Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The sentiment behind this adage, which stresses that creating something of value often takes a while, can be applied to Arsenal marksman Alexandre Lacazette, who this season appears to have taken on a Roberto Firmino-esque role in north London.
More goals than Firmino
More assists than Firmino
More tackles than Firmino
It's time for Alexandre Lacazette to get some praise.https://t.co/YwEGFbNtip
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 26, 2019
Lacazette arrived to much fanfare in July 2017, having become the Gunners’record signing at the time, but he was in for a tentative opening few months under Arsene Wenger’s watchful gaze.
We shouldn’t have expected any different. One cannot underestimate assimilating to a new culture. Yes, some hit the ground running, but not every circumstance is the same, and Lacazette was always a late-bloomer anyway.
But he is also one of the smartest and hardworking individuals Remi Garde, the last manager to win a trophy with Lyon, ever came across.
“When you talk about intelligence in football, patience is a part of that – he symbolises that,” he told FourFourTwo. “Instead of thinking it was other people’s fault, he knew how to assess himself and keep working hard.”
This mindset, if anything, has served him well in Unai Emery’s first season at the Emirates, a campaign which has seen him evolve into a player who brings the kind of selflessness and deft movement Firmino provides at Liverpool.
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Both are more than just centre-forwards, even if they do lead the line. Firmino, it must be said, was converted into a deep-lying forward (or ‘false nine’) by Jurgen Klopp, whereas Lacazette – a striker in every sense of the word – has adapted to his surroundings.
The forging of a devasting partnership with serial forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played a key role. If one hasn’t found the net, expect the other to do so. This relieves the burden, as neither is charged with carrying the side’s attacking output. And Lacazette, who himself believes there’s more to football than scoring goals for a modern No. 9, has embraced this.
He has so far bagged 13 goals across 34 matches in this season’s Premier League. Beyond that, Lacazette has eight assists to his name, making him Arsenal’s creator-in-chief. Being able to play the final pass as well as finishing moves so effectively turned Firmino into a household name, and the same is starting to happen with his French counterpart.
But like Firmino, it’s his off-the-ball work that makes him such a refreshing variant of the centre-forward mould. Lacazette, a selfless and tireless worker, contributes heavily to Arsenal’s pressing game. Being the centre-forward also means he’s Emery’s first line of defence and there are very few centre-forwards in the Premier League who have made more tackles than Lacazette (33) this season.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) May 3, 2019
Both are what you would describe as no-nonsense and very much appreciated by those around them. Lacazette, who’s enjoying the hustle and bustle of English football while also contributing in Europe, where his recent brace against Valencia has put Arsenal in the box-seat to reach a first major European final since 2006.
Critics, nevertheless, remain. No one – with the possible exception of Lionel Messi – is above negative feedback. Lacazette’s finishing, for example, remains a hot talking point. But you can’t accuse him of lacking in confidence and, as Garde suggested, part of footballing intelligence is taking criticism on board.
Emery stood by him – never overreacting to any disappointing performance because of his overarching importance – and the club is now reaping the rewards. Lacazette is on course to become another of Arsenal’s great forwards. All that was needed was a little patience.