The real story behind Alexandre Lacazette’s misses and his role in Arsenal’s Liverpool loss


As Alexandre Lacazette took his seat in Anfield’s Main Stand he could not hide his emotions. Arsenal’s No.9, usually so relaxed on the sidelines, seemed close to tears as he reflected on what might have been.

Indeed he may have allowed himself a brief moment of primal emotion, be it rage, self-pity or anything else, when he pulled his jersey over his face as cameras across the ground swivelled to observe him. Regardless of the truth of it, he seemed convinced that he had lost Arsenal the match.

He was not alone. ‘Supporters’ on social media rounded on a player who had scored in each of Arsenal’s three Premier League games so far this season, Roy Keane was saying on Sky that Lacazette had missed “huge opportunities that you have to take” whilst even referee Craig Pawson seemed unable to hide his surprise at seeing two chances go to waste.

No wonder. Those were the chances to earn Arsenal something out of a game in which they had been handed a thudding reminder of just how far off Liverpool’s pace they are.

And yet these were not gimmy chances and to assess Lacazette’s performance on those misses alone is to do the Frenchman a disservice, as Arteta himself noted.

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“Obviously he had the best chance in the game to make it 2-2, and then again put us in a really strong position, but he had a great game,” He put in another incredible performance and I’m pleased with him.

Monday’s defeat was a reminder of the curious space in which Arsenal’s No.9 exists, a striker who is both underappreciated for all that he does aside from putting the ball in the net but equally one who needs to bring half a dozen or more goals a season to truly live up to the £48million the Gunners invested in him three years ago.

For starters there was the goal, scruffily taken though it was after Andrew Robertson’s shanked clearance. But Lacazette has always brought more to the team than just his goal return, particularly when his team were out of possession.

The 29-year-old was diligent in his covering of space and in particular his tracking of Fabinho. Consistently placing himself between the ball and the Brazilian he earned Arsenal one of their first chances to attack in numbers in the seventh minute when he spotted Trent Alexander-Arnold’s attempt to work the ball infield, one of three interceptions he made on the night.

No-one had Arteta in their ear quite like Lacazette, whose every move was followed by a cry of “Laca” from the touchline. The Frenchman was constantly being pulled one way or another, attempting to close down Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez whilst simultaneously keeping Fabinho under wraps. Getting that right was crucial for Arsenal: if their centre-forward could keep Liverpool’s deep-lying playmaker under wraps then Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny would not be outnumbered in the middle of the park.

It was a task Lacazette carried out with some diligence and nowhere was that more evident than the build-up to the first of his misses.

Alexandre Lacazette tracks Fabinho’s run

Lacazette tracks Fabinho from inside the Liverpool half, snapping at his heels while the Liverpool midfielder advances to the edge of the area. One heavy touch and Arsenal’s No.9 is on hand to whip the ball back into his side’s possession, picking it up just inside his own box and squaring for Granit Xhaka to build an attack for the Gunners.

As the ball moves through Mohamed Elneny and on to Willian Lacazette has a great deal of ground to cover, perhaps explaining the tired nature of his finish but equally an insight into why Liverpool so struggled to pick up his late surge.

Lacazette leads the charge on Arsenal’s counter

After all whilst he had tracked Fabinho diligently neither the Brazilian nor Naby Keita, who had dropped back in to serve as Liverpool’s deepest midfielder, seemed to spot Lacazette’s burst forward. It was a well-judged run, one that caught Trent Alexander-Arnold on the back foot, with the Arsenal striker decelerating for only a moment. Not until Alisson had made the save was the official’s flag raised.

Because of the spurned chance VAR never needed to get involved in whether or not Lacazette had indeed been offside though it was certainly close.

A possibly offside Lacazette darts in behind the Liverpool line

As for the chance itself it was perhaps the tame nature of the finish, a half-chip that Alisson palmed away, that prompted such frustration among Arsenal supporters. It was the finish of a player who was not entirely certain what the right course of action was in that circumstance but his lofted effort may not have necessarily been the wrong one, more that it was poorly executed.

Alisson had burst forward quickly after Lacazette got in behind and had made himself big enough that neither side of the goal seemed particularly favourable for Lacazette, who had Virgil van Dijk quickly gaining ground behind him. The other option might have been to square the ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, lurking in the corner of the shot below, although it would have been a tough pass to find his team-mate in stride whilst also evading Alexander-Arnold.

Lacazette spurns his first chance of the second half against Liverpool

Had the chip just had more loft on it this might have been a goal that had supporters salivating over Lacazette’s impudence whilst hailing his sterling work to start the move in the first place. Such are the margins in elite sport.

There are, however, fewer factors that could be presented in Lacazette’s case for miss number two.

Dani Ceballos plays Lacazette in behind the Liverpool defence

Lacazette times his run well and on this occasion, with Alexander-Arnold playing him onside, there can be no intervention from the officials to save. What costs Arsenal dearly is their striker’s first touch.

It is at that moment that the chance goes from presentable to all the more difficult. Lacazette does not get the ball out from under his feet, does not create an angle for himself and doesn’t do anything that might surprise Alisson or his Liverpool defence.

As he controls the ball Lacazette has a vast expanse of space in which to operate yet he uses little of it, once more putting himself in a position where he will have to either curl the ball around Alisson or find another way over him.

It does not take great defending to make this chance more difficult for Lacazette, he does that all by himse,f.

Yet more advanced analysis of the game might question how easily taken these chances were.

According to Wyscout the combined expected goals tally of his three shots last night was 0.89xG. The two he missed were worth 0.21xG and 0.19xG.

That seems perhaps too generous but fbref, whose data from Statsbomb takes into account the positioning of the goalkeeper, says that the chances of him scoring the first chance was 0.4xG. Of course with the second attempt the xG numbers do not factor in Lacazette’s first touch.

In effect, the chance was better than the shot. Partly on that occasion and previously it comes down to Alisson’s swift reactions but with both misses you find yourself asking whether Lacazette could have manufactured a better position for himself.

This game is not necessarily out of the ordinary in terms of Lacazette’s career, one in which he has missed 33 big chances in the Premier League (though for balance it should be noted that Aubameyang has spurned 39 in a shorter space of time).

At his best Lacazette has scored excellent goals, often at crucial moments. One thinks of his impressive strikes against Tottenham, a brilliant free-kick against Napoli, the numerous occasions he has spun and scored from improbable angles at goalkeeper’s near posts.

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Yet he has not built quite the same back catalogue of what might be considered staple finishes for a number nine: runs in behind, calmly taken one-on-one goals and similar. Partly that is a function of Aubameyang’s presence, Lacazette does not score those because there is someone else to do so.

Equally the story of Lacazette’s Arsenal career has mostly been one of him subsuming himself to bring the best out of Aubameyang, a superior finisher. Since the club captain’s arrival his strike partner has rounded out his game, doing more defensive work and providing plentiful assists.

And yet the reality remains that being Arsenal’s No.9 and a £50million player brings with it certain expectations from supporters, managers and even from oneself. All three were in agreement as Eddie Nketiah entered the fray that next time these chances came along Lacazette simply must do better.





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