Alan Smith on Arsenal strikers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette futures plus next striker ‘big call’


From the futures of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah to who could be the next star striker, Sky Sports’ Alan Smith reflects on the striking situation at Arsenal…

Earlier this week, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta stripped Aubameyang of the club captaincy following a disciplinary breach that saw him miss out on Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Southampton.

The striker continued to be absent during the midweek victory against West Ham, with Arteta saying that there were no further Aubameyang updates.

Although goals have not been an issue for the Gunners in Aubameyang’s absence, there seems to be an opening for a new striker at the Emirates.

Here, Smith covers the futures of Arsenal’s current forwards and who could be the next in at the club, including a possible target in Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin…

‘A difficult road back for Aubameyang at Arsenal’

It looks a difficult road back for Aubameyang at Arsenal.

When you do what you do to the captain of the club, and from the outside looking in, quite rightly Arteta has done it.

You wonder what Aubameyang’s state of mind will be now. It didn’t seem great in the first place in terms of his confidence out on the pitch.

I still think he’s got about 18 months left on his deal and I’m sure at this point Arteta would like to sell him, but somebody on £350,000-a-week is going to be virtually impossible to move on, unless they do what they did with Mesut Ozil and give him a shed load of money and he’d have to accept less money elsewhere.

It’s a problem and a problem Arteta didn’t need, but now it’s a big challenge for Arsenal to rebuild their attack and it is going to depend on some very clever and inspired recruitment.

Despite the Auba news, was the rebuild of the attack coming anyway?

Yes. Aubameyang wasn’t producing and that’s been the case for a while. It’s not like it’s been a blip over the course of five to 10 games. He’s not looked himself for a long time.

Lacazette also looks like he’s going to be leaving the club and Arsenal need to be looking at some younger talent in the striker position.

So, the striker position looks to be a gaping hole in the squad that needs to be filled, no matter what happened with Aubameyang and happens with the other strikers in the squad.

I’m sure they are very busy in the recruitment department, the analysts and others scouring the world to see what is out there.

What I would say about Arsenal is that their recruitment department seems to be much more efficient now and more successful when you look at Takehiro Tomiyasu, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga. Ben White has also come into his own, albeit for £50m, but the other lads were relatively cheap and they seem to be buying better in general.

Of course, it’s harder to do that when it comes to a striker because everyone is after that next striker at a decent price, so they are going to have to be sharp in the transfer market.

Will Auba’s future be resolved in January?

It’s going to be difficult. Not many clubs have the kind of money that would be needed for his wages, first and foremost, and especially for a player who is not hitting the back of the net.

Why would you gamble on somebody, no matter what his reputation is from the past, who is not producing at the moment and pay big money? That’s why it is going to be really difficult.

Arteta will surely want to try and get him back into the team, and I think he’s got to try and do that.

He’s got to use his man-management skills and they are one of the things that have needed improving since he’s taken over at Arsenal, because he didn’t really have any initially because he’d never been a manager.

So, it’s this kind of thing he’s got to show a talent for, if you like, in terms of bringing somebody back into the fold, making him feel wanted and explaining his reasons for dropping him, but still saying we value you as a player.

It’s a bit embarrassing for Aubameyang, maybe a bit humiliating but I’ve never really seen him as a captain. I wonder if he’s ever really seen himself as a captain. In a way it might be a little bit of a relief and he can just try and concentrate on finding a little bit of form.

But, for Arteta, it is arm around the shoulder time to try and get Aubameyang back on side over the next few weeks.

What type of striker do you think Arsenal need now?

A good one!

In this day and age, you want one with pace, somebody capable of operating through the middle on his own, somebody with a good all-round game that holds the ball up and can work the channels.

Arteta has settled into a certain style and system which does normally involve a striker playing on his own through the middle and operating in front of a No 10.

There will be some young talent out there and across Europe especially and let’s hope they can make a good choice.

They’ve got creative forces behind the front man in Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka but if you can’t put the ball in the back of the net at the end of it all you are going to struggle.

It’s a big call for Arsenal. It’s a big moment in Arteta’s management at Arsenal and it will be a big factor in where he goes from here.

Are the creative players in the Arsenal squad a help in signing a striker? Does it appeal to someone coming in?

If you are making runs and you are confident a team-mate is going to see that run and try and find it, that gives you more confidence to keep making those runs.

If you feel it is all a bit dull and lethargic behind you, you are going to lose a bit of enthusiasm, but any striker wants to be on the end of good passes and there’s certainly a potential at Arsenal for the striker to have that.

So, it is a plus point in trying to bring someone in for that important centre-forward position.

‘A big moment for Arteta, Edu and the owners’

You are going to be buying potential so it’s going to be a gamble of sorts. An educated guess maybe. When it comes to bringing somebody in, in any position, you never quite know.

You are probably asking somebody to make a big step up to the Premier League, but this is where I think Arteta would back his own ability to coach and improve that player, that young player you’d imagine coming in and trying to acclimatise to what is required at Arsenal and in the Premier League.

It’s about having those raw ingredients in a player and getting somebody in who can develop into a top-class Premier League striker.

I’m sure he won’t be a ready-made player that comes in when he arrives, but I don’t think there has ever been any doubt about Arteta’s coaching abilities.

