Friday, May 24, 2024

Lacazette to leave: thoughts

Morning. A quick Saturday round-up, and the place to start is the not unexpected announcement that Alexandre Lacazette is to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of June.

Mikel Arteta said:

“Laca has been a fantastic player for us. He’s been a real leader on and off the pitch and has been a very important influence to our younger players.

“His commitment with us has been exceptional and we wish him and his family success and happiness.”

While Lacazette himself said:

“The club is taking a new direction and we are at the end of my contract as well. Now it is time for me to have a new experience, new adventure.

“For me it was a pleasure to play at a club I dreamed of when I was young.”

It’s the normal stuff clubs and players say when they part ways, and it was obvious on the final day when he stayed on the pitch with his family that his time at Arsenal was up. As always, there’s debate about whether or not he was a good signing, and as I mentioned yesterday, given the price-tag, what we got in return was less than I expected.

206 appearances, 71 goals, not quite at the minimum 1 in 2 level you’d expect as par for the course for a striker at a club like ours, and while he stayed relatively injury free bar one absence in (maybe) his second season, I don’t think he was ever quite on top of the physical level required in the Premier League.

People often connect the signing of Granit Xhaka and our absence from the Champions League, something I don’t really think is fair because this is a team game, but it could apply also to Lacazette. £50m in the summer of 2017 broke our transfer record until we spent £55m on another striker just 6 months later.

For me, at least, I think you have to put Lacazette’s signing into the context of the time it was made. The club made some poor decisions in the transfer market, and signing Lacazette only to bring in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the next window never really made any strategic sense beyond Arsene Wenger wanting as much fire power as possible. I’m not sure he really gave any thought as to whether the two could work in tandem, and beyond a period under Unai Emery when they clicked, it was always an underlying issue.

But this was the era of spending £35m on Shkodran Mustafi, for a time the third most expensive defensive signing of all time; £18m for Lucas Perez when the manager was told he wasn’t quite of the quality required; and the ghastly Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal. Arsene’s transfer market touch deserted him in the final years of his reign, but he was always looking for strikers.

Every summer we were after someone to come in and do more than Olivier Giroud who was a consistent 20 goal a season player for us since his arrival in 2012. Everyone wanted more though, not least Wenger who targetted Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, and Jamie Vardy as he looked for that player. There were probably others too, but they were the most public pursuits.

In the end, despite being linked with him and passing over more than once, he pulled the trigger on Lacazette in the summer of 2017, and it ultimately led to the departure of Giroud as part of the Aubameyang deal. Did Lacazette give us more than his fellow Frenchman? Certainly not in terms of output, Giroud’s average goals per game record is superior, and he had 22 goals and 12 assists in 2013-14 and 24 goals and 6 assists in 2015-16. Lacazette’s best season was in 2018-19 when he scored 19 goals with 13 assists, he never once broke the 20 goal for a season mark.*

*stats via transfermarkt

Which isn’t to say he didn’t make a positive contribution, he was awarded player of the season for that campaign, and even during the most recent campaign I think he helped the team when Aubameyang departed. The fact that goals had dried up was a problem though, but the reluctance to change something sooner when it was such an obvious problem has to be on Mikel Arteta more than Lacazette himself. If part of that was a lack of options, that too has to be on the manager, the Technical Director Edu, and the club for what they did/didn’t do in January.

All in all, he seemed like a good guy who did his best, but a £50m outlay on a player who didn’t really push the needle forward and then leaves for free isn’t the kind of transfer that wins any big plaudits. As he said himself though, the club is going in a different direction, and it looks as if he’ll be going back ‘home’ to play for Lyon again, so the best of luck to him back in France.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Have a great Saturday, whatever you’re up to.

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