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Arsenal position preview: forward

Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bounce back? Will Nicolas Pepe keep up his good form? What of Alexandre Lacazette?

Arsenal Pre-Season Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

We wrap up our look at the Arsenal depth chart with a look at the forward group. We covered the keepers, the defense, and the midfield earlier this week. The forward group looks pretty set at this point — the Gunners would need to sell or loan somebody out (most likely Alexandre Lacazette) to create space for an addition to the strike force. The club have sniffed around a loan with an obligation to buy for £40M for Tammy Abraham and have kicked the tires on Lautaro Martinez, but they’ll have to beat out Roma to sign the former and the latter looks more likely to stay at Inter Milan.

So Mikel Arteta will probably be rolling with the same group as finished the season. The Gunners did not score enough goals last year. Full stop. They’ll need more production from their attack, especially from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who had a tough season, if they are going to mount a serious challenge for a European place.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 32
Best case: Bounces back from a down season (10 league goals) and tallies 20+ Premier League goals like he did in ‘18-’19 and ‘19-’20. Towards the end of last season and in the preseason, he’s looked more involved than last fall and has been getting himself into good positions / getting chances. He’s struggled to convert, but in a best case season, he starts putting the ball in the back of the net at least somewhat regularly. Arsenal need a strong campaign from him to have much of a shot at anything.

Worst case: last year wasn’t a down year but the start of his decline. He struggles to hit double digit goals and isn’t a nailed-on, every week starter. His (understandable) disappointment at being benched creates problems in the locker room and for Mikel Arteta.

Alexandre Lacazette, 30
Best case: the absolute best case is that Arsenal somehow find a landing spot for the French striker and get a reasonable return for moving him. I don’t think that’s likely, and as I’ve said all summer, there is a price at which it’s worth more to the Gunners to have Lacazette at the club and contributing and leaving on a free this summer than it is to move him for peanuts. He’s hit double-digit goals all four years he’s been at the club and led the team in Premier League goals last season. A best case campaign has him in double-digits again, closer to 15 than to 10.

Worst case: his declining mobility becomes even more of an issue. He’s developing a tendency to drop deeper to be involved in the buildup, but he no longer has the pace or the range to get into the box, where Arsenal need him to be to get on the end of cutbacks and crosses. He continues in the central, #9 role, forcing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out wide, and both have quiet seasons as a result.

Nicolas Pépé, 26
Best case: he picks up where he left off last season as one of Arsenal’s best, most consistent attacking threats. He scores or gets close to scoring 15 Premier League goals and adds 7 or 8 assists to boot. One of my “bold predictions” was the he leads the club in goals, and I’m sticking by that.

Worst case: last season was the outlier, not the norm, and he looks more the player that he was two years ago — maddeningly inconsistent and mostly absent from as opposed to engaged in matches. He’s had four half-seasons at the club: two poor, one mediocre, and one good. Which player is he, really?

Willian, 33
Best case: the “it’s been a tough season and year for him” talk from Mikel Arteta about him last year was true. Whatever it was — personal issues, the COVID year, something else — resolves and he makes a meaningful contribution this year. He led the team in assists last season (somehow), and if he chips in a handful of assists and a few goals this year from a secondary, substitute role, it will have been a fantastic campaign.

Worst case: what was painfully obvious last season, that he’s done being able to play at a Premier League level remains painfully obvious. Despite that, Mikel Arteta still gives him far more playing time than his performance merits and Arsenal’s attack suffers as a result.

Gabriel Martinelli, 20
Best case: has a second breakout and earns consistent, regular minutes. Scores double-digit Premier League goals.

Worst case: fails to earn Mikel Arteta’s trust because he’s not positionally or defensively disciplined enough for the manager’s somewhat rigid system. The questions about whether his long-term future is at striker or on the left wing persist without a satisfactory answer and getting limited minutes in different positions hurts his productivity.

Eddie Nketiah, 22
Best case: scores 5-8 Premier League goals in a super-sub role. He’s already shown that he has that nose-for-the-net, fox-in-the-box quality and has scored a handful of late, dramatic goals. I guess the best, best case is that he plays so well that he wrests the starting striker role away from Alexandre Lacazette, but I really don’t see that happening.

Worst case: doesn’t see much of the field this season. He won’t be available until September because of an ankle injury, so he’s already en route there. Alternatively, he plays, even as a regular substitute, and it becomes clear that he’s not at an Arsenal level, which hurts his transfer value.

Reiss Nelson, 21 (22 on December 10)
Best case: his pace and willingness to run at defenders makes him a 60th or 75th minute substitute threat. Scores a couple goals and gets a few starts in the cups as a reward.

Worst case: continues to be a forgotten man at Arsenal, hardly seeing the pitch. He can be a bit loose in possession, so it’s not hard to see him getting a few run outs, being a turnover machine, and getting stapled to the bench.

Folarin Balogun, 20
Best case: basically the same as Eddie Nketiah. Starts in the cups, plays well, and scores a few goals. Maybe chips in with a goal or three in the Premier League as a substitute.

Worst case: his performances this season get people worried that he was all hype. He has 72 minutes of senior football to his name, so we really don’t know that much about him. The club rate him highly, but there is always a chance they were wrong.