Arsenal took on top-flight Liverpool on Wednesday night and despite a two-nil loss, the Gunners competed level for the vast majority of the match. The two sides were largely inseparable until around the hour mark, with Roberto Firmino proving to be one of the most influential players on the pitch after being introduced as a 55th-minute substitute.
The Brazilian scored Liverpool’s second goal of the game, and it showed exactly why Alexandre Lacazette should be seen as a positive contributor for the Gunners despite his lack of goals in recent months. Six players in Mikel Arteta’s side have scored more Premier League goals – excluding penalties – than Lacazette this season, including Gabriel who plays in the center of defence. Considering the Frenchman is traditionally labeled as a striker, he doesn’t find the net very often.
However, Firmino has suffered similar criticism in recent years. The South American interpreted the No.9 role based on his own skills at Anfield, which saw him regularly drifting into midfield and away from the penalty box. Rather than scoring a slew of goals, the 30-year-old offers value when it comes to bonding with others, keeping the ball in dangerous areas and getting down on the defensive side of the match.
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Firmino was able to form part of a functional and effective unit under Klopp thanks to the players he was grouped with in attack. The Reds have signed a number of direct wide forwards in recent years, including Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.
These players complemented Firmino’s strengths and limitations perfectly and at the Emirates, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka seem to be doing the same for Lacazette. The duo are only 20 years old, but they offer comparable advantages given their speed, directness and unpredictability in wide areas.
As Lacazette continues to drive for the ball, Arsenal’s system should continue to work due to the way Martinelli, Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe are ready to run past him in the opposite direction. The Gunners’ attacking composition is becoming more and more comparable to that of Liverpool.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Martinelli and Saka have been linked with moves to Merseyside in the past. The pair offer wide penetration and are comfortable driving towards goal using the gaps generated by Lacazette’s subtle movements.
As has become the case with Firmino at Anfield, Lacazette should not be judged by his score alone. His overall contributions to the team are just as important, as he essentially sacrifices himself for the players around him.
The seasoned striker has become more of a team player under Arteta, and he’s been a big part of the shape of his attacking teammates despite his tendency to drift under the radar.