Has it taken Smith Rowe to be Arsenal’s Fekir for Lacazette to thrive again?

When Alexandre Lacazette signed for Arsenal in the July of 2017, expectations were high, the frustrations surrounding Oliver Giroud had reached boiling point and many hoped that a more clinical striker would ease the burden on the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.

The ninety-one goals in his past three seasons did a lot to build excitement, the customary highlight reels that preceded the confirmation of Lacazette’s signing did a lot to the fan the flames of excitement too. The Frenchman looked strong, quick and hungry for goals. His finishes were varied and showcased his technical ability, to add to this, it seemed he was a player that could bring others into play too.

Prolific Lacazette in his Lyon days.

It seemed that in Lacazette we had acquired an option that we hadn’t had for several seasons, somebody that could hold it up and run in behind! In years gone by Wenger had to choose whether he would opt for a centre forward that could hold it up in Giroud or get a natural winger to run in behind, in Walcott or Sanchez. In Lacazette we all hoped he could be both.

It looked like Lacazette was due to live up to all this hype when he scored his first Premier League goal with a bullet header just seconds into his Arsenal debut but it’s taken nearly four years for the Frenchman to add to that and reach fifty Premier League goals, so perhaps Lacazette hasn’t quite met the early expectation and hope that surrounded him.

With the Frenchman rapidly approaching his thirtieth birthday and his contract due to expire in just over a year, questions about his future are already circling, so is it time to cash in on the Frenchman before it’s too late or has Lacazette still got something to offer the club?

Lacazette has shown glimpses of quality it’s consistency that has been the problem, so which manager has got the best out of him and which teammates complement his style of play?

The Wenger Year  

It was reported that Arsenal were scouting Lacazette since he made his debut as a teenager in France, their scouting of the forward elapsed ten years, unsurprisingly then Wenger cast Giroud aside and threw Lacazette straight into the starting eleven.

Lacazette & Wenger in conversation.

Lacazette not only had to adapt to the well documented physical rigours of the English game, he had to adapt to a completely new system and tactical style. Upon his arrival Lacazette was quoted as saying that “Arsenal are the club that plays the best football in England so I really wanted to come here.” You get the feeling that Lacazette saying this, wasn’t just the normal PR pitter patter that gets churned out upon signing for a new club, he had spent the previous year playing a progressive and possession based 4-3-3 that prided themselves on the high press, in years gone by Arsenal’s style would have married up to that nicely. However, Wengerball was being put through a phased retirement, Wenger had ditched that style in favour of a more defensively stable 3-4-3 system that had delivered the FA Cup in the previous season, although many fans were happy with that shape in bigger games, not many expected Wenger to adopt this formation full-time, it wasn’t the fluid Arsenal we had been used to and it certainly wasn’t geared up to deliver the ‘beautiful’ football that Lacazette expected and needed to maximise his output.

However, he made an okay start to life in London and scored seventeen goals across all competitions in his debut season. He did struggle to break into the Ozil and Sanchez club, those two played their own game, it was very direct and not necessarily the quick and close interplay that Lacazette thrived under but he did find someone who he clicked with, he combined with Aaron Ramsey more than any other player that season. More than Sanchez, more than Ozil and more than Aubameyang who joined a few months after the Frenchman.

Our first glimpse at Lacazette was promising, with all but one of his goals inside the box, we saw he was a box player, his goals were varied in style and the way he held play up and brought advancing runners into the game could be utilised in the most devastating way. We all wanted and maybe expected more goals from Lacazette but his goal tally wasn’t helped by the fact he was a substitute or substituted twenty-two times in the league that season, Wenger was trying to settle him in and taking him in and out the team to the frustration of Lacazette, in spite of this, he finished the season our top scorer and he showed signs with his goals and creativity that he could be the well-rounded striker the club needed if he was trusted fully the next season.

The Emery Year (And a bit)


Emery favoured Aubameyang over Lacazette in his first few games as Arsenal manager but after Lacazette started to make an impact in his sub appearances, the Spanish manager found a way to get both strikers in from the start, this managed to get the most out of both players and they went onto to score fifty goals between them in that season. Aubameyang proved Lacazette’s most potent partner with the Frenchman linking up with Aubameyang for goals more than any other teammate that season. Aubameyang took the clubs top scorer crown off Lacazette but the Frenchman recorded more assists in that season than any other player at the club. This stat, emphasised the creativity, and hold up play that we saw glimpses of the previous year.

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The blossoming Laca/Auba partnership!

Lacazette preferred life under Emery, the system that Emery used in his first few months at the club was more similar to the one that Lacazette had been playing in France, a high press with the team holding more of the ball. When the three at the back system was re-implemented by Emery, Lacazette benefitted from having Aubameyang running beyond him and Ramsey supporting him.

However, the next season things started to dry up for Lacazette, he sustained an ankle injury at the start of the season and didn’t complete ninety minutes in the league until the end of October, like the rest of the Arsenal team at the start of that season he struggled to find any rhythm or momentum. He did bag a brace against Southampton in late November, doubling his league tally for the season but this was to be Unai Emery’s last league game at the club and the manager he performed so well under the previous year was gone and the team was to evolve once more.

The Arteta Year (And a bit more)

When Arteta came in mid-season, Lacazette was out of the team, caretaker manager Freddie Lljunberg chose to deploy Aubameyang centrally and bring in the likes of Martinelli and Pepe instead. Arteta restored Lacazette to the team and started him in his first nine games as manager. However, we only won two of those nine games and Lacazette didn’t get himself any goals either, he lost his place in the team and started a spell on the bench, in fact Lacazette’s first three goals under Arteta all came from the bench. Interestingly though, Arteta chose to start Lacazette against the ‘Big 6’ teams, The Frenchman started against Spurs and Liverpool in the league and scored in both, he started in the FA Cup semi-final and final games too.

