It is Player of the Season award, well, season at both national level and club level. While these awards are some reflection of quality, they are also popularity contests. Raheem Sterling won the FWA Footballer of the Year not only because he’s been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, but also because he’s spoken out about racism, and is an engaging figure, who does a lot of good work in the community. These qualities probably put Sterling over the top of Virgil van Dijk. In the women’s competition, Nikita Parris won despite not having as good a season as PFA winner Vivianne Miedema.
At club level, Alexandre Lacazette won the Arsenal award, despite not being Arsenal’s top scorer. That itself isn’t a cause for conversation—Aaron Ramsey won the award last season, and he wasn’t Arsenal’s top scorer. But in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal have a player who has scored 25 goals in all competitions, and has often sacrificed his own production in order to play wide on the left to accommodate Lacazette. Even then, he’s contributed to more goals—32 to Lacazette’s 28—and both have contributed to .8 goals and assists per 90 minutes. This is not to say that Lacazette isn’t a worthy winner of the award, but rather, the things he’s appreciated for are not necessarily goals: rather, it is his work rate, and general play—Lacazette leads Arsenal in assists—that have seemingly put him over the top.
It is rather ironic; Arsenal fans used to denigrate Olivier Giroud because he did not score enough goals, but Giroud and Lacazette’s league output for Arsenal are rather similar. But whereas Arsenal fans loved the players—like Alexis—who scored more than Giroud, it is Lacazette rather than Aubameyang who has gotten the plaudits this season. In this case, it speaks to a couple of factors.
First of all, Lacazette, as an expensive purchase, must be, in the fans’ consciousness, good. Secondly, Lacazette, unlike Aubameyang, does not have a highlight reel of missing sitters. That in part is because they are different strikers. Aubameyang is not a great finisher, but he has excellent movement in the box, better than Lacazette, and thus will get chances. But, because of the type of striker he is, he will not be involved in much else. On the other hand, Lacazette will look busy even if he is not getting chances; he also is a better striker of the ball than Aubameyang, and thus, while not shooting as much, scores goals that have more aesthetic appeal than tap-ins; for example, Lacazette’s equalizer against Liverpool or Chelsea stand out, while Aubameyang’s two against Leicester were tap-ins from team moves.
The appreciation for Lacazette over Aubameyang, though, also speaks to the effort to find new heroes, and new players to identify with. Over the last 18 months, Arsenal have seen the departure of Giroud, Alexis, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey has played in final game in an Arsenal shirt. Mesut Özil has fallen out of favour, and there is, of course, a new manager that everyone is still getting to grips with. In that sense, the identity of Arsenal has changed. Arsenal don’t have much memorable moments from this season, or indeed last. Moments which are largely memorable are tied with people who have left or are leaving: the team goal scored by Aaron Ramsey, Ramsey’s goal at White Hart Lane, the farewell game for Arsène Wenger. In trying to forge a new understanding of who Arsenal are, the fans have plumped for Alexandre Lacazette, the one who has contribute to perhaps the most memorable moments.