As Arsenal jetted off to Australia at the weekend, the newspapers were quick to tell us which players did not travel. With the futures of Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs up in the air, the defensive duo were left behind, with moves away from N5 imminent it seems.
Another who didn’t go Down Under was Lucas Perez – the Spanish striker who was seemingly never wanted by Arsene Wenger. Arriving following the club’s failed pursuit of Jamie Vardy for £17m, many feel Perez didn’t get a fair crack of the whip last term. His one year stay in North London, it appears, will shortly be over.
With Alexandre Lacazette now through the door, Danny Welbeck hoping to maintain his fitness in a World Cup year and Olivier Giroud fighting for his place in the squad, there really is no place for Perez going forward. To be honest, there was barely a place for him last year, with his fleeting appearances in red and white somewhat curious.
Signed at the end of August, with an element of surprise, Perez was thrust into the lineup for a league game at the earliest opportunity, leading the line at home to Southampton after the international break. He toiled a little, getting used to the pace of play, but played an important role in Laurent Koscielny’s equaliser. Ten days later, two composed finishes away to Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup had a number of fans licking their lips at the prospect of seeing more of Perez in league action.
The Gunners then hit some real form, beating Chelsea and winning their next four, with Perez struggling to get minutes on the field. A couple of clever assists for Mesut Ozil against Ludogorets gave the fans another glimpse of the Spaniard’s undoubted talent, but again starting matches was hard to come by thereafter. In early December, Perez repaid’s Wenger faith in starting him by hitting a first half hat-trick as the team romped to a win away in Basel.
When those three goals weren’t even enough for him to emerge from the bench days later against Stoke City, rumblings began to surface. Something about Lucas wasn’t right, as despite showing real signs of promise, Wenger did not seem sold on the forward.
As 2016 ticked into 2017, Perez scored his first league goal – a fantastic volley at Bournemouth – before starring in arguably the best team performance of the season, away at Southampton in the cup. Despite not scoring in the 5-0 win, Perez was instrumental, linking brilliantly all evening with Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.
90 minute showings were few and far between for the 28-year-old, and his Gunners career post-Southampton was effectively nil, although he did score a goal at Sutton United. Considering his minutes, seven goals in 21 games for Arsenal are not a bad return.
But the truth is, Perez never fitted in. He wasn’t Wenger’s first choice and he wasn’t part of any plan there may have been – effectively, he bought to appease the fan pressure coming Wenger’s way, such was the clamour for a striker signing last August.
“He’s a top quality striker but I couldn’t give him the games he wants and deserves, I confess that. I feel sorry for him on that front,” ~ Arsène Wenger
It’s strange that Perez wasn’t Wenger’s type of player though, he was an unselfish, technically excellent player. He was intelligent and able to pick a pass, with a long effort to Sanchez at St Mary’s a display of his ability. The Chilean latched on to a great ball forward, holding up for Walcott to smash home. Lucas wasn’t credited with the assist, but his pass allowed the team to get out of their half and add more gloss to the scoreline.
His finishing ability wasn’t bad either, with his strike at Bournemouth a display of excellent technique. With the left feet of Robin Van Persie and Lucas Podolski blessing our club in recent seasons, this particular goal was reminiscent of both, as Perez met Giroud’s flick-on perfectly and slammed it into the corner.
Fans wanted to see more of him, though as the campaign went on it was clear Perez would not be featuring. The switch to the wing-backs formation required a pacier striker, with Welbeck preferred regularly to anybody else. In those final weeks of the season, Perez wasn’t even getting on to the bench – I sat ten yards away from him and Santi Cazorla at club level during the Sunderland game late in the campaign.
Though he had a few minor injuries, Perez was fit for much of the season, he just wasn’t fancied by Wenger for one reason or another. It’s a shame, as Perez clearly had something about him. Years from now, he’ll just be another number 9 we had to go alongside Francis Jeffers, Julio Baptista and Park Chu-Young.
Let’s hope Lacazette – or whoever else takes the shirt number – has a little more luck than Lucas Perez.