Alexandre Lacazette’s destiny has always been to play for Arsenal, and this week, that dream became reality when he was unveiled by the north London club as a £52.7m record signing from Lyon. Lacazette made his Lyon debut as a lanky 19-year-old sporting dreadlocks during the Emirates Cup in 2010 after catching the Eurostar to London immediately after winning the Euro U-19 Championship on the Friday before his Sunday bow against Celtic. It’s an open secret Lacazette would have moved to Atletico Madrid this summer had the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) not upheld Diego Simeone’s side’s transfer ban. Lacazette was keen to join forces with old teammate and friend Antoine Griezmann but Atletico’s loss has turned into Arsenal’s resounding gain.
Arsene Wenger’s desire to get a top-class marksman has been well publicized: the derisory £40m and one pound bid to trigger Luis Suarez’s release clause; the doomed pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain, and the ultimately fruitless skirt-hitching in Karim Benzema’s direction were all proof Wenger was aware of his side’s limitations at centre-forward. Olivier Giroud has been a useful player during his four years at the club as his 95 goals over that period prove but it was difficult to shake off the feeling that he wasn’t quite of the requisite quality needed for a club hoping to mount a serious title assault. Last season Wenger elected to start Alexis Sanchez as the centre forward in a move that saw Giroud’s playing time reduce significantly and perhaps sounded the death knell for the Frenchman’s time with Arsenal. In Lacazette Wenger is confident he has fou=d the striker to lead his side to the title so badly needed to justify the second era of his long Arsenal reign.
Numbers don’t lie, so the saying goes, and a look at Lacazette’s numbers at Lyon provide enough reason for optimism for Arsenal fans. Across eight seasons at his boyhood club the 26-year-old scored 100 goals in 213 league appearances with a further 29 in European and Cup competitions. There was a range to his goals too: he could score a long-range pile-driver this minute and an easy tap-in the next minute and he was equally comfortable with slaloming past opposition defenders on a solo run, all the with casual insouciance of a man with no regard for those whose pride he had just shattered.
Yet questions still exist over his ability to lead Arsenal to their first league triumph since men became Invincibles in 2004. Did he stay in his homeland and comfort zone for far too long? And if he’s that good, why were Arsenal and Atletico the only clubs to show genuine interest in him? Is he truly an upgrade on Giroud? These are the few questions that have been raised by his critics in recent times. Didier Deschamps, the French national team manager, certainly doesn’t rate Arsenal’s new striker higher than their old one. Despite handing Lacazette his international debut in 2013, Deschamps has only picked him 11 times in total and was dropped for both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros, two competitions where Giroud featured prominently. It’s worth pointing out France have an embarrassment of attacking riches, with Lacazette, Giroud, Kevin Gameiro, Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, Kylian Mbappe, Kingsley Coman and Griezmann all competing for just three slots. Deschamps believes Giroud provides balance for the side and Lacazette’s lack of opportunities for his country not necessarily a slight on his own abilities.
Beyond all of this the challenge remains for Arsenal that to mount a serious title challenge this year they need to keep hold of their best players. Sanchez is the headline act that must be pacified and convinced to remain with the club, and all enquiries from Manchester City must be dismissed as fast as they can. Arsenal may not be in the pickle they were years ago with Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie but nonetheless Sanchez leaving for a rival would represent a significant step backward for the club. Mesut Özil is reportedly willing to let his contract run down next year to explore his options further afield with committing to Arsenal still an option. The German has his critics but surely Arsenal need to keep hold of him, especially with Lacazette in the team to benefit from his eagle-eyed vision. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has struggled to hold on to a first team place and is eyeing a move away but his form last season suggests there’s a player in there waiting to burst out on the big stage and Wenger would be making a mistake if he lets a player who he has invested a great deal of patience and money leave with his peak years still ahead of him. Hector Bellerin must be dissuaded from joining Barcelona.
For Arsenal to properly contend there are serious changes still to be made both on and off the pitch but the capture of Lacazette for a record fee suggests late-era Wenger may be pliable to splashing the cash after years of stadium-enforced austerity. It’s a step in the right direction that answers a few of Arsenal’s questions.