Clearly, Arteta was disappointed in ‘Laca’ at times but he trusted him in those big games. Arteta set us up to play defensively and he needed a striker who could hold the ball up, bring the wide men into play and have the experience and character to read the game and react to it.


Lacazette and Arteta at Stamford Bridge.

His performances in those games won him the favour of the gaffer and he started and scored in the first three league games this season, it was the first time we’d seen Lacazette score consistently in a 3-4-3 formation but it was at that point that Arteta decided to push forward with the system that he sees the team playing long term and he switched to the 4-2-3-1, it was a similar system to the one he thrived under at Lyon and not to dissimilar to the shape Emery preferred too. Frustratingly though, Lacazette was in and out the team and looked poor when he started in the league, he missed big chances and created little. He was getting enough chances in the team and playing a shape he’d played in the past.

So what was missing? In his most productive seasons in France and under Emery he had direct midfielders behind him in Nabil Fekir and Aaron Ramsey, players who could create but who were also hungry to get in the box and follow their passes. Clearly Laca needs clever and hungry midfielders to bounce off, he needed a quintessential number 8 or a hungry number 10, a player that every fan could see we lacked before boxing day!

That being the case, is it any wonder that Lacazette’s best spell of form under Arteta coincided with the emergence of Emile Smith-Rowe. When Smith-Rowe started against Chelsea, Lacazette scored, when Smith-Rowe started against Brighton Lacazette scored and when Smith-Rowe started against West Brom, Lacazette bagged a brace. When Lacazette came off the bench against Newcastle in the Cup, they combined to score the opening goal of the game. After a 3-0 win over the Toon in January when Smith-Rowe was asked on Sky who has helped him to settle the most, he said “I think Lacazette. I feel like he’s helped me so much on and off the pitch. He gives me so much confidence. As we link-up and play together, he talks to me a lot. I’d probably say he’s spoken to me the most off the pitch.

The French striker has benefitted from having a midfielder like Smith-Rowe and clearly Smith-Rowe has benefited from Lacazette too. Lacazette’s best scoring seasons have involved Fekir, Ramsey and now Smith-Rowe, players that have played behind the striker or occasionally out-wide but players who are hungry to get in the box and play one-twos in tight spaces, Lacazette needs players like this and Arteta found him one.


Laca & Emile linking up for the win.

Concluding thoughts.

Alexandre Lacazette’s time at the club has been up and down, the fans have loved him, they’ve been frustrated by him, he’s scored in some big games and he’s let us down in big moments too. The fanbase is split over him but one thing is for sure, there was a collective sigh of disappointment when he pulled up against Fulham last week and all will be hoping the Frenchmen is fit for the Europa League semi-final games against Villarreal. He’s stepped up in Europa League Semi-Finals for the club in the past, scoring three against Valencia and one against Atletico Madrid in seasons gone by, the hope is that he can do that again.

Lacazette’s fairs best in the type of system that Arteta is religiously sticking to at the moment and there are more players at the club now that look capable of unlocking the best out of the Frenchman than there have been in previous seasons, Saka, Smith-Rowe and Martinelli are clever as they are quick, with there speed and footballing brains, Lacazette can profit, we’ve already seen the quick incisive football when he’a shared the pitch with those youngsters, the type of goals we enjoyed at Hawthorns this season could be repeated. Those partnerships along with his relationship with our skipper Aubameyang and the potential partnership he could form  with the red hot Joe Willock who is consistently making the type of runs that Lacazette profited from when Ramsey was at the club could make the Frenchman the linkman of the new Arsenal attack.

Having nearly finished his fourth season at the club, many might think that we’ve already seen the best from the centre forward but if the fluid attacking movement from our young players translates more consistently towards the end of this season and next season too, Lacazette might be the experienced spearhead that those young players need on and off the pitch. Martinelli has described Lacazette as a ‘top player and a top person,’ Saka has said they have a ‘great connection.’ Lacazette has proved himself a mentor and important member of the dressing room off the pitch and he’s been able to translate those relationship on the pitch too.


Further to this, if the hopes in Balogun are to be realised, we’ll need an experienced centre forward who our young English striker can take heed of. At Lacazette’s age he wouldn’t block Balogun’s path but might just take the pressure off the youngster when he starts to break through.

So will he be offered a new deal? Only time will tell but even if an extension isn’t given to the Frenchman he’s still got a massive part to play this season,  maybe  next year too but regardless of that,  his impact on the young players that we expect and hope to be at the club for years to come has already been made.

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One Response to Has it taken Smith Rowe to be Arsenal’s Fekir for Lacazette to thrive again?

  1. Wallace Poulter October 20, 2021 at 11:19 pm #

    Just came across this. I’m a City fan, pre money, but mostly a fan of football. I happened to track Lacazette and Fekir when they were at Lyon and they were brilliant prior to Fekir’s injury playing for the national team. I actually hoped City would grab both and it has always been beyond my comprehension why Arsenal didn’t follow up their acquisition of Lacazette with the “obvious” transfer of Fekir.

    Was doing a look up today on the pair and came across this. Just wanted to say that this is very astute piece of analysis. As a football fan, rather than a City supporter, I really want to see Arsenal doing well once more. Much more fun when there are a dozen teams battling for honours. From my perspective I see a lot of talent at Arsenal and think they are only one player away from being very dangerous again. No guesses as to who I think that one player is…

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