Alexandre Lacazette was the match-winner on Monday night as Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over West Brom. This was a game that the Gunners needed three points from and, although it wasn’t a perfect performance, they will be pleased that their French frontman was on form to make a difference.
The Gunners focused on keeping their current squad together rather than making lots of additions during the recent transfer window. Many believe that will prove to be a mistake in the long-term, but the two that did arrive are proving to be great signings. Sead Kolasinac is impressing with his powerful style at left wing-back, while Lacazette has now scored four in six Premier League matches.
Arsenal haven’t had a striker that could break through the 20-goal mark on a yearly basis since the sale of Robin van Persie. Although Olivier Giroud is a reliable goal-scorer, capable of contributing and getting double figures, he is a level below the top tier. If the Gunners are serious about becoming a force once more, they need an elite striker. In Lacazette, it looks like they finally have one.
Has he reached the top-tier?
The French striker wasn’t a teenage star that was always destined for success. He has shown an impressive determination to reach the level that he is now at. After making his debut during the 2009-10 campaign, he only went on to make only nine more appearances in Ligue 1 before his breakthrough season of 2011-12.
Lacazette was not an overnight success and he had to fully apply himself to succeed at senior level. He started as a wide forward and looked decent, but it was when Remi Garde moved him into a central role during the 2013-14 season that he started to earn a reputation.
UEFA posted a list of quotes from people that knew him well after he joined Arsenal and it is clear that his former manager was a huge fan:
“Alex has shown confidence. There are a lot of players who are confident on any football pitch, but not many with as much talent as him – especially forwards.”
It was the tactical decision from Garde that allowed Lacazette to take the step to the next level. Across the next three seasons, he became the main man at Lyon and scored 63 goals at a rate of one every 138.4 minutes. This was an incredible record in Ligue 1 and he emerged as one of the best forwards in the division.
Despite being heavily linked with a move away from Lyon last summer, he stayed for another campaign and it was during the 2016/17 season that he made a case for being an elite level talent. He scored 28 goals at a rate of one every 86 minutes – better than one every game.
UEFA reported the following quotes from former Lyon striker Sonny Anderson about the importance of Lacazette:
“Since being chosen to lead the Lyon attack, he knows the team relies heavily on him and, so far, he has been top class. The way he is playing puts him almost on a par with players like Ronaldo or Messi, except that when you play in France you get less media attention.”
That is incredibly high praise and there may have been some bias in his comments when he mentions Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but it reflects how highly Lacazette was thought of by those that watched him regularly at Lyon.
The line about France is an interesting one and there is a lot of truth to it. It is difficult to emerge as a top-tier player if you have only plied your trade in Ligue 1. The players regarded as world-class during their time in France, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Falcao, have all proved themselves elsewhere.
It isn’t their achievements in France that underpin their reputation. In fact, many doubted whether Ibrahimovic was good enough for Manchester United as he had ‘only’ been playing in Ligue 1 for the previous few seasons.
Although it is regarded as one of the top five European leagues, it is seen as the weakest one of the five. His former team-mate, Samuel Umtiti, agreed that he had to leave Lyon to take the next step:
“I have a lot of respect for Lyon – one of the biggest teams in France – but one day he will have to leave to take the next step. He has to. I know him – he will wait for the right time to do it.”
At the age of 26, it was the right time for him to leave Lyon as he had plenty of experience and the confidence to take on a new challenge. It looked at one stage that he would be moving to Spain to join Atletico Madrid. Sky Sports reported in May that he had agreed to join subject to the Spanish club’s transfer ban being overturned. It wasn’t and that left the door open for Arsenal to make their move.
There are a lot of good strikers in the Premier League and they have all experienced postive starts to the 2017/18 campaign. Eight players have either the same number or more goals than Lacazette. The Frenchman needs to show this scoring form over a longer period of time in England before he can be regarded as a top-tier striker. However, the start that he has made bodes well for the future.
Can he fire Arsenal back to the Champions League?
The main objective for Arsenal this season has to be to return to the Champions League, as that is the competition that the best players want to compete in. It was a coup that they persuaded Lacazette to join this summer without the lure of Champions League football and the Frenchman will be the one asked to fire them back there.
Alexis Sanchez was the main man last season, but the uncertainty over his future means that the club will want to slowly pass that responsibility on to Lacazette. That was evident on Monday night as the Frenchman was given the penalty-taking responsibility. He will be the attacker that they look to for consistent goals and to inspire the team to greatness.
It is a huge pressure on the new signing, but four goals in six matches suggests he is ready to thrive under it. Arsenal won’t be frontrunners for a top-four finish. However, they have the quality to challenge for a spot and have a go at the Europa League. It is too early to state whether he can fire them back, but he has the talent to give it a real go.