Lautaro Martínez - What Could Arsenal Expect?
There is a reason Lautaro Martínez is known as 'El Toro' - the bull.
Tenacious and strong yet elegant and quick, 23 year old Argentinian forward Lautaro Javier Martínez completed the 2020/2021 season with his best ever return in top flight football; 20 goals and 6 assists in 45 appearances for club and country, including a Serie A and Copa America win.
Lautaro is thriving, but Inter are struggling. Despite becoming champions of Italy for the 19th time, the Nerazzurri face extreme financial difficulty, with some reports suggesting they are up to 500m euros in debt. With Antonio Conte gone and questions over Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen's futures, the vultures are circling. Inter need to sell, and according to reports from ever reliable 'The Athletic', it could be to Arsenal, in the form of Lautaro Martínez. Talks are progressing, and with the possibility of including Héctor Bellerín as a makeweight in the deal, there is optimism that something can be concluded.
So what could The Bull bring to The Arsenal?
Martínez' appeal to Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar is obvious - he has an extremely diverse skillset with a lot of growth potential. He's really, really good at a lot of things, and could, and probably will, get better at them. Let's take a look...
Similar to what Alexandre Lacazette is often asked to do for Arsenal, one of Martínez' top tier qualities is his ability to drop deep and receive a ball from a teammate between the lines.
This maximises centrality, keeping the ball in the most dangerous areas of the pitch in the attacking phase. The biggest criticism of Lacazette's execution of this is perhaps his inability to exhaust the physical potential of his time on the ball and move it up the pitch. His lack of engine and technicality lets him down, and by getting close to him, defenders can close down the progressive options. Where Lacazette is often forced into a backwards or sidewards pass, Martínez evades this with ease, turning and driving at defences, often resulting in a chance, key pass or a shot on goal.
He's quick on the turn, nimble and agile with a low, compact frame and centre of gravity, allowing him to ride challenges well.
It's an eye catching feat that Martínez is particularly good at, and does time and again - reminiscent of fellow countrymen Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. But it also provides a platform from which others can flourish, as has been the case with teammate Romelu Lukaku at Internazionale, where Lautaro has often been provider. Lautaro flourishes in a "second striker" role, but is capable of playing as the point of the attack.
Arsenal possess a lot of intelligent off-the-ball runners - Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang topping an impressive list. With someone capable of moving the ball up the pitch faster, taking defenders out of the game before they can return to their shape, Lautaro could add a much needed unpredictability and spontaneity to Arsenal's forward movement, providing a springboard to maximise the efficacy of our strong off-the-ball running.
Clearly, Martínez may not be afforded that amount of time and space seen in the clips very often in the Premier League. There is a heavy trend of compactness in defence, with as little air between lines as possible in the defensive phase. Luckily, Lautaro thrives in those tight spaces, useful in particular against teams who play a low block - a problem Arsenal often face.
Martínez has an uncanny knack of getting a shot off - often first time.
His ball striking is impressive, as seen in that clip and many others, but what is perhaps unique is that Lautaro scores all types of goals. There isn't a more accurate way to pick out a goalscorer than the elusive quality of simply consistently finding a way to get it into the net, no matter what it takes. Lautaro does that - and as the cliché goes; they all count.
He also takes a lot of shots, with a high degree of accuracy. According to WhoScored, he took 2.9 shots per game in Serie A in 2020/21.
Compare that to Aubameyang's 2, Pepe's 1.7 and Lacazette's 1.5 in the same season, and you have a player who is willing and able to make more attempts than our current options. And when, according to the Premier League website, Arsenal as a whole took just 459 shots last season while Manchester City took 599, United took 526 and Liverpool took 608, it's clear, simple as it is, that a higher volume of attempts on goal is a trait of top level clubs. Lautaro could help Arsenal with that.
However, you can only get up the pitch to find those shooting opportunities on strong foundations, with a team working in tandem - but you're unlikely to find another forward with a higher defensive work rate and as much quality as Martínez.
