Alexandre Lacazette is an Arsenal player. I’m not going to lie, it feels a little surreal typing that first sentence.
Lacazette is not a typical Wenger signing, for more than just the obvious financial reasons. Usually, when Arsenal buy someone, the talent is obvious in the player but they don’t often fit in the team.
We’ve bought the likes of Lukas Podolski and Andrei Arshavin, players who were brilliant in the role they were good at but never had the chance to prove it because of Arsenal’s tactical gameplan. Arshavin was a brilliant second-striker but played as a left-winger for the majority of his career with us. Podolski, an unbelievable centre-forward, played the majority of his Arsenal career on the wing too. As much as we tried shoehorning them into the team, it just didn’t work out for them.
Even when someone as good as Mesut Özil signed, the immediate thought wasn’t that he’d fit in perfectly as a number 10 in our 4–2–3–1 formation, it was that we already had Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and others to play there. We had bought the best playmaker in the world when we didn’t necessarily need him. What we needed were players to make the runs that Özil would thrive on, not Özil himself.
This is not the case with Lacazette. If Olivier Giroud had Diego Costa’s pace, he’d be better than Diego Costa and nobody would be clamouring for a new striker. Giroud has played to the best of his abilities for five years at Arsenal and has not let himself down in any way. The seven-minute long YouTube clip of his highlights at the club will be exceptional. But with Arsenal transitioning to playing a 3-4-2-1, the striker at the focal point of the attack has to be able to drag defences out of position. Giroud’s lack of pace hinders him hugely in this regard.
It’s why Danny Welbeck was given chance after chance to prove his fitness, because he does have that burst of acceleration needed to keep backlines guessing. But Welbeck lacks Giroud’s finesse in front of goal, often making the wrong run and leaving the likes of Alexis and Özil mouthing off to themselves at the sight of another good attacking opportunity going to waste. What Arsenal needed was someone who had Welbeck’s ability to blaze past centre-backs at will but also have Giroud’s penalty box movement and link-up play with others. Obviously, these players are incredibly hard to find.
Alexandre Lacazette is one of those players.
For the way Arsenal want to play football, he’s the perfect striker. He’s quick, he runs the channels, perfect for when Özil or Granit Xhaka have time on the ball, and he’s more than comfortable playing on the wings, perfect for when Alexis goes wandering. Lacazette can drop back and create for others too, perfect for when Aaron Ramsey bombs into the box. He’s everything you’d want a striker.
But Lacazette is more than just an addition to Arsenal’s playing staff. Before yesterday, Arsenal had spent over £30 million pounds on a player on just four occasions – each time there were significant caveats attached. Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi are fine players, but both were bought with the idea of them becoming world–class at the club, instead of being the finished product. Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez were, and still are, world–class, but both were only available because Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively deemed them to be surplus to requirements.
The narrative that Arsenal would never buy someone of sufficient quality to put them in contention for major trophies was an annoyance to many, but whenever the Gunners bought someone, they were either one for the future like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade–Chamberlain, Rob Holding or Aaron Ramsey, or a squad player at their previous club such as Danny Welbeck and Petr Cech. There was never the sense Arsenal had gotten someone everyone else had wanted, someone that would go straight into any club’s starting XI, someone that signalled intent on Arsenal’s part that they weren’t settling for fourth place, someone that said Arsenal aren’t messing around with kids any more.
The mere sight of Lacazette walking in the door changes all of that. You can’t argue Arsenal can’t attract world–class players when someone as good as the Frenchman agrees to sign. Arsenal managed to convince Lacazette to London. He chose Arsenal, and in doing so he showed the Gunners are far from the write–off many would like to believe they are. Lacazette’s arrival showed Arsene Wenger is still, even today, someone that world–class players want to come play for. And ultimately, he might have just shown a certain Chilean and German that it might be worth sticking around North London after all.