When Arsenal announced the signing of Lucas Perez in the dying days of the summer transfer window, it created a mood of confusion. People were not happy with the signing, nor were they unhappy, as the majority of the Gunners faithful simply had not heard of the man who formerly spearheaded the Deportivo La Coruna forward line.
Described by Wenger as a ‘natural goalscorer’ who had enjoyed an ‘outstanding’ season in La Liga, Perez’s start to the season did little to convince the Emirates jury he would be the man to bring the title back to Islington. Despite an impressive brace against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, he failed to score a League goal until a trip to Bournemouth in December, and was sidelined with an ankle injury for six weeks before then. The player himself stated in October that he had hoped for a ‘more starring role’ in the side after signing, and at that point in time, this signing was looking more Chu-Young Park-esque than the hidden gem many were hoping for.
However, after making his return to the team, Perez has looked a man transformed. Put on a strict physical regime during his six weeks in the treatment room, Perez now looks much more acclimatized to the physically-demanding nature of English football. This new-found physical capability has acted as the platform for a dramatic upturn in form, which, as the statistics prove, is unmatched by individuals with double the price tag.
In just 12 appearances for the first-team, Perez has contributed to 11 goals, in the form of six goals and five assists, including a stunning 50-minute hat-trick away at Basle in the Champions League. Furthermore, he has rarely played in his preferred role as a center-forward during this time, and has acted predominantly on the left-side of midfield, illustrating how he has an adaptability to his game that others crave. As well as being surprisingly quick in a sprint (illustrated in his assists for Ozil vs Ludogorets), he also has physical strength to his game, and a real show of determination. This is likely to have been created after his somewhat roadman-like career, which has already seen him play in three different nations as he’s made his way to the top, and can be seen in his play.
Introduced to the game with only 25 minutes to go, the application and ethos of Perez changed the game on a particularly tricky night for the Gunners in Bournemouth. As well as cracking volley to get the game to within a one goal deficit, he terrorized the Cherries back line with his constant pressure as Arsenal came away with a draw, the sort of application Iwobi and the Ox should have been providing. Likewise, in the dying minutes away at Preston in the FA Cup, the Spaniard ran for a ball others had given up on, and a deft back-heel set up Olivier Giroud for the winner. This rugged determination, mixed with technical finesse, makes Perez very reminiscent of Eduardo Da Silva, before that unfortunate afternoon at Birmingham.
However, despite his improved form, the fact remains that he simply is not getting the game time he, or the fans, expected. Despite having to deal with a nasty injury, having just twelve appearances to his name at this point of the season is very underwhelming.That being said, the selection headache faced by Wenger is almost as big as the one he gives Perez by not playing him.
Alexis Sanchez is the club talisman and his place is simply untouchable, while Giroud is showing some of his best form since arriving in North London in 2012, with 11 goals in his last nine starts.The displays of Iwobi this season at just 20 years old ensures Wenger wants to give him as much game time as possible to aid his development, Walcott already has ten goals this season, and Oxlade-Chamberlain has an output that matches that of Perez. Add the return of Danny Welbeck to the equation, and the question is, where does Perez get in the team?
The simple conclusion is that, unlike his time at a mid-table club in La Liga, Lucas Perez no longer has the right to play every game. This is to be expected after a move to a club with the stature of Arsenal, as he now faces competition from around six others for his position, and each one believes they should be starting on merit. At this point in time, Perez looks only to be a great squad player providing depth to a team that has often fallen short in that department, a trait absolutely critical in a title challenge.
However, when does he get his break? The argument is that, at a club of this size, you must perform every time you are on the pitch to warrant your place in the side for the next fixture, a fair argument, but one that Perez is breaking. Contributing to eleven goals in twelve games, whilst adapting to a new league, a new culture and returning from a bad injury is an unbelievable rate of production, and one that should have him in the first team on merit – if not now, then when?