When Alexandre Lacazette limped off of the pitch at the weekend, Arsenal fans feared the worst. The striker went down untouched during the second half of his team’s 1-1 draw against Fulham on Sunday. Immediately gesturing towards his hamstring, manager Mikel Arteta was forced to make a substitution. Following the frustrating draw, Arteta claimed that he did not know the extent of the injury just yet.
Lacazette has been a very interesting figure with the Arsenal fans since his arrival to north London in 2017. After being voted as the club’s Player of the Season in his sophomore year with the Gunners, the Frenchman endured a relatively disappointing 2019/20 campaign. However, Lacazette is now back to being an important player in Arteta’s XI and is even the team’s highest scorer for the current campaign.
Injury updates on the 29-year-old striker were finally released on Wednesday. “Left hamstring,” claimed the report on the team’s official website. “Alex has sustained a strain to his left hamstring and will be unavailable for Friday’s match against Everton. He will continue to work with the medical team and will be assessed ahead of next week’s matches.”
While a bit vague, the news of Lacazette’s injury is perhaps a positive sign. Initial fears were that the striker could possibly miss the rest of the season with the injured hamstring. Nevertheless, Arteta now has to make a decision on his starting XI without Lacazette for the near future. Below are three players to potentially play the number nine role for Arsenal in their upcoming matches.
Although certainly preferred by Arteta in a more wide position, Aubameyang can obviously play up front in a more central role. The Gabon international is, however, on the sideline as well, as he continues his recovery from Malaria. Aubameyang will miss Arsenal’s next match against Everton on Friday, but is supposed to resume training this weekend. This means that the forward could fill in for Lacazette in the number nine role next week, should the Frenchman still be on the sidelines.
Aubameyang has struggled (relative to his usual goal output) this season, but is certainly a capable center forward. In fact, he netted a hat-trick playing in the number nine position two months ago and also followed this up with a goal against Burnley in the same position.
The only downside to Aubameyang playing as a center forward is his link up play with the rest of his teammates when Arsenal have most of the possession. Nevertheless, he certainly excels more in this position when it’s a more free-flowing, open game. Arteta could make his decision on where to play Aubameyang depending on the opposition.
Nketiah would definitely be Arteta’s most like-for-like option. Nketiah and Lacazette are somewhat similar stylistically. Both are ‘traditional’ center forwards that link up with teammates well and utilize strength more than speed.
The England youth international has performed well in Arsenal’s Europa League run, scoring three goals in six starts during the competition. Nketiah even scored as Lacazette’s sub during the match against Fulham at the weekend.
While Nketiah has shown glimpses of outstanding play, he hasn’t always been consistent at the senior level. Would Arteta trust the 21-year-old to man his front line during an important run of fixtures? It remains to be seen. Nevertheless, with Aubameyang still recovering from Malaria, Nketiah appears to be Arteta’s most likely option for at least the Everton game on Friday. The Gunners manager could use this match against the Merseyside club as somewhat of an audition to the more important upcoming Europa League semifinal against Villarreal next week.
A bit of wild card, Martinelli has managed just seven total starts for the senior team this season. This, however, is not down to the player’s ability, but injuries. The Brazilian has dealt with knee and ankle problems practically all year. Nevertheless, Martinelli is an exciting young player with immense potential.
Although all of his appearances for Arsenal during the current campaign have come on the left flank, the 19-year-old forward can also play in a more central position. In fact, the number nine role could be his more natural position in the coming years. Martinelli is very dangerous going forward, utilizing his pace, power, and dribbling ability to create goal-scoring chances. However, much like Aubameyang, the Brazilian could be at his best in a more free-flowing game, rather than a more stagnant match.
Arteta could feature Martinelli in the number nine role in matches that may not be as important, just to see what his star in the making can do in the position.
Author: Chris Moore