Alexandre Lacazette is set for talks over his Arsenal future in the coming days, a potentially pivotal moment in the Frenchman’s career.
The France striker has never quite taken the club by storm since his £46.5million arrival from Lyon, heading into his fourth season as Arsenal’s No.9 he has yet to reach 50 goals for the club. A strike rate of 48 in 127 is not to be sniffed at but does not compare all that favourably to his predecessors at the Emirates Stadium, nor indeed his team-mate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Yet so much of Lacazette’s time in north London has to be viewed through the prism of Aubameyang, perhaps the striker that Arsenal wanted and certainly a gaunlet laid down in the former’s path when his reign as record signing was summarily ended after half a season.
It is a stroke of great fortune or wisdom that Arsenal have managed to sustain an ecosystem with two star strikers who not only enjoy playing with each other but are willing to subsume their own needs to bring the best out of each other. It is rare indeed to see players with quite the same bond as Lacazette and Aubameyang, inseperable at the training ground and beyond.
In the rare moments of attacking thrust during Unai Emery’s tenure there was joy to the tandem between the two, Lacazette in particular relishing a role as facilitator that did not go unappreciated by supporters. In the year when Aubameyang won the Golden Boot it was his strike partner who fans named their player of the season.
That Lacazette was as clutch a performer as Arsenal had, scoring decisive goals against the likes of Napoli, Valencia, Chelsea and Liverpool. Add into his 13 Premier League goals the 10 assists he provided and the Frenchman had a direct hand in a goal every 108 minutes. In that same campaign Aubameyang registered one every 101 minutes.
The two seemed on a par with each other, different players though they were, and during Emery’s second summer many would argue that if one of the dynamic duo had to be let go it ought to be the older Aubameyang, who had one year less to run on his contract.
Few would make such a case now after a season where the goal contributions have dried up and injuries have hobbled the forward; Indeed it could be argued that Lacazette’s role has now moved from attacking focal point to makeweight in trade talks. football.london understands Arsenal have indicated to Atletico Madrid, long-standing admirers of the 29-year-old, that they would be willing to package him in a deal for Thomas Partey. The Spanish giants’ stance is clear for now – they want his £45million release clause paid in full.
If Arsenal want to fund that signature or their pursuit of Houssem Aouar then Lacazette is among those who could be sold for a more sizeable sum even if suitors are not exactly hammering down their doors. Juventus were linked earlier in the window but neither they nor Atletico are flush with cash.
And yet compared to Hector Bellerin, who has attracted genuine interest from Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich, selling Lacazette prompts more questions. Arsenal may not have another right-back with the pedigree of the Spaniard but they have Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Cedric Soares, both blessed with experience and with the former making swift strides in his game.
There are alternatives to Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah could be long-term option to lead the line. It would be a great ask, however, for him to hold the ford for at least the remainder of 2020 with Gabriel Martinelli sidelined. Neither the Brazilian nor the England Under-21 international seems quite ready to be Arsenal’s first-choice centre forward.
Of course Arsenal could take what they earn for Lacazette and reinvest it in a replacement but that rather defies the point of using him to help fund the strengthening of midfield. Equally in the current market it is hard to see a player approaching his 30s earning the sort of fee that could be reinvested in a quality younger alternative.
Odsonne Edouard of Celtic is understood to be among those Arsenal have identified as a successor to Lacazette but with the Scottish champions said to price him at anywhere between £30million and £40million, perhaps more than the Gunners might get for their current No.9.
Arsenal could cash in on Lacazette but they can’t be certain he can be replaced in such a way that it doesn’t make more sense to simply hold on to him. Yet if they do they must either offer the 29-year-old an extension to his two year deal or risk getting a similarly minimal return in 10 months time.
The most logical answer might be to sell Lacazette and deploy Aubameyang through the middle but it is something that so far Arteta seems to have instinctively avoided.
Even in Lacazette’s deepest dips in form this season the Gunners head coach has proven more willing to play Nketiah through the middle than redeploy his top scorer. During those times Arteta spoke assertively over his belief in the No.9 and his qualities.
“I really like Alex, I said that even before I joined here that he is the type of striker that I really like,” Arteta said in July. “I think he had periods where he was very unlucky, because he was having the chances and not converting them which he is not used to.
“But the way he can link play, he’s a massive competitor he hates to lose. He goes for every ball, you see in every challenge how he’s ready to go. He works really hard and he’s a very intelligent player, I am really happy with him.”
That faith was rewarded in the latter weeks of the season where he scored three and provided two assists in the last six league games of the season. He was the No.9 that Arsenal had seen before, dovetailing elegantly with Aubameyang, making space for others to excel and linking midfield and attack. None of those skills ought to diminish with age, there is no reason why that version of Lacazette cannot excel in his autumn years.
Meanwhile the revived Lacazette still has that most crucial of traits, making decisive contributions in big games.
Aubameyang has proven that a 30th birthday need not herald the death knell. Whilst those around Arsenal have been casting around for evidence to support the suggestion that pacey strikers can thrive in their mid 30s – think Jamie Vardy – perhaps the club captain offers a reassuring vision for Lacazette, an indication that the best may be yet to come.
If Arteta’s faith is well-placed then it is not worth losing Lacazette even if it secures an Aouar or Partey instead. The player that came up in the clutch so frequently for Arsenal in 2018/19 may be on the verge of returning.