We’re still in the first week of July, but the Premier League has already reached a point where it seems any signing will do as clubs return to pre-season training.
In the increasingly hyperbolic era football now resides in, that frustration inevitably seeps into the fan bases, which is perhaps why Arsenal supporters are so excited the club’s swoop for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, in a £46.5million deal that could eventually rise to £52.6million.
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From relentless criticism of Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to spend a few years ago, a club-record deal for a free-scoring front-man is seemingly a welcome move in the right direction. Yet, when compared with the situation last summer, Arsenal’s impending deal for Lacazette actually represents quite poor business.
Indeed, Arsenal’s pursuit of Lacazette stems back much further than the current transfer window. In fact, he’s been mooted as a Gunners target for the last several, including summer 2016. At the time, the newspapers claimed Lyon wanted £40million for their star striker, whilst the French club themselves hinted at a €48million (£40million) valuation in an official statement last July – which also claimed a £29million bid from the Gunners had already been rejected.
— Olympique Lyonnais (@OL) July 26, 2016
Fast forward twelve months, and Arsenal are now paying up to £12.6million more than that alleged valuation and £23.6million more than their apparent offer. In the meantime, Lacazette completed his most prolific campaign to date in 2016/17, netting 37 times across all competitions. But has that really told Arsenal anything about the France international that they didn’t already know? What are Arsenal actually paying more for in comparison to twelve months ago?
He was still one of the most prolific strikers in Ligue 1 last summer – in fact, the term previous he won the division’s Player of the Year award – his style of play hasn’t altered in the slightest and although last season provided further confirmation of his proficiency, you’d expect a club of Arsenal’s stature to be ahead of the curve; to know a then-25-year-old striker with three in-excess-of-20-goals campaigns under his belt is only likely to further improve. Once upon a time, Wenger prided himself on poaching players a few years before they established themselves as top-class stars.
Perhaps £12.6million isn’t an extraordinary sum to write home about these days; that wouldn’t even buy you a quarter of Paul Pogba. But it’s certainly evidence of Arsenal’s short-sightedness in the transfer market, a failure to predict how Lacazette’s form and valuation would both extrapolate, and Wenger’s indecisiveness when big fees are involved – a common theory behind some of the club’s bemusing transfer manoeuvres over the last decade.
Equally compelling is Arsenal’s slump over the last twelve months in Lacazette’s absence; dropping from second place in 2015/16 to fifth last season and accordingly failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time during Wenger’s rule of the north London club. In a sense, that can be deemed a cost of not signing Lacazette last summer as well.
Who knows how detrimental dropping out of Europe’s top competition will prove to be for the Gunners in both footballing and financial terms; it may well be what convinces Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to capitalise on their winding down contracts by pushing for moves elsewhere.
At the same time, however, how much Lacazette actually improves Arsenal remains to be seen. Of course, adding a 37-goal striker to your squad is rarely a bad thing. But the 26-year-old isn’t quite the same calibre as Ozil and Sanchez at this moment in time; if he’s being targeted to fill the superstar void, Gunners fans may soon find themselves a little disappointed.
Likewise, even if Sanchez and Ozil stay, the stats suggest the idea that this Arsenal side craves a ‘fox-in-the-box’ of Lacazette’s variety is a bit of a fallacy.
After all, thee Arsenal forwards scored more than ten Premier League goals last season – Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Sanchez – netting 46 times combined in the top flight. Perhaps more pivotally, Sanchez actually ranked fifth in the Premier League for goals inside the box last season and second for goals inside the six-yard box – only beaten by Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke.
No doubt, Lacazette will still provide further firepower, following a season in which Arsenal scored the fewest goals of any team in the top five. But is he the kind of signing who’ll take the team to the next level of genuine title bids? Does he offer something different to Arsenal’s other forward options in the same way as Giroud’s height and power? Is he capable of filling the talisman void Sanchez and Ozil may leave behind this summer, even if Arsenal bring in a creative talent to help with that challenge?
The jury’s still out – and Arsenal are now paying up to £12.6million more than they had to twelve months ago to discover the answer to those questions. And with Ozil and Sanchez potentially moving on, in the grand scheme of Arsenal’s ongoing bid to re-establish themselves as the Premier League’s dominant force, Lacazette’s arrival may well prove to be too little too late.