It’s not been a good few days for Alexandre Lacazette. After spurning a glorious chance to snatch an equaliser in the North London derby, now comes the news that he has been forced to undergo an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee that will keep him out for between four and six weeks. The timing is particularly bad — with Arsenal’s next two fixtures being in the Europa League, this was set to be a critical period for Lacazette to prove his Arsenal credentials.
After all, the man who superseded him as Arsenal’s record signing (and indeed first-choice centre-forward) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is cup-tied in continental competition. The Europa League represented Lacazette’s best chance of starting games between now and May — and now Arsenal could be out of it by the time he’s available again. It’s interesting that the signing of Lacazette effectively forced Giroud out of Arsenal to pursue a place in the French World Cup squad. Now the arrival of Aubameyang threatens to put Lacazette’s own international spot at risk.
His standing with his club is in danger too. Since news broke of Aubameyang’s likely arrival, he has not exactly responded to the challenge in style. On the eve of transfer deadline day, he produced his worst Arsenal performance to date in the defeat at Swansea. He didn’t even get off the bench against Everton, and when he was introduced against Spurs he missed Arsenal’s two best chances of the game.
At Wembley, Lacazette had the look of a broken man. The manner in which he snatched at his chances was a far cry from the composed finishing we saw when he first arrived from Lyon. A record of one goal in 13 games has clearly been weighing heavily upon his mind. Perhaps the injury that’s forced this surgery has also been a factor — it would certainly go some way towards explaining why he’s looked so sluggish in the winter months.
The decision to operate does leave Arsenal looking a little light on the attacking front in Europe. The sales of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Giroud left the Gunners with a significant short-fall in terms of goals, and Arsene Wenger now has no choice but to deploy the far-from-prolific Danny Welbeck up top in the two ties against Swedish outfit Ostersunds.
The Englishman will be glad for the opportunity. Aubameyang’s arrival has made him the forgotten man of the Arsenal attack, and there were many Gunners supporters who would have preferred to see him sold in January rather than the effective Giroud. Welbeck is at a crucial point in his Arsenal career: with less than 18 months remaining on his current deal, he needs to prove he’s worthy of a new contract. It’s an unusual situation for Arsenal, who have grown accustomed to being held to ransom by their players at the negotiating table. In this case, the onus is on Welbeck to prove he is worthy of a place at an elite club.
It’s curious to think that at the start of the season there was genuine debate over whether Welbeck’s form warranted leaving Sanchez on the sidelines. Since then, the injuries and inconsistency that have blighted his career have returned in full force.
While the conditions are likely to be less than ideal, a two-legged tie against Ostersunds should be straightforward enough for Arsenal to negotiate — with or without Lacazette. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is eligible to play, and one would think that with the Armenian and Mesut Ozil providing the supply line, Welbeck should be able to provide enough cutting edge to see Wenger’s men through to the next round. If Arsenal can progress to the competition’s latter stages, Lacazette may well get the opportunity to make an impact, redeem his season, and secure a World Cup place. Arsenal’s French forward is down, but not out.