Tuesday 17 July 2018

Wenger hopes to strike right balance with Lacazette

Big-money French striker gives Gunners extra options up front

Alexandre Lacazette Photo: Getty
Alexandre Lacazette Photo: Getty

Amy Lawrence

After all the years and all the myriad opinions, it says something that Arsene Wenger still takes note of some of the messages that supporters send his way. Last week an Arsenal fan wrote to him on the subject of Alexandre Lacazette's footwear. Wenger could not help laughing as he recalled the killer point of the letter: "Why did he wear yellow boots? If he had black boots . . ."

Like most managers it pays to analyse the finer details and Wenger admired the suggestion that the fraction of Lacazette's foot that was deemed offside, preventing a goal that would have saved face and points at Stoke, might have somehow been better disguised.

The £52.7m (€57m) signing from Lyon was naturally disheartened to have what would have been his second Premier League goal from two games wiped off. The finish was everything that is expected of him - that flash of sharp instinct to bury chances that come his way in the penalty area. For a goalscorer, a new signing, a club-record buy, every successful strike eases the settling-in process.

Wenger is conscious that Lacazette is in a particularly important phase of his Arsenal career, working hard to slot into the team and adjust to the challenges that hurtle at someone trying to learn fast about the characteristics of a new environment. The manager estimates it will take roughly three to four months to become completely integrated.

"He is a bit surprised by the intensity of it all in training and in games," Wenger says. "He will get there because he is brave and he is intelligent. The intelligence of his runs and the quality of his technique is very good. Overall, I don't worry for him. At the start he was completely taken by the intensity of it and he slowly adapts. I feel every week he is getting better and stronger."

Today at Anfield potentially brings another significant new experience for Lacazette, with the likelihood of teaming up with Alexis Sanchez - top scorer and talisman for Arsenal last term - for the first time. The blend is something Wenger is hopeful will mix in the most productive way. It is not always easy to predict how players will combine on the pitch. To demonstrate the point Wenger thinks back to a chat he had with Javier Mascherano three years ago when Luis Suarez was set to join Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barcelona. With elite talent it often boils down to a "desire to play with each other", Wenger says. "Usually the good players have that, not always.

"I remember a conversation with Mascherano. We both came to the conclusion: 'If it works it will be fantastic, but it can be a disaster because they can kill each other as well.' But one of the qualities of Suarez is he manages to get the best out of people around him. He did that with Uruguay. He did that at Liverpool as well, you had [Daniel] Sturridge and [Raheem] Sterling - they scored over 100 goals. That is a quality that is important and sometimes you cannot measure it so much because you only look at the number of goals a guy has scored. But sometimes the way he can marry with people around him decides the quality of the team."

Wenger is keen to see how the connection between Lacazette and Sanchez works out. "Their co-operation looks promising. The two are good goalscorers, the two are good finishers, the two are good passers, the two have good assists - that means they can find each other. All the ingredients are there."

It is all part of the adaptation process. Thierry Henry made an interesting observation when analysing Lacazette's debut, inferring that as much as it is about the player finding his groove, his team-mates also need to tune in to Lacazette's game. For those detailed to create chances, the 26-year-old is a very different type to the forwards they are used to, bringing different movement patterns. A game plan geared towards the target-man presence of Olivier Giroud or the relentless chasing and off-the-cuff dynamism of Sanchez is not necessarily switched on to a player like Lacazette, whose runs are more subtle. "They are going to have to learn with Lacazette," said Henry.

Wenger does not disagree. "The team needs to adapt to him. You think sometimes: 'Where is he?' But when you look and watch the game again, you see he made a good pass here or his team-mates haven't found him. You have many types of strikers and he is the one who is more of a combination player than a finisher. He is a player who when you look at his numbers, his assist numbers are good as well. He is not an absolutely obsessed, selfish striker. The quantity of his finishing compared to the rest of Europe is a bit below. But the quality of his finishing is top. He is a guy who doesn't shoot a lot, but when he shoots he finishes."

Given the escalating prices that have characterised this transfer window, Wenger is pleased that he sealed the deal for Lacazette when he did, in the early days of summer. He thinks he has a bargain. "The inflation sometimes is so quick within the transfer market that the timing of your buys are very important. We were on the case last year already, so I came back, I knew the player. Considering the market, it is a decent price." One that would even be different today? "Certainly."

There is not much a manager can be certain about these days. Not even the impact of the colour of a boot.

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