Sometimes his managerial abilities have been questioned but I think he’s gaining confidence in that direction all the time as well. We’ve seen that with his decisiveness on Aubameyang.

It’s certainly going to be a big decision, however, and it will be fascinating to see who they go for in the end.

There’s a lot of talk about Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but he won’t come cheap. Whether they’ve got that kind of money, I don’t know.

What about what they’ve got inside the club at the moment?

There’s a lot more to come from (Gabriel) Martinelli, without question.

He’s had a difficult spell over the last year or 18 months or so. He had his injury, of course, and maybe his confidence has taken a hit, but he has come back into the fold and playing somebody like that out on the left is a way of bringing them back into the team.

There’s not quite so much responsibility in terms of leading the line and being the main goal threat.

Maybe in time he will become a central striker, we’ll have to wait and see on that one, but you think back to when he burst onto the scene, he was a revelation. I remember the game at Stamford Bridge where he ran half the length of the pitch and scored with a calm finish.

There’s a big talent in there for sure, and that shouldn’t be ignored or discarded. I’m sure it won’t be.

I don’t know about (Eddie) Nketiah. He’s always struck me as a poacher-type striker.

He’s still young, though, and whether he can lead the line week in, week out is another matter. Is his all-round game good enough for that at the moment? I don’t think it is, at the moment. It might develop into something more, but he might end up being one of those players you sell, and he knocks a few goals in elsewhere.

He’s certainly got a poacher’s eye for goal, but with his contract it is not an easy situation. They certainly need one, but maybe two strikers coming into the club in the not-too-distant future.

Could Lacazette get a new deal? Or is it time to move on from him too?

The policy in recent times has been to go with youth and if they did give Lacazette a contract, I don’t think it would be a three-year deal.

Much will depend on what they are confident of bringing in. Maybe they have earmarked somebody, and they are confident of bringing him in. In that case they may feel they can let Lacazette go.

It’s a difficult one again because you don’t want to be saddled with a 30-year-old-plus player that is past his best and on good money.

It’s something they will have to, and will, think long and hard about.

What about Folarin Balogun? Should he get a chance or is a loan deal the right move for him?
I would say a loan move is the right call for Balogun.

They see so much that we don’t and how he is during training consistently and a player like that, if he could go to a Premier League side ideally, and get regular football, that would aid his development no end.

Even Championship football would be good for him at this stage because the step up from youth and reserve team football is very big.

In his case, it looks like Arteta doesn’t feel he’s quite ready yet, so a loan move would probably be a help to him and to Arsenal. Maybe the time is now right, and they can get something sorted for him this January.

Would Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s physical style be good at Arsenal? Or will it a pacier striker?

I wouldn’t say Calvert-Lewin is an ideal fit for Arsenal. In many ways he’s an old-fashioned centre-forward and he loves balls being swung into the box and there’s not many better at getting his head to the ball and attacking it.

That’s not particularly Arsenal’s game. It can be when they get the full-backs forward and you can imagine Kieran Tierney whipping in crosses from the left towards him.

But he’s not immediately what I would think of as an Arsenal centre-forward at the moment but look at how well Olivier Giroud did over the course of his Arsenal career. You adjust according to the player that you’ve got up top.

Calvert-Lewin is young, there’s more to come from him and maybe we haven’t seen everything he can do at Everton. If he’s asked to do different things, potentially at Arsenal, be a little bit more intricate in his build-up play, he might have that in his game or even add it to his game.

You wouldn’t say he’s the quickest centre-forward around, but he’s not slow by any means.

He’s just not the kind of centre-forward I’d immediately think of when it came to an Arteta striker, but I know he is someone they are considering, looking at and wondering perhaps whether they can get hold of him.

In terms of his movement, maybe Ollie Watkins is a striker I’d have thought Arsenal would look at, but are they looking at him? I’m not sure Steven Gerrard would be letting him go in a hurry.

However, that kind of mobile central striker that will really threaten in behind defenders, perhaps, is a bit more like it.

There is nothing like having a centre-forward as a focal point, though. Lacazette, when he’s been on it, has been really useful to the team and Calvert-Lewin could be in that way as well.

Is there any benefit of getting a proven Premier League striker over potential from Europe?

Getting a proven Premier League striker is big bucks. Do Arsenal have that kind of cash?

If they did fork out £60m or £70m it stops them from strengthening other areas of the team in the transfer market. They’d be putting all their eggs in one basket.

I’d probably guess they’d go down the road of a younger player from Europe.

Somebody like Dusan Vlahovic, who still won’t be cheap, could fit the bill.

I’m sure the analysis team at Arsenal are looking at all the stats to see who would be suitable and maybe a little bit cheaper as well.

Like I said before, a lot of clubs are after that type of striker so let’s hope Arsenal can be clever and quick in the transfer market. They’ll need to be.

Final thoughts…
If Arsenal have got a target and they think they can get him, I could see Lacazette leaving. With Nketiah, Arteta has had long enough to evaluate him and perhaps he hasn’t quite done enough.

But then, you are losing two strikers and you are not going to discard players without being able to get a replacement in. so it all depends on that.

As we all know it’s really difficult to do this sort of business in January.

I would hazard a guess this was all planned for the summer, unless they’ve got something lined up or they feel they’ve been forced into action. But my guess would be that this will wait for the summer.

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Author: Arnold Watts