All Arsenal fans are asking themselves the same question: will Alexandre Lacazette, the club’s new £50 million+ striker, turn out to be “Alexandre the Great” or merely “Alexandre the Quite Good”?
The Preuve in the Pudding?
The evidence from Lacazette’s time in France with Lyon is inconclusive. On the one hand, he has undeniably improved his scoring rate in recent years, culminating in a superb return of 30-plus league goals last season. On the other hand, he is yet to force himself into Didier Deschamps’ French national squad. With Antoine Griezmann and the two rising starlets, Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, in front of him, he may never do so. Indeed, even the man he is set to replace at the Emirates, Olivier Giroud, has usually been picked for the national team ahead of him.
As a result, it is questionable whether Lacazette will prove himself to be amongst Wenger’s list of truly stellar strikers. Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry, are headliners. But most of his standout strikers he either inherited when he took over the club or bought early on in his Arsenal career. Or will he join the list of journeymen who have tried and failed to follow in the footsteps of Henry, such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Giroud.
However, there is one attribute Lacazette possesses that could prove even more useful than his ability to finish: sheer speed. He may not have the lightning pace and dribbling skill of Mbappe or Dembele, but he is certainly far quicker than Giroud and that could have a transformative effect on the whole Arsenal team.
One of the main reasons why Arsenal shocked Chelsea in the FA Cup Final was the presence in the team of Danny Welbeck. He harried and harassed the Chelsea back three, which had been so sublime all season, for the whole game. Although it was Giroud who set up Aaron Ramsey’s headed winner, it had been Welbeck who laid the groundwork for it by running the Chelsea defenders into the ground.
Welbeck is a very different player to Lacazette. An all-round hard-working attacker as opposed to a specialist finisher, if Welbeck can stay fit, then Wenger would have two top-class centre-forwards to lead the line. And he potentially could accommodate both in a pinch if Welbeck plays wide left. If Alexis Sanchez leaves, it would free up a wide attacker role for Welbeck, who may lack Sanchez’s sheer class but is second to none for his work-rate, tackling back and commitment to the team cause.
There are still many problems for Wenger to fix before the season starts: resolving the future of Ozil and Sanchez; deciding whether to reintegrate Jack Wilshere in the squad after his season-long loan at Bournemouth; and above all deciding whether or not to continue with the three-centreback system that served him so well at the end of the season, culminating in the epic FA Cup final victory over Chelsea.
However, in signing Lacazette, seemingly as a replacement for the relatively lumbering Giroud, Wenger may just have injected some pace back into his forward line which, if anything, could prove even more important than the goals Lacazette scores. The current Arsenal forward line may be a long way from matching the speed of Wenger’s Invincibles (so great was their pace that Henry Winter referred to them as France’s second Olympic relay team), but with Lacazette and possibly Welbeck in the team they will certainly have more “va-va-voom” than they have had for a long time.
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