Alexandre Lacazette gave an exclusive interview to L’Équipe earlier this week when it appeared possible that he might be called up to Didier Deschamps’ 23-man World Cup squad. Instead, he will be a reserve player for the third consecutive major tournament, having been in in the same position for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 squads.
Upon seeing your statistics before and after your knee operation, it seems like it was a turning point in your season…
Yes definitely. Before the operation, I felt pain, but I told myself that I could continue. I was going through a rough period, where I wasn’t playing well or scoring, but I didn’t want to find any excuses. Eventually, my knee started to lock up, so I couldn’t hope to finish the season and go to the World Cup with my knee in that condition.
Did you get your confidence back?
Seeing as my pain went away, I felt liberated. That time off helped me to analyse everything that happened to me during the last months.
We’re talking about ten games without scoring…
I had never experienced that. At night, when I would go home, I would repeat to myself, “Come on, next time it’ll go in!” But it wasn’t… And I’d only realised this after five or six matches. Suddenly, I started asking myself, “How long has it been since I last scored a goal?” It started to bother me.
I don’t know how the other strikers manage, but personally, it got to my head. I couldn’t blame anyone, it was all from me. I couldn’t blame the coach because he was giving me my chance on the field. I couldn’t blame my teammates since chances were being created… It was just me.
Arsène Wenger speaks very little, but did he talk to you then?
Yes, he spoke to me once or twice during that period to tell me that this happens to all strikers, and that it would come back eventually.
What did help you during that period?
Apart from scoring, nothing can help. Your everyday life of course, but on the day of the match, that’s all that matters. After my operation, I started to score right away and it all came back. You get more involved in play and your confidence goes through the roof. While injured, the French national team staff kept up with my situation and that also made me happy.
You were the best goal-scorer for Arsenal during Arsène Wenger’s last season at Arsenal with 17 goals in all competitions. What will you remember of him?
The image and respect that he left for the club. During his final match in the Emirates, where everyone sang for him (5-0 win against Burnley on May 6th), we felt the club inside of him and that he was sad to leave it after 22 years. The day of his final match, he didn’t cry, which was very powerful, but we could feel his emotion. During the dressing room team talk, he even cracked a few jokes, which was his way of hiding certain emotions. During these last few days, he was more relaxed.
What’s more difficult, seeing Atletico Madrid in the final or seeing Marseille in the final in Lyon?
(Hesitating) Both because it means that I’m not there. On the one hand, having Marseille there is a good thing for French football, but we know that Lyon and Marseille don’t get along that well.
Was it strange to play against Atletico, the club which you initially agreed to join one year ago?
No. It was especially weird to play against Antoine Griezmann, and seemingly, every time I play against him, I can’t win (2 encounters). The difficult moment was during the away leg when Laurent Koscielny came off injured (ruptured achilles keeping him out till December). We understood how badly he was suffering. It was the first time that I saw Laurent like that. He’s a strong guy. Even when things are rough, he’ll tell you everything is alright. But seeing him scream like that was cruel because this world cup – his last one – really meant a lot to him.
At Arsenal, the ball doesn’t reach you as naturally as it did in Lyon. Did you have to learn to be patient or was it just a reminder that the centre forward has to convince others to give him the ball?
(Smiling) I think it’s more about me being a sort of key player at Lyon. Here, I’m not quite that. It’s a reminder that I need to work hard to become it. At Lyon, my teammates always looked to play the ball to me, and I could receive the ball by calling for it once or twice. Here, it’s different.
So is it a matter of being convincing or needing time?
You need time to convince the others. It’s always about that — (smiling) being clinical to make others understand that I’m an important offensive element.
Your decision to not go to Atletico in order to not miss out on six months of playing time also followed a rationale with regards to the national team?
Yes, of course.
Where will you be on Thursday at 8 pm?
In Lyon, in front of my TV.
Are you apprehensive?
Yes, because in 2014 and 2016, I was a reserve player for the national team. However, I understood that with the French national team, I wasn’t always very good.
Do you ever write some of the attacking players’ names on a sheet of paper or list them in your head?
Obviously, I often talk about it with my friends. They always put me in it because they’re my friends, but I don’t want them to bring me bad luck!
Where do you see yourself? A guaranteed spot? Most likely going? A possible spot?
(Thinking) Most likely going maybe? I think my two goals in Germany definitely helped!
Was that the career changing match for you in the national team?
Yes, I believe so because I scored against a big national team, and that I felt that I was able to contribute collectively to the team. Something that I was criticised for not doing before.
Did Wissam Ben Yedder’s arrival in the March group worry you?
No. It’s normal to talk about him considering his two goals against Manchester at Old Trafford right before the squad announcement. What I had managed (brace against Germany) took place in November, and in the world of football, that’s a long, long time ago. Of course, I told myself that if Wissam were to score a brace or hat-trick, that I wouldn’t feel great, but I reminded myself that I would still be in the running and that I had the end of the season to show what I’m worth after my knee problems.
Apparently, before the Germany game, Didier Deschamps put a lot of pressure on you…
Yes he did. Basically, he told me that my future depended on that match. He essentially told me, “You have a lot to prove tonight, I’m giving you the opportunity to start a big match. Seize the opportunity and show me!
Do you find him more demanding with you compared to the others?
No, because others didn’t get their chance. If I played, it’s because he trusted me, and I had to pay him back for that. It’s understandable that he is demanding. I had to play well, before he got fed up!
Normally, that would have been one of the last times before being fed up.
(Smiling) That’s exactly what I thought!
Your body language doesn’t always help you…
That’s very possible. The coach is very fixated on that. I know that I sometimes seem nonchalant, even if it isn’t necessarily the case. Plus, when you come on the pitch, miss a couple of easy touches — your body language and touches don’t really do you any favours.
Do you ever think about working on that part or do you refuse to do so out of pride?
No, it’s not out of pride, but I can’t change it that easily. I know I have to be careful, especially in regards to my teammates, even if I make five good runs without getting the ball. But I don’t get angry when I make one good run and don’t receive it, it’s when I’ve made a lot of them.
Sometimes, it leaves people thinking you don’t fight enough, when you actually do…
Yes, some people may think that, but in that respect, statistics can be helpful. The statistics reflect the amount of balls I won back, the amount of runs I’ve made, the amount of sprints I’ve made. Essentially, I could have better body language but win the ball back less, so there’s a bit of a trade-off. (smiling)
Did the brace against Germany appease and liberate you?
It was a relief. A forward is judged based off his goal return or the opportunities created. I went without scoring since the game against Denmark in 2015. I really needed those two goals, they really helped me. Was it enough to be in the 23 man squad? I don’t know, but it would make me really happy. Very, very happy!