Watching Alexandre Lacazette blaze the only meaningful chance Arsenal created against Liverpool over the bar evoked emotions felt many times before: would a different striker have scored that?
It isn’t unjustified to think so. Lacazette has a track record of missing big opportunities like that, and with the Premier League all Arsenal have left to fend for this season, they can ill-afford more moments like it.
But this isn’t the main reason Arsenal are chasing a new centre-forward this January. The absolute mess that is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future has sparked minor panic. Suddenly, Arsenal desperately need the goals neither he, Lacazette, nor Eddie Nketiah can provide.
On the table is an offer for the former captain, a loan deal from Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia that would see the club pay Aubameyang’s full salary and then buy him permanently for around £6.7m in the summer.
Arsenal’s great Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang transfer mess needs fixing with Al Nassr eyeing January signing and Europe keeping tabs on striker
Arsenal will struggle to accrue better terms despite the reported interest elsewhere in Europe, as well as Al Nassr’s rivals Al Hilal. With little over a week left of the window remaining, hanging around for better could cost them dearly.
Equally, can they afford to let him go? All of the parts are worryingly intertwined.
Their pursuit of Dusan Vlahovic feels like a rabbit hole not worth venturing deeper into, and other targets on their list will prove either costly or unobtainable in mid-season. But if they let Aubameyang go the club leave themselves with two No. 9’s who have a collective three Premier League goals between them this season.
Whether goals are coming from elsewhere in the team or not, those numbers do not bode well for top four ambitions. Not to mention, both are out of contract in less than six months.
One can’t overlook the salary, though. Between now and the final match of the season Aubameyang will earn over £7m. Extensive work has been done to bring the overall wage bill down in the summer, as well as this month, and getting Aubameyang’s salary off the books would be the crowing glory, if you like, in that quest. A mega-money contract not mutually terminated, for a change.
Interestingly, all of the routes this saga could take appear to gloss over him being reintegrated into the team. Given how this entire mess has panned out, that eventuality feels to have drifted further away. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that Goodison Park match. And, even if he is brought back, he’s barely played any football and was in dreadful form even when he was.
So, either he’s reintegrated and the striker hunt is held off until the summer, he’s sold and Arsenal sign nobody, or he’s sold and Arsenal secure their replacement.
For a promising season that has taken a big hit since the turn of the year, failure to find the right solution to this issue risks derailing it entirely.