Why This Summer is Make or Break For Mikel Arteta at Arsenal
As another disappointing league season for Arsenal draws to a close, the club have some big decisions to make.
Assuming they stick with Mikel Arteta, the Spaniard faces a massive summer. It will be Arteta's fourth transfer window as Gunners boss and easily the biggest for the 39-year-old as he tries to return the glory days back to the Emirates.
The gloss from winning last season's FA Cup and the Community Shield at the start of this campaign are fading fast as the Gunners face their lowest finish in the Premier League since ending the 1994/95 season 12th.
One of the issues facing Arteta in shaping his squad for next season is who to put his trust in to score the goals to mount a challenge for the top four next season.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been the Gunners' leading scorer in the last two campaigns with a goal every 1.7 games since joining Arsenal in January 2018.
Alexandre Lacazette, who missed Sunday's 2-0 win at Newcastle because of a hamstring injury, has been the secondary striker with a goal every 2.5 games.
Lacazette has not been able to match the number of goals he scored at Lyon before moving to the Premier League in July 2017.
The 29-year-old scored 27, 21 and 28 league goals in his last three seasons in Ligue 1, but 14 in his first season at the Emirates remains his best return for Arsenal.
Lacazette's Arsenal Record
- 2017/18 - 14 goals, 4 assists
- 2018/19 - 13 goals, 8 assists
- 2019/20 - 10 goals, 4 assists
- 2020/21 - 13 goals, 2 assists
Lacazette's role in the team has come under scrutiny in recent months even though he is one goal short of matching his best goal tally for the Gunners.
Arsenal supporters are asking whether the club should stick with the Frenchman or go for someone younger who can help shape the future of the club.
Nigel Winterburn, who helped the Gunners win three league titles, believes Arsenal have some big questions to answer in the coming months.
"They need to know if they’re going to promote the younger players or bring someone else in," Winterburn told Gambling.com.
"I still believe that Lacazette has value to the club because he’s a different type of centre-forward to what we have at the moment. He’s the best at linking up play.
"People might question his goal scoring record, but it’s not a bad return and unless Arsenal can bring someone in who is considerably better, which would cost a huge amount of money, then I think his worth speaks for itself.
"A lot of people might disagree with me, but only because they feel as though we need someone better. But who are we going to get that’s better?"
Lacazette's Goal Rate in the Premier League
|Season||Minutes Per Goal|
Aubameyang and Lacazette have combined for 23 league goals this season after Aubameyang scored his tenth of the season at St James' Park on Sunday.
However, the other strikers have failed to take chances that have been presented to them by Arteta.
Eddie Nketiah and Nicolas Pepe have combined for just seven goals in 43 appearances while Willian, who joined from Chelsea in the off-season, has yet to score in 24 league games.
A lack of goals is one of the reasons why Arsenal find themselves battling to finish in the top half of the table.
Arteta will want to strengthen his squad and Genk's Nigerian forward Paul Onuachu has been linked with a move to the Emirates this summer.
But how much money will be made available to Arteta by American owner Stan Kroenke?
Kroenke has provided funds to strengthen the squad in recent seasons, but Arsenal's record in the last few transfer windows has not been great.
Since splashing out over £105m on Aubameyang (£57.4m) and Lacazette (£47.7m), Arsenal have spent over £250m and found themselves going backwards.
Arsenal's Recent Finishing Positions
- 2015/16 - 2nd
- 2016/17 - 5th
- 2017/18 - 6th
- 2018/19 - 5th
- 2019/20 - 8th
- 2020/21 - 9th?
The signings this summer need to be better, but will their targets be attracted to a club that might not be involved in European football next season?
On Thursday, the Gunners host Villarreal, managed by their former boss Unai Emery, looking to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit to reach the final of the Europa League.
While winning the competition would guarantee Champions League football next season, failure to do so could see the north London club's 25-season run of European football come to an end.
That could force Lacazette's hand and increase his desire to open a new chapter in his career elsewhere.
So, should the Gunners cash in on their French forward now and use the money to bring in fresh talent? Or try to persuade Lacazette to stay knowing his heart might not be in it anymore?
Winterburn appreciates his former club is in a tricky situation with Lacazette, whose contract expires in June 2022, and their league regression in recent seasons might play a major factor.
"You can always list players that you want your club to sign," Winterburn said.
"But do they even want to come to Arsenal where we are at the moment, and can we pay their wages?
"That’s something I think supporters don’t always think about. A player might have four or five offers and Arsenal might not always be the best option for them.
"We have to be realistic, but sometimes people don’t want to think about that. I think it would be a risky move to let him go, but then we need to consider if he wants to leave.
"He’s got a year left, but if a player doesn’t want to stay, I don’t think you can get the best out of them by forcing them to stay."
It's fair to say this off-season promises to be the most important for Arsenal in recent years.
Get it right and they could begin their road back to being a top-four side.
Get it wrong and it could force the club into another rebuild with perhaps another new manager.
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