English Football

Lacazette should hit the ground running

Photo: PA

THERE WILL be great expectations at the Emirates Stadium this coming season when former Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette makes his debut for Arsenal.

And the expectation will not only be on the part of the Gunners’ supporters, for Lacazette will also be hoping to make an immediate impact at his new club. The fee, some EUR 60m, is one thing, but the Frenchman is 26 and he cannot afford to waste time. He has to come quickly out of the traps.

Arsenal’s regulars have been urging the club to buy a top quality out-and-out striker since Robin van Persie left the Emirates in 2012. But in truth, they haven’t had a prolific front-man since Thierry Henry went to Barcelona in 2006. True, van Persie hit 30 league goals in 2012, but they really only had two very good years out of the Dutchman.

There’s every reason to suspect that Lacazette will deliver. Only four players in top European football have scored 20-plus goals in each of the last three seasons – Lacazette, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane. There’s been talk of him leaving for a year or two, but for some reason, he’s stayed at Lyon where he has been idolised.

He’s just enjoyed his best season with Lyon in terms of goalscoring, netting 37 in 45 games. He leaves the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region after scoring 129 goals in 275 games for Lyon. What’s more, in 2017-18 he had an impressive conversion rate of 38.9%, the best in European football.

Arsenal fans should ignore the criticism that Lacazette’s goal record is boosted by too many penalties. He may have scored 11 last season, but just 33 of his goals for Lyon have come from the spot. Lacazette’s pace and dribbling skills will allow him to adjust to Premier League life and there’s every reason to believe that he will be successful.  The only question mark is whether he can adjust to the physical demands of the English game.

The move to Arsenal may also help gain him a regular chance with his country. There are rumours that the coach of Les Bleus, Didier Deschamps, doesn’t rate Lazazette, but he is up against the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezman. Lacazette did not get selected for both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 squads, but he will be expected to be involved in Russia next summer, although there’s even more competition now in the form of Monaco’s exciting Kylian Mbappé.

Just compare the goalscoring records of French strikers. Lacazette has scored 91 Ligue 1 goals in the last four seasons. Griezman has netted 76 in that period and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud has 56 to his name.

If Arsenal keep Alexis Sanchez, who scored 24 Premier goals in 2016-17, the addition of Lacazette will surely make Arsenal into title contenders. But it is looking likely that the Chilean will be leaving the club, which may add pressure on the big fee signing.

Lacazette may be the first prolific scorer Arsenal have signed in some time, but throughout their history, they have seen expensive strikers arrive at the club, accompanied by hopes of inspiring the club to better things. They don’t always work out. When Charlie Nicholas was signed in 1983 from Celtic, after scoring 50-plus goals in the previous season, he was supposed to be the catalyst the club needed to win honours. Nicholas was popular, but scored just 34 goals in 151 games. Years earlier, Bobby Gould was a big signing in 1968 from Coventry, where he had scored a goal every two games, and was seen as a player that could rekindle the club’s fortunes. Gould struggled to hold down a first team place and moved on two years later. Clive Allen, secured for £ 1,250,000 from Queens Park Rangers, came and went without playing a single competitive game.

But other big-name strikers have been very successful. Malcolm Macdonald was an instant success after his £ 333,333 move from Newcastle United in 1976, scoring 25 times in the league in his debut season. Similarly, Alan Smith, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry settled in well after joining from Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Juventus respectively.

Lacazette has an excellent track record, and could be the player Arsenal have been longing to capture for years. It could be that Arsene Wenger will get his memorable swan song after all.

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