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Can Alexandre Lacazette return Arsenal to the Champions League?

Sunday 1st October 2017
This summer, Arsenal focused on keeping rather than adding talent, a key exception being Alexandre Lacazette. Can he deliver a Champions League return?

On Monday night, Lacazette was the star as Arsenal regained their Premier league footing with a 2-0 win over difficult West Brom. This was a result Arsene Wenger needed to prove his team is still relevant to the title picture. While it wasn't a perfect result, the French boss will be pleased his new French star rose to the occasion.

Going into the international break, the Gunners continued their momentum, dispatching newcomers Brighton, again 2-0. Lacazette failed to make the scoresheet in this one. With Wenger's efforts to preserve the squad not exactly successful--Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is now Jurgen Klopp's selection headache, while neither Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil appear fully committed--the pressure is on the former Lyon striker to be more consistent. That said, Wenger's other notable recruit, Sead Kolasinac, is fulfilling his potential in the left wingback spot, providing excellent support, and Lacazette has tallied four goals in seven league games. It's an acceptable rate when you don't concern yourself with the pace Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata, and the now-injured Sergio Aguero are setting.
Arsenal hasn't had a 20-goal striker since Robin van Persie's departure. Olivier Giroud is a proven goal-scorer, capable of reaching double figures, but still cannot be considered in the top tier. If the Gunners are making any plans to return to the top, they need a reliable striker. Lacazette seems to be the puzzle's missing piece.

Is he at top-tier level yet?

The French striker wasn't ticketed for stardom during his youth career. He strove hard to achieve his present status. After debuting during the 2009-10 campaign, he only made nine more Ligue 1 appearances before breaking through in 2011-12. He began his career as a winger and looked decent. When former Lyon coach Remi Garde moved him into the number nine role, in 2013-14, he exploded in a manner similar to Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Borussia Dortmund. Needless to say, Garde was thrilled.

Alex has shown confidence. There are a lot of players who are confident on any football pitch, but not many with as much talent as him – especially forwards.
It was Garde's tactical adjustment that enabled Lacazette take the next step. Across the next three seasons, he became the hero at Lyon, scoring 63 goals, one every 138.4 minutes. Despite being heavily linked with an exit from Lyon in 2015-16, he remained for another season. In 2016-17, he began to be mentioned among the best at this position in Europe. Although injury slowed him, he found the net 28 times, once every 86 minutes, better than one every game and the sort of pace Lukaku is setting at the moment with Manchester United.

Former Lyon teammate Sonny Anderson piled on the praise.

Since being chosen to lead the Lyon attack, he knows the team relies heavily on him and, so far, he has been top class. The way he is playing puts him almost on a par with players like Ronaldo or Messi, except that when you play in France you get less media attention.

While the comparison to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may seem a little inflated, it shows how highly Lacazette was regarded by those who watched him play at Lyon. There is more than a grain of truth, as well, to the comment about playing in France. It is difficult to be recognized for your skills when your opposition isn't the best. Players regarded as top-class during their time in France, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, and Radamel Falcao, all earned their reputations elsewhere.
At Arsenal, Lacazette must prove wrong the doubters, much as the far more accomplished Ibrahimovic did upon arriving in the Premier league after several seasons in France. Samuel Umtiti affirmed that he had to leave Lyon to further his career:

I have a lot of respect for Lyon – one of the biggest teams in France – but one day he will have to leave to take the next step. He has to. I know him – he will wait for the right time to do it.

The right time was this summer, at the age of 26. After early reports had him joining Atletico Madrid, the Rojiblancos were unsuccessful in appealing their transfer ban. Arsenal took advantage.

Can he return Arsenal back to the Champions League?

Arsenal's main objective in 2017-18 must be an immediate Champions League return. Without it, they have no chance to re-sign either Sanchez or Ozil. Nor will Wenger be able to attract comparable replacements. It was a coup convincing Lacazette to join without Champions League. Perhaps he viewed the lighter schedule as the opportune moment to test himself in England. The price, however, is responsibility for firing the Gunners back into the competition.

Alexis Sanchez was the main man last season. His reluctance to continue in the role shifts the burden onto Lacazette's shoulders. The change was confirmed against the Baggies, when the Frenchman assumed and calmly dispatched the penalty duties. He will be the attacker on which Wenger and Gooners rely in difficult circumstances.
There are many top strikers in the Premier League. Every one, it seems, has experienced a positive start to the running campaign. Eight players either match or exceed the Frenchman's early pace. Alexandre Lacazette has set a firm foundation for future success with Arsenal. However, he must build upon it quickly or risk being labeled a failure. Such is the pressure of playing in the Premier League.
Adebayo Temitope

Temitope, an ardent soccer fan. I may be based in Lagos but I watch as much European football as I can. I've been writing about football for several years, before I joined IRIAW you may have seen my work on The Football Weeks. I'm also a keen music fan

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