Speaking in an exclusive interview with L’Équipe, French international and Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette set out his stall for the 2020/21 campaign.
We haven’t heard from you in a long time. Why the silence?
Because I didn’t have much to say. There was the quarantine, and before that, the period was not exceptional for me. I preferred to dive back into football, at a time when less people spoke about me, the better I was.
On the contrary, you are being talked about a lot at the moment, in terms of transfers. Atletico Madrid, Juventus…
Each summer, there is Atletico and my name in the same sentence. It is a bit annoying sometimes, but other times I learn things, which is funny. I learned that I called Antoine (Griezmann) to talk to him about Atletico, for example, by reading about it from someone who seemed to be more aware than me. This sort of thing can be a bit of a pain, but it is part of the job.
What is your position today?
I am at Arsenal, I signed (in 2017) a 5-year contract to progress and win titles. I have two more to come. I am determined to stay.
Is that a definitive decision?
On my part, yes.
But when you read that Arsenal want to put you in a deal with Atlético Madrid for Thomas Partey, that must make you happy?
If that is true, no, it does not make me happy. What counts, is the choices that the coach makes, his belief. He is the one who makes the team, not the directors up high in the offices, and I know that he believes in me.
The phrase he used was: “Why do you want me to get rid from Lacazette?” And there have been former players, like Nigel Winterburn, who have underlined that Arsenal play better with you on the pitch…
That is always nice. They really know ball and the club, and to see that they are happy with what I am doing, in what they are seeing, even if I don’t score, is encouraging. My teammates too, tell me that. I know that I have a bit of a different role as a number 9 now.
But the season was still tough?
Yes, but with a wonderful ending and I learned a lot during this season. Mentally, but also tactically. With coach Mikel it is really something different to everything that I have experienced before. Tactically, it is very, very good. In the end, I am still happy with what I have experienced this season, because it matures you, these type of moments.
All these good things about Arteta, do you still think them when he plays the young Eddie Nketiah in your place?
Yes. What I don’t like, is that I am not playing, in those cases, but he is a very good coach, tactically.
But is he not the reason why you did not play in the Community Shield?
No, I was in quarantine. I was in Guadeloupe when England announced their new quarantine measures, and I was not able to get back in time. I arrived in France on the Sunday, I went through Paris, and I was in London at the beginning of the week, but I needed to do my quarantine, like everyone else.
How did you feel, seeing Lyon in the semi-finals of the Champions’ League?
Very happy. I spoke a fair bit with more former team-mates on the day of the match, hoping for an upset, even though I knew it was going to be difficult. I spoke with some current players, Houssem (Aouar), Antho (Lopes), Jeff (Reine-Adélaïde), Maxwell (Cornet), but also swapped a lot of messages with ex-players in our WhatsApp group, with Sam (Umtiti), Clément (Grenier), Max (Gonalons), “Jaja” (Jallet), notably. This semi-final, I knew it was going to be difficult, even though my Lyon side made me hope right until the end.
Supporters are making plans to bring Lyon and Samuel Umtiti together…
Yes, I see that, and even my friends who support Lyon won’t stop speaking to me about it laughing. But they know that it is not on the agenda.
Arsenal are going to make a big effort to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Does that harden your decision to stay?
For me, my decision is taken. Aside from that, of course it is reassuring in terms of the club’s ambitions, the desire to win titles, be at the top of the table, which we have missed out on in recent years, even if we have had cup victories.
On top of that, he barely plays as a centre-forward these days…
(smiles) Yes, but he has the statistics of a centre-forward. We need him.
But he takes all the penalties from you?
Yes, it is true that I no longer take them, but I have no problem with that. I know that if I want to take one, he will leave it for me. If I got in my head with that, and if I was being egotistical, I would try to take them, or ask him if I can take one or two, but I this is really not how I look at things. If he scores, if he allows us to win, that is what counts.
What Arsenal fans like is that your are not egotistical…
I was not at Lyon either! Sometimes, here, I get criticised for not being [egotistical] enough, but that is not how I see football. I like to score, but I have another role than goalscorer who plays centrally, now, I participate more in move construction, I find enjoyment in other ways. At Lyon, I was responsible for scoring, and here, it is more like I need to help the team to play well, to be dangerous.
Your second season with Arsenal saw you made player of the year? The third was more difficult. What do you expect from the fourth?
In the third one, we won titles! I got individual awards after the second one yes, but the feeling is different. Winning trophies is important. In terms of my personal situation, I was much better fitness wise in 2018/19 than last season. I got injured quite early, I forced things, there were changes at coach level, too. I had three in one season, and also there was this whole change to the self-belief of the squad, and my personal self-belief was also part of that (affected).
Did it eat away at you, for example, to go more than a year without scoring away from home in the Premier League, from February 2019 to July 2020?
Yes, even though I only realised quite late on that I hadn’t scored away from home for that long. Because during this period, admittedly, I did score away from home in the Europa League. I knew that it was a long time, in the Premier League, but it was when the stats were brought out that I really realised it. And then I said to myself: “Oh, yes, it has been a while…”
Is there something happening at Arsenal?
The coach has brought a bit of order into the club, in the squad. He has brought ambitions, in what he is looking for, in terms of what he has known before, too, with his experience at Manchester City. Aside from that, this type of change is not something that can be done in six months, because it is a long process, but yes, it is in the process of happening. Our results in the restart and the cup victory proved that we could rival teams, even with a different type of football. That did a lot of good to the squad.
Does the Aubameyang goal against Liverpool, from a move that was started in your own box, show the new Arsenal style?
Yes, that is it. In this move, we see that we want to go forward, push quickly and take risks at the back. We feel that the whole team is confident with their play.
What are Arsenal’s aims this season?
The same as when I arrived: the Champions’ League. Now that we have won two trophies, we want to win more.
What should push us to believe in Arsenal?
There is the side of the coach, but also us. We need to accept defeat far less easily than we have sometimes done. I have said it, something is happening at the heart of this club. There is a sense of awareness. I don’t know if it is because I am so hopeful that I feel like everyone else believes it, or if I am hopeful all on my own, but I really think we can do it this season.
Are your robbed of English football’s essence when you play behind closed doors?
It is different of course, but it is different for everyone, not just in England. You miss out on the feeling that you get in front of your fans that you are winning together as one.
Where are you personally before this match against Fulham?
I am good physically, I have been continuing my preparations for the last two weeks. It is not a big deal, but we have only stopped for 3 weeks, it is not as long a stoppage as in previous years. We played two friendly matches against Queens Park Rangers and Aston Villa. I did not score, but I won a penalty in each match (smiles). We can’t wait for the season to start and see what it has in store for us.
Since the 2018 World Cup and your lack of being selected, what outlook do you take on the French national team? Is it still an aim for you?
I look at it in the same way, I am still a supporter of the French national team and my former colleagues. Aside from that, for the rest, I think that the manager has made his squad. There can always be surprised, but there, he has his group of attackers. If he even needs me, I will be there, of course, but I focus on it less than before. I haven’t been called up for 3 years.
Is that a type of blow that stays or is fading?
No, that one stays, Whatever happens, it stays. It is always in the corner of my head. I just say to myself that I finished well, that I have no regrets about my last match in the French national team against Germany (where he scored a double in a 2-2 draw in November 2017). After that, Les Bleus won the World Cup, wonderful for France. And wonderful for my friends.