Gonzalo Higuaín. Edinson Cavani. Luis Suárez. Karim Benzema. Jamie Vardy. Jackson Martínez. Álvaro Morata. Kylian Mbappé. These are just some of the established, expensive star strikers (or young studs on the come up) that Arsenal have been linked to in recent years. During these years, filling the gaping hole at the center forward position is something the club would not or could not pull off, as they instead spent their time and money sniffing around an endless parade of slight, tricky, injury-prone attacking midfield types. This has been the source of unceasing frustration for Gunners fans desperate for an upgrade on the underrated but still rather limited Olivier Giroud. But that has all changed today. Today, Arsenal signed Alexandre Lacazette for a transfer fee north of €50 million, and not a moment too soon.
Lacazette is a really good player. He fits the mold Arsène Wenger has clearly been after in a striker of late, as he is fast, likes to move into the channels between and behind the defenders, and is exceptional at the kind of one-two, pass-and-move interplay that is the hallmark of Wenger’s attacking philosophy. Plus he’s a great finisher. Getting Lacazette is the culmination of what Wenger was trying to do by pushing for Jamie Vardy last summer and playing Alexis Sánchez through the middle at times last season. And in most respects, Lacazette gives the team more in those areas than either Sánchez or Vardy did or could have done. In short, this is on paper close to a perfect transfer.
On top of the stylistic fit, and though it may sound crazy to say this, the club-record €50 million-plus Arsenal spent on Lacazette is actually a great deal, value-wise. Lacazette only just turned 26 a couple months ago, has proven his quality for years now (the Frenchman has averaged nearly 23 goals a season for the past four years, and while the rap on his Ligue 1 stats are that they’ve been padded by penalties—which is accurate but misses the point—even taking those goals out he still has a great scoring record of more than 0.5 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes during that same span), and is moving in the bonkers money era, in a window where even goalkeepers are going for €30 million. Spending €50 million on such a low-risk player like Lacazette, in the most important role in the sport (goalscorer), is actually something of a bargain.
As smart a move as this signing is, and as overdue as Arsenal have been for a truly elite striker, bringing in Lacazette won’t be what makes or breaks Arsenal’s season. The most important move (or non-move) of the Gunners’ summer is whatever ends up happening with Sánchez. (And to a lesser extent Mesut Özil, since it seems pretty clear that the German will stick around.) Arsenal’s Chilean star is one of the very best players in the entire league, and they have to keep him if they have any hope of making this upcoming season the season when they finally make a serious title challenge.
Late last season, Sánchez appeared all but certainly gone, though the situation seems to have cooled down quite a bit since. Judging from the transfer rumor mill, Manchester City are the most serious suitor for Sánchez, with Arsenal (sensibly) hell-bent against selling him to a direct rival. There does seem to be movement toward a possible extension of Sánchez’s contract, which clearly would be the best result from Arsenal’s perspective.
Maybe a signing like Lacazette, as well as Wenger possibly going out and filling that other spot on the pitch that fans have griped about as a position of need for years and years and years—a defensive midfielder (though to be fair Granit Xhaka is the real deal)—will be enough (along with a massive pay hike, naturally) to convince Sánchez to stay. And if you take the important components of Arsenal’s squad from last year and throw in Lacazette and, say, William Carvalho, then you just might have a title challenger on your hands.
Arsenal’s last season was a disaster, and it was borne mostly of their own complacency over the years. By throwing around this kind of money for Lacazette, maybe Wenger and the club have finally realized that it’s a good idea to try to do something different for once.