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Is Alexandre Lacazette ready to fire Arsenal back to the Champions League?

Jake Jackman

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Alexandre Lacazette

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.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Arsenal

Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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An absence of progress at Arsenal leaves Arsene Wenger in danger of becoming the villain

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”.

So says Harvey Dent, a character in the 2008 DC Comics action movie The Dark Night Rises, which portrays the story of the fictional superhero Batman as he fights against organised crime in Gotham City.

There may be no men dressed as bats around the Emirates Stadium but it is a quote that might resonate with the thoughts and feelings of a growing number of Arsenal supporters regarding the position of Arsene Wenger in recent seasons.

The Frenchman is one of the most influential and successful managers in the club’s history, having secured ten major trophies since his appointment in 1996 and overseen the transition from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, but has come under increasing pressure over the last three seasons as The Gunners struggle to maintain the pace set by their title rivals.

The previous campaign was tainted by calls from from a portion of the Arsenal fan base for the 68-year-old to resign, although the club eventually opted to hand him a new two-year deal.

However, eight months on  and Wenger’s position has never been more fragile and the number of dissenting voices in the stands is beginning to increase.

The frustration around the Emirates Stadium is completely understandable. The Gunners are 23 points behind league leaders Manchester City, face an uphill task to qualify for the Champions League next season and suffered an early exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Nottingham Forrest.

Furthermore, Arsenal are in danger of losing two of their prize assets in the summer for nothing after allowing the contracts of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to run down into their final year. The unwillingness of the duo to remain in North London is a definitive sign that the club are no longer considered to be a significant threat in the domestic game.

With the club slipping behind their title rivals and struggling to retain key players, Wenger is in danger of turning from a hero into a villain.

A lack of forward momentum

The one thing that Arsenal have lacked this season, and arguably for a number of years, is a sense that the club is making progress or moving in the right direction.

The Gunners have been on a gradual decline that is only now beginning to come to the fore and there has been nothing to suggest that Arsene Wenger has the vision or prowess to reinvigorate a club that is anchored in stagnation. Even success in the FA Cup has felt like a brief moment of respite rather than a signal that a corner had been turned.

The Frenchman has failed to correct the issues that have undermined the team on the pitch, exemplified by his inability to purchase a top-quality central defender or defensive midfielder, and it has now been nearly thirteen years since the club last won the Premier League title.

A sense of progress is why Jurgen Klopp and Mauriccio Pochettino have sustained their positions at Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively, despite failing to secure any silverware between them and have retained the favour of their club’s supporters.

Both have implemented a clear philosophy and playing style whilst creating the feeling around Anfield and Wembley that the team is moving forward in the right direction.

Wenger has secured more silverware than both Klopp and Pochettino combined since 2014 yet he finds himself under increasing pressure due to a lack of any forward momentum at the Emirates Stadium.

Whilst there is a general feeling that Liverpool and Tottenham are improving, the perception of many Arsenal supporters is that the club is standing still at best and certainly slipping behind their counterparts.

There have been question marks around Wenger’s future for some time and yet this feels like the 68-year-old is on the edge of cliff.

Success in the FA Cup has provided him with a degree of respite in recent years which made his team selection for the defeat to Nottingham Forrest appear especially bizarre.

With Arsenal already out of the title race you would have thought that Wenger would have put extra emphasis on winning the competition which, arguably, allowed him to negotiate a new contract in the summer.

However, such is the obvious disparity in quality between the Gunners and Manchester City that Wenger can no longer hide behind domestic cup success.

Failure to qualify for the Champions League for a second consecutive year would signify how far the club has fallen and the pressure on the Frenchman has been further exacerbated by the seemingly imminent departures of Sanchez and Ozil.

Whilst Liverpool and Tottenham are moving forward, Arsenal seem to be moving backwards. With Wenger’s position appearing increasingly fragile and the club in decline you have to wonder whether the Frenchman has now become the villain of the piece.

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