How do you solve a problem like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette? Memphis Depay is the answer – according to reports in France.
Of all the issues Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta must solve this summer, his striking dilemma isn't the most pressing. But it might become so.
Lacazette has largely been given the No.9 role since Arteta was appointed. Yet the Frenchman has flattered to deceive as Arsenal's line leader. Eight Premier League goals – only one of which has come away from home – isn't enough.
Aubameyang, on the other hand, has continued to score freely despite being pushed out to the left. The problem is the Gunners' skipper will be a free agent this time next year.
Arsenal have been here before with Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil. While Aubameyang's output far outstrips those two as their contracts ran down, avoiding a repeat is imperative.
Both Aubameyang and Lacazette have suitors. The former is wanted by Inter, Juventus Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. The latter by Atlético Madrid. At 31 and 29 respectively, a final shot at the UEFA Champions League – a private club Arsenal haven't got entry to – would be hard to turn down.
According to Le10Sport, Arsenal could sell the pair and use that cash to recruit the Lyon striker. On the face of it, that seems an odd deal. The Dutchman flopped at Manchester United, scoring seven times in 53 appearances. But he's since reinvented himself with Lyon, netting 53 times in 134 matches.
Depay's best season with OL was 2017/18, in which he struck 22 times in all competitions – 19 of those coming in Ligue 1. In a truncated 2019/20 season, the 26-year-old notched 14 in 18. It's a far cry from the being given a ‘dressing-down' by former United No.2 Ryan Giggs over his ‘flashy' lifestyle.
How does Depay compare to Laca & Auba?
The most obvious thing when comparing all three is the different roles they play for their respective sides.
As alluded to earlier, Aubameyang has been moved out to the left in Arteta's preferred 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Lacazette as the sole striker. Though there's little doubt he would reprise the No.9 spot if Lacazette left.
Meanwhile, Depay tends to operate on the left-hand side for Lyon, though his heat map (above) shows a tendency to drift across the field to the right too.
A high-level statistical overview shows Depay has a better goals-to-minutes ratio than the Arsenal duo. In mitigation, the Dutchman has played far fewer minutes (1,020) than either Lacazette (1,512) or Aubameyang (2,747).
Despite this, his expected goals (xG) score of 0.41 per 90 is on a par with Lacazette and only just behind Aubameyang. The quality of chances the former PSV man is getting aren't diminished by the fact he's not first-choice at the Groupama Stadium.
Interestingly, Depay adds the most value to his shots with good finishing. His post-shot xG, which only measures on-target attempts, is 0.62 per 90. Aubameyang's post-shot xG is 0.49 and Lacazette's is 0.57. While all three forwards increase the quality of their chances with good finishing, it's the OL forward who's having the biggest impact.
Why? When we look at Depay's shot placement map (above) the majority of his goals are finished into the corners, particularly the bottom right. As someone who starts on the left before cutting inside onto his preferred right foot, it's easy to understand why.
The other thing which makes Depay an attractive proposition is he's a creative threat too. He creates more chances (2.21) per 90 than either Aubameyang or Lacazatte and far more ‘Big Chances' – 0.44.
On top of that he is more involved in build-up play in the final third. Depay attempts (17.91) and completes (12.26) far more final-third passes than either. He also manages more forward passes (9.62) than Aubameyang (6.29) or Lacazette (5.36).
What should Arsenal do?
Losing a player of Aubameyang's calibre won't go down well. Questions over the Gunners' ambition would, inevitably, follow. But, at 31, their captain is in dangerous territory. If they're to keep him, the Gunners will have to commit to a pay-rise and a long-term extension.
But Arsenal have been stung by offering long-term extensions to high-profile but ageing stars in the past. Özil will be a Gunner for another year after signing an expensive contract extension in February 2018. That's a decision both parties must sorely regret.
However, selling Aubameyang this summer – while his value remains high – would free up the cash to reinvest in key areas. Centre defence still needs work while Arteta would like to sign Dani Ceballos permanently.
Even if Arsenal sold Lacazette too – though he's contracted until 2022 – Depay would be a ready-made replacement, able to play down the left or through the centre. Those sales would also clear the pathway for talented youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to continue their progress.
This summer is huge for Arteta and Arsenal. A deal like this could have significant ramifications for years to come.