Arsenal’s summer business may not have turned the heads that their fellow Premier League sides’ did, but Arsene Wenger had taken a different approach; recruiting for a system.
Sead Kolasinac’s free transfer stabilised the wing-back side of things in the Gunners’ 3-4-3 setup, but there was still one vital piece of the puzzle missing. Wenger, and Arsenal, had been after a world class and capable striker for years, and it arrived in the form of €55m Alexandre Lacazette.
Lacazette offered guaranteed goals, a phenomenal track-record and a slight sense of versatility. He arrived in London with his best ever, 37-goal campaign still rich in the memory, and Arsenal fans expected him to hit the ground running…
He did just that, too. Wenger gave him the opportunity to impress against Leicester on the opening day, as an out-and-out striker in the 3-4-3. The Frenchman, however, didn’t appear to operate in his natural, focal role that had been so effective with Lyon, but instead as a slightly deeper forward.
Lacazette worked hard throughout, the 5’7″ striker adapted to the system and contributed to multiple phases of build-up, dropping deep to receive and finding space. His unfound knack for hold-up play shone through too, an attribute that possibly wasn’t expected by Arsenal fans. And, when a kind ball floated into the box in the second minute, he didn’t think twice before nodding it past Kasper Schmeichel.
Traditionally a striker, Lacazette can function on either flank in addition to through the middle, a trait that suits Arsenal’s three-man attack in the 3-4-3 almost to perfection. Usually, Wenger opts for inside forwards such as Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and even Danny Welbeck on the left and right sides of his front three, which perhaps suggests that, if needed, Lacazette will be able to competently play the wider roles.
However, with a system as complex as this, the point remains that Lacazette will find it hard to mould himself into the crux of the team as he did in France. The 3-4-3 requires and demands work ethic and continuous endeavour. This means that even as a lone striker, Lacazette won’t immediately become the focal point of Arsenal’s attacking movements, as he was during his successful tenure with Lyon.
Of the 30 Ligue 1 games he played last term, the Frenchman was deployed as a striker in each and every one of them – which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Lyon’s defensive 4-3-3 would see Lacazette take up the role of centre-forward, with alternative attackers such as Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay either side of him.
From the 37 goals scored across all competitions, 23 were dispatched in the shape of a one-on-one or a penalty, which just epitomises Lacazette’s playing style – an old-fashioned poacher.
Another intriguing statistic is that an overwhelming 71 shots from his 83 in Ligue 1 came inside the 18-yard box. And so it is evident that when within close proximity of the net, his predatory instincts kick into gear, and Lacazette excels. However, the question of how he can reproduce his incredible form at Arsenal still beckons. The Gunners certainly have the capable personnel to make it happen, but how?
At Lyon, the likes of Maxime Gonalons and Sergi Darder would thread balls between the opponent’s back-line to pick out Lacazette’s intelligent runs in behind. This particular attribute may just have been the deal-breaker for Arsenal. Granit Xhaka’s excellent vision and range of passing from deep could complement Lacazette’s intelligence to devastating effect.
His cold-blooded finishing and ruthlessness in front of goal presents an exciting prospect to Arsenal. They haven’t had a player with such rich finishing ability since Robin van Persie, and Lacazette has the capacity to be the catalyst in the Gunners’ revival this season.
His ability to latch onto through balls and effectively put them away lines up perfectly for a certain Mesut Ozil. Arsenal have one of the best passers in world football. Despite the German international’s inconsistencies, he still possesses technical quality and intelligence in abundance. This can only bode well for both the team and for Lacazette himself, who can add the finishing touches to the often-exquisite passing movements that Ozil orchestrates.
Lacazette’s inevitable move to the Emirates had been a long time coming. His impressive exploits in Ligue 1 led to him almost outgrowing Lyon and seeking a new challenge. The chance for him to prove his worth in the Premier League is now, and with a positive start to proceedings, the French international is only going to get better.