“At the moment, no,” he said at London Colney shortly ahead of last weekend’s win against West Ham. “I think we need to have control with our possession, with the positioning on the pitch, with more players inside. And we need balance between our attacking and defensive moments.”
It has not taken Emery long to revise that opinion. Against Cardiff on Sunday he decided to ease off the handbrake, handing Lacazette his first start of the season in a central role, with Aubameyang deployed out on the left wing. And the Frenchman did not disappoint, assisting Arsenal’s second goal, scoring the third and leading the line excellently throughout.
Lacazette’s pedigree is hardly a secret. He arrived at The Emirates last summer in a then club record £46.5m deal, having fostered a reputation at Olympique Lyonnais as an exceptionally versatile striker, as adept at holding the ball up as using his pace to run in behind defenders and finish from close-range. And although his first season in English football has largely been written off as underwhelming, he still managed to score an impressive 17 goals.
But under Emery Lacazette has been made to wait for his chance, with Aubameyang starting as the central striker in Arsenal’s opening three games. The game against Cardiff was therefore a precious opportunity for Lacazette — and one he grasped with both hands.
It wasn’t just his winning goal — a vicious close-range finish struck with some confidence beyond the hapless Neil Etheridge — that caught the eye. His dogged hold-up play also proved crucial, with Lacazette repeatedly retaining possession in the final third, before releasing one of Arsenal’s support runners into play on the counter-attack.
And then there was his link-up play, something else that an in-form Lacazette does so well. Arsenal’s second goal perfectly illustrated this side to his game. Rather than attempting to hold onto Mesut Ozil’s inch-perfect through ball, Lacazette instead flicked the ball instinctively to Aubameyang, who afforded himself a quick glance at goal before curling home the finish.
It was a sublime and significant goal that further hinted at the abundant potential of the £106.5m strike partnership. Aubameyang has already spoken this season of his fondness for playing alongside Lacazette, and the pair’s clever movement and neat passing was a heady antidote to Arsenal’s staggering lack of cohesion and identity at the back.
Emery recognises this, choosing not only to praise Lacazette’s individual performance in his post-match press conference, but also the impact his inclusion had on Aubameyang.
“I’m very pleased,” he said. “I know that [Lacazette] has a big capacity to score in the box when the team gives him good options and good chances, because he has very good data to score. And today he showed us. It’s good for his confidence, this match, his goal, this victory for the team.
“They were playing together in pre-season and they are playing minutes in each match and then today they started. We are continuing to work on the combinations and also keep our mentality and our ideas. But today I think the two players scored goals and helped us.”
Simply put: Lacazette and Aubameyang are not competing for just one place in Emery’s team. They are a combination, with Aubameyang even more effective when constantly released into possession by Lacazette. Both men emerge with credit from an admittedly streaky victory, and it would be a considerable surprise if Lacazette was to disappear from Arsenal’s starting line-up against Newcastle.
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