That didn’t take long did it? Yes, he may have been Arsenal’s second longest rumoured target in the last half decade (behind Karim Benzema of course), but Alexandre Lacazette wasted no time at all in flaunting the qualities that have made him the club’s most expensive transfer in their history, mere minutes after subbing into yesterday’s match against Sydney FC.
On a lovely square ball from Alex Iwobi, who himself astutely slowed his run to allow Lacazette the time to reach the box, the new Gunner buried it in the back of the net with one confident stroke. Of course, as all Gooners know, it is not the preseason friendly against a tin of Marmite and a former Arsenal trialist, but a crisp winter’s day at White Hart Lane when the goals will matter most, but the former Lyon man will be pleased all the same.
It was not the sharpest performances from a squad just days removed from traversing half the globe, but Arsenal were able to take care of business in front of a very hospitable (and red) crowd. Sydney FC were gracious hosts and made the visiting European giant work for the result. For the first friendly of the new season, the energy was surprisingly high, perhaps buoyed by the ebullient crowd. I suppose it could have also been those sharp graphite and pink strips that Arsenal took the pitch in as well.
A Promising Start
While Alexandre Lacazette will likely grab most of the headlines for his debut goal, there were a few other players signed within the last couple of windows, to also feature for the first time in front of the Arsenal fans. Sead Kolasinac, a member of the Bundesliga team of the season, signed this summer on a free transfer; young speed merchant Cohen Bramall, plucked out of the relative nowhere that is Hednesford Town this past winter; and Donyell Malen, the young Dutch forward with Mino Raiola for an agent. Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Eddie