him in the best position to score again. Scoring is the best medicine for a striker," Arteta said before the Sheffield United game.
Contrary to the critics and questions around Arsenal during this public and difficult rebuild, Lacazette is not in need of any medicine for his scoring drought. He's thriving in his new role under Arteta, but the Gunners could use his goals in the coming weeks.