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When Lucas Perez hit home a sumptuous volley at the Vitality Stadium in the 73rd minute against Bournemouth, to bring down the deficit to one goal for Arsenal after they were trailing 3-0, it truly announced the Spaniard’s arrival. The 28-year old was a surprise purchase in the summer from La Liga side Deportivo La Coruna, after the Gunners failed in the pursuit to land Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy.
Vardy, known for utilizing his pace to run in behind the defences, was the sort of the direct threat that Arsene Wenger intended to bring in, but after having been thwarted in his attempts, the Frenchman decided to move for Perez, who offers a very similar threat and approach for the Gunners. He did not enjoy the greatest of the debuts against Southampton, and an injury not long after hampered his growth. But slowly and steadily, Perez has started to blossom in London is staking claim for a regular spot on the wings.
Perez, after that inspiring strike against the Cherries, followed up with another solid display in the 2-1 win over Preston North End in the FA Cup on Saturday, producing a fine assist late in the game to seal qualification into the next round. He may not have seen much action in the Premier League, but with his impressive performances week after week, Perez is warranting more game time in the English top flight. The excellent hat-trick in the UEFA Champions League against FC Basel in Switzerland remains his best performance in Arsenal colours till date, and he is starting to build on that brilliant display.
And Perez could not have picked a better time to hit his peak for the Gunners. Theo Walcott, who started the campaign brightly, has seen his level of performances wane down slowly with injuries not helping his cause, whereas Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still marred by his inconsistent displays. This has presented Perez with a golden opportunity to make the spot on the right-flank his own, where he has excelled having scored three goals and assisted one more from his three starts in Europe, FA Cup and the Premier League.
With Danny Welbeck’s return from injury, the competition for the starting berth in the Gunners line-up is heating up and Perez has hit his strides in the perfect moment for him to be in the consideration. A sub-par display in the win against Crystal Palace on the New Year’s Day aside, the 28-year old has been making the right noises.
Perez’s display against Preston in the weekend, however, will have instilled more confidence in Wenger in his capabilities of playing out on the right side. His directness was a huge advantage for the Gunners on Saturday, as the former Deportivo attacker completed more dribbles (3) than any other player on the pitch. Two key passes and three shots at goals asserted his effectiveness in the attacking third, while also indicating he is not afraid to have a go at the goal. He made a respectable 69 touches throughout the evening, showing up whenever a teammate needed a helping hand.
Despite a not so promising start to life in London, Perez has shown he has the mental toughness and the grit to fight it out. Having largely operated as a striker last term for Deportivo, he will be considered for the wider roles at the Emirates with Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and the returning Danny Welbeck offering enough firepower upfront. Wenger’s struggles to find the suitable personnel on the right flank has been perennial, but Perez could well provide the solution for this. And his added versatility will only work in the Gunners’ favour.
When brought in during the summer, Perez was largely deemed to be a panic buy who lacked the quality, but with his encouraging displays in recent weeks, he is slowly making a name for himself at the Emirates. An excellent outing on Saturday against Preston could very well be the start of a longer run for Perez in the starting line-up and if so, he has earned it and definitely deserves it.