After losing his place in the team an injury was the last thing Lacazette needed – and now he faces an uphill task to prove his worth
Six months is a long time in football and nobody knows that better than Alexandre Lacazette.
In August, he was being lauded as the answer to Arsenal’s search for a prolific No.9 after marking his Premier League debut with a goal. Now, he faces a fight to prolong his Emirates career.
In the past month alone, the striker has lost his starting spot to club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, blown two excellent chances to salvage a draw for his side in the north London derby against Tottenham and been ruled out for up to six weeks after undergoing minor surgery on his knee.
By the time he returns, he will have just two months to salvage a campaign that had started so well.
Lacazette had hit the ground running after arriving in north London from Lyon last summer for £52.5 million (€60m), scoring four times in his opening six league games for the Gunners.
However, at the turn of the year, the goals began to dry up. He had struck just twice in his previous 14 appearances before injury intervened and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger claimed that the knee problem could have been responsible for his poor form.
“I think he recently must have felt something in his knee,” the French manager told beIN Sports. “Maybe that’s an explanation as to why he wasn’t scoring as many goals as he’s used to.”
Wenger admitted, though, that Lacazette’s confidence is “maybe not at its highest because he has seen a competitor coming in for him”.
Certainly, the arrival of a more experienced player for an even bigger fee would have done more harm than good to the Frenchman’s already fragile confidence.
Lacazette arrived at the Emirates with the nickname ‘Penazette’ due to a large number of his goals coming from the spot last season. He’s proven that he’s more than just a 12-yard kick specialist with technically excellent runs, astute positioning and finishing worthy of a top striker but, as the months have gone on, the early signs of promise have been replaced by worrying evidence of regression.
Whether the slump is psychological or fitness related, there can be no getting away from the fact that Lacazette has played with a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders this season, which some would suggest should have been lifted by Aubameyang displacing him as the club’s most expensive player ever.
Instead, it is likely to turn up the heat even more as Lacazette fights for his future at a club whose only realistic chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season is through winning the Europa League.
“It’s down to Lacazette to say ‘I’m here to fight – I think you’ve got to play me and Aubameyang or I’m going to be in there somehow. I don’t care about Aubameyang, I’m going to be here because I’m worth my weight in gold’,” former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“He’s scored goals in France, he is a good finisher, but I don’t care who you are, what level you’re at, confidence comes out of your game and you aren’t the same player.”
An injury blow at such a crucial point in the season has now paved the way for Danny Welbeck to shine up front in Arsenal’s two-legged, Europa League round-of-32 clash against Swedish side Ostersunds FK.
Coincidentally, Welbeck has suffered injury issues of his own over the past few seasons, severely hindering his hopes of regular game time since joining from Manchester United.
The England man will be targeting a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the 2018 World Cup this summer and the upcoming Europa games present a genuine opportunity for Welbeck to showcase his attacking attributes to the Three Lions boss.
As one door opens for Welbeck, another appears to be closing for Lacazette. He will undoubtedly return above his team-mate in the pecking order when he’s back from injury, but he then faces a mammoth task to usurp Aubamyeng from the starting line-up.
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It could all be solved if Wenger opts to play the two alongside each other, although that would mean having to do without one of his attacking midfielders.
Upon his return to the team it’s up to Lacazette to show the strength of character to prove he is worth every penny of the €60m fee Arsenal paid for him.
He still has time, of course. There is still the Europa League and World Cup to fight for. By the end of the summer, everything could have changed again. After all, six months is a long time in football.