There’s been much ballyhoo around Arsenal the past couple days as the club spent a record amount of money to sign Alexandre Lacazette.
The longtime Lyon striker is an incredible finisher who’s good on the ball and excellent with his passing and movement. He’s an ideal fit in Arsene Wenger’s free-flowing system.
Praised has been heaped upon Arsenal for the move, as it should be. After years of chasing a top-class striker to lead the line, it appears the Gunners have found one. One might think it signals a long-awaited change of approach at the Emirates.
But this signing doesn’t prove that. What Arsenal does the rest of the summer will indicate whether Arsenal has truly changed.
The Premier League has certainly changed around the Gunners. They’ve been locked in a stasis for the better part of a decade, sneaking into the Champions League with similar point totals to propagate the guise of flimsy achievement.
Two seasons ago, the flatline performance nearly won the Premier League as every other major power faltered. Last season, those powers swung in the other direction, leaving Arsenal outside the Champions League for the first time in over two decades.
Talk was heavy that Wenger might finally leave the manager position he’s occupied since 1996, but with the wind of an FA Cup triumph at his back the Frenchman signed a new two-year contract at the end of May. He pledged to sign “one or two” top-class players during the summer transfer window, and the Arsenal board vowed to erase any notion of complacency within the club.
Lacazette qualifies on both counts, but so far, the only other bit of transfer business Arsenal has done is sign fullback Sead Kolasinac from Schalke 04. This team is more than a striker and outside back away from truly challenging for a league title.
Wenger and the board must recognize this, that shelling out big for one player isn’t enough to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and others, or else the Lacazette signing is just window dressing.
Since smashing the club-record transfer fee in 2013 to sign Mesut Ozil, the old record, a £17.5M sum for Jose Antonio Reyes in 2004, has been broken an additional seven times. So splashing cash is not really new to Arsenal anymore, as strange as that sounds.
But it must be spent smartly. Last summer, two of the biggest needs were supposedly addressed when Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka were brought aboard. It remains to be seen if Mustafi can become a reliable defensive partner for Laurent Koscielny, while Xhaka proved more adept at collecting cards than he did at tackling and bringing toughness to the midfield.
Even then, the future potential for both players remains intact, which qualifies last summer’s transfer work as successful compared to other recent blunders.
During the 2015 summer window, Arsenal was the only squad in the entirety of Europe’s top five leagues that didn’t sign an outfield player, opting only to ink goalkeeper Petr Cech from a Chelsea side that had little use for him anymore.
Selling directly to a rival came back to bite Arsenal in 2012, when Robin Van Persie went to Manchester United and led the club to its most recent Premier League title while leading the league in scoring.
That ridiculous bit of business kickstarted an overhaul of Arsenal’s transfer policies, and the signature signing of the last decade, Alexis Sanchez, has been dynamite in his three seasons with the Gunners. While the truth is hard to come by amid the headline-chasing misinformation of silly season, Sanchez has been linked with moves to Bayern Munich and Manchester City, and no one would lift a finger to protest such valuations.
Arsenal has been loud about its refusal to sell another star to a domestic rival, and the supposedly frosty relationship between Sanchez and the club has thawed a bit in recent weeks. But doubt will linger until the window shuts, and even a signing of Lacazette’s stature isn’t changing that, at least not yet.
There’s also a question of how Arsenal will play with Lacazette in the fold. Again, his game is almost perfectly suited to the 4-2-3-1 formation Arsenal likes to trot out, and he can also play with someone else up top (like Sanchez) in a 4-4-2 or even a 3-5-2, which Wenger experimented with at the end of last season to a fair degree of success.
But Wenger hasn’t always been a pragmatic tactician. Even in the high likelihood Lacazette succeeds, who knows if Wenger’s setups will cost the squad in other areas, and in ways his prolific goal-scoring can’t bail out every time?
Perhaps this is getting ahead of the issue. Lacazette is a great signing, and at £52 million, the Gunners got him at a rather cut rate compared to other inflated salaries. His presence will boost their chances of getting back into the top four, if not outright make them favorites to do so.
Does the signing prove Arsenal intends to eradicate complacency, and is truly changing the way it operates?
That’s another matter. One that will be revealed by what Arsenal does from here.
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