Lautaro sits in the 80th percentile or above per 90 minutes (in comparison to other forwards in the Top 5 leagues) in...
Pressures (Def 3rd, Att 3rd)
Passes Blocked (96th)
Tackles (Attacking 3rd)
This is extremely impressive for a forward. Not only in the volume of contribution, but in the breadth of type of contribution. Lautaro excels across all the aspects of the defensive side of the game. Watch his tackling technique in the clip below - clawing the ball away with an outstretched foot, staying on his feet, never risking the foul. Good tackling technique is not something that's particularly common amongst top level attackers.
Lautaro works extremely hard off the ball, something Arteta demands as one of his non-negotiables. He is able to remain compact and rigid in shape, shuffling over with the team when required and becoming the release valve when the ball is won back in midfield, or often, by him. He is sharp and quick across the ground with a good reading of the game.
Arsenal seem keen to play higher up the pitch. We have seen it in pre-season with a more press-reliant style, and in Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea over the weekend, the front 3 of Nicolas Pepe, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were tasked with becoming the first line of defence as the high line was employed. Winning the ball higher up the pitch is crucial for a team wishing to control a game and create a higher volume of chances, and with the purchase of ball playing central defender Ben White from Brighton, and pressure resistant line-breaker Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht, Arsenal seem keen to do that.
Martínez would be fantastic for retaining possession in the final third, and it's no coincidence that Arsenal want to sit higher when the teams that perform better in the league generally sit further up on the below table, which is based on average Defence Line Height.
Lautaro is 5'9 - but he is excellent in the air. He springs off the ground well, and has an excellent sense of positioning, able to push the defender at just the right time - see clip below. He is just as adept at flick ons, creating a sense of chaos in the box, and with the stellar deliveries of Kieran Tierney and Calum Chambers, there could be a lot of opportunities created.
Inter scored a record breaking amount of goals from headers last season - 26, with Lautaro scoring 4. Not bad when you consider Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang has scored 4 goals for Arsenal in his entire Premier League career, and is 5 inches taller. You can only imagine what Lautaro might have been able to do with that excellent Nuno Tavares cross on Sunday.
But it's not only crosses that Lautaro could help with. Arsenal's improved set piece defending last year was not met with an improvement at the other end of the pitch, and while new set piece coach Nicholas Jover settles in, it could be a good opportunity to add another aerial threat to the mix; as well as an aerial counter-threat for that matter.
Intangibles / Soft Factors
Lautaro has Champions League and Europa League experience, as well as experience of winning major trophies at a young age. His injury record is excellent, with only 5 games missed for Inter.
Lautaro is also reported to have exceptional concentration. Cecilia Contarino, sports psychologist for Racing Club did some tests on him at a young age and discovered something remarkable. The test asks the participant to draw lines between the numbers 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and so on on a quadrant. Up to 50, it's pretty simple, but then the lines start to cross over so much it becomes difficult. But Lautaro excelled.
"Lautaro marked 98 out of 100 when the normal is between 50 and 70. He has a very high level of concentration" - Contarino
This is something you can see in-game too - late goals were a big part of Inter's success last season and are a feature of Lautaro's game, his elite concentration allowing Lautaro to score decisive goals late on against Sassuolo and Torino (twice) and others, in the league last year.
Martínez is hot property. He has come close to signing for Madrid based clubs twice; Real in 2015, and Atlético in 2017. Let's be clear: it would be a coup of ginormous proportion for Arsenal to get him - one I think is unlikely to happen.
But with the financial problems on the continent, as well as Manchester United extending Edinson Cavani's contract, Manchester City after Harry Kane, Liverpool with their front 3 at their peak, Chelsea after Erling Braut Haaland and Leicester having an in-form Kelechi Iheanacho alongside new signing Patson Daka... there could very well be an open road for an Arsenal side ready to spend big this summer.