Alexandre Lacazette has the numbers to press his case. Across eight seasons at Lyon the striker scored 100 goals in 203 Ligue 1 appearances and there were a further 29 in the cups and Europe. The supporters of his boyhood club will remember the spectacular ones, and there were a number of those, but each was marked by a particular brand of precision and ruthlessness.
They have led Lacazette to an extremely big number because never before have Arsenal paid so much for a player. The 26-year-old’s transfer fee could rise as high as €60m (£52.7m) if all of the add-ons are met.
Yet, as Lacazette prepares to step into the Emirates madhouse, it distills into a single issue for him. Can he make the difference for Arsenal in their quest for a first Premier League title since 2004? Or, to put it another way, does he have the world-class quality to do so?
It might seem like a black-and-white way of considering the principal aspect of his challenge but, then again, it has long been the championship or bust for Arsène Wenger in terms of vindicating the second part of his long tenure.
Arsenal have craved a top centre-forward for some time or, at least, since Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012 and Olivier Giroud came in from Montpellier. Yes, Alexis Sánchez is a world-class player and he played as the No9 for plenty of last season. But, by the end, Wenger had returned him to his roaming brief off the flank and the manager said that he preferred him there. It was Giroud who finished at the tip of the formation.
Giroud has been a lightning rod for the fans’ frustrations and the consensus on him is he is a very good centre-forward, who is capable of flashes of inspiration. His scorpion kick against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day was one of the best goals of last season and there have been other crackers, including the sumptuous touch and finish against West Ham United in April 2014.
But Giroud is not world class and he has been damned by the perception he is not quite good enough; that he is not the player to help Arsenal become the best in England.
Can Lacazette be that man? Is he the upgrade on Giroud that even Wenger – through deeds rather than words – has indicated he has needed? Wenger tried and failed to sign Luis Suárez from Liverpool in 2013, following Giroud’s first season in north London and then there was the Sánchez experiment up front last season.
The curious thing is that Lacazette has been nowhere near Didier Deschamps’ starting France team whereas Giroud has come to be the manager’s preferred foil for Antoine Griezmann. When Deschamps introduced Lacazette as a 73rd-minute substitute against Paraguay on 2 June, it was his first international involvement since October 2015. He came on for Giroud, who had scored a hat-trick.
Deschamps gave Lacazette the first of his 11 caps against Uruguay in June 2013 but has started him in only three games and did not name him in his squad for the World Cup in 2014 or Euro 2016 – when Giroud was a key player.
Deschamps would say his preference for Giroud ought not to be taken as a slight to Lacazette. They are different types of No9 – Giroud the old-fashioned hold-up man; Lacazette the more mobile predator. For the balance of the team and the way Deschamps wants to play, he has considered Giroud to be the solution.
It might also be pointed out that Deschamps has an excess of riches up front, with his other choices including Kylian Mbappé, Kévin Gameiro, Kingsley Coman, Anthony Martial and Ousmane Dembélé. And that is before Karim Benzema is factored in. Benzema is technically available for selection having been dropped for Euro 2016 after he was questioned by police in connection to an alleged blackmail attempt against his then France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. It seems unlikely that Benzema will return while Deschamps is in charge.
It has, nevertheless, been possible to feel Deschamps has not fully trusted Lacazette; that he has been sceptical about whether the player possesses the requisite class. There has also been the view that Lacazette may be more effective as an impact substitute for France, which can impact negatively on a player’s psyche.
Lacazette has been at the top of the game in Ligue 1 for the past three years and there are those in Lyon who think that the 2014-15 season was his best one, when he formed an irrepressible partnership with Nabil Fekir, a touch player, who shares certain qualities with Mesut Özil. Lacazette scored 27 league goals that season and 31 overall but most believe it was last season when he took his football to the next level and changed people’s perceptions.
The numbers were startling: 28 league goals in 30 appearances and 37 in 45 matches in all competitions. Previously, he had been criticised for going missing in the biggest games; now, he rose to them. Wenger was convinced and the call-up from Deschamps for the end-of-season fixtures against Paraguay, Sweden and England was interpreted as a sign he had been won over. On the other hand, Deschamps had named a bigger squad than usual because of the number of matches and he did not use Lacazette against Sweden or England, when he once again started with Giroud.
Lacazette’s hold-up work improved greatly last season and Arsenal are getting a striker who can pretty much do it all – apart from dominate in the air. A converted right winger, he can play off the No9 as well as in the No9 role and he is defined by his movement off the ball, work rate, pace and technique, as well as by his goal instinct. He loves to get into the box with little one-twos and the comparison that has done the rounds in English football circles has been to Ian Wright. More fleet of foot than Giroud, he will bring a different dimension to Wenger’s formation, whether it be 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or the 3-4-2-1 seen in April and May.
Arsenal’s purchase of Lacazette has been underpinned by realism. Would it have been realistic to have pushed for Monaco’s Mbappé or, say, Álvaro Morata at Real Madrid? Who else is out there? And Wenger’s need has been extreme to the point of desperate.
Lacazette’s detractors say if he were world class, he would have left Lyon two or three years ago and they also argue his statistics have been inflated by the number of penalties he has scored. Of his 129 goals in all competitions for Lyon, 23 came from the spot. Hence the unkind nickname “Penalzette”. Physically, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the Premier League and one thing is very clear – the pressure on him will be huge, particularly if Sánchez is prized away and the team have to replace his goals and assists.
Does Lacazette have the x-factor? Can he bring it to Arsenal? All eyes are on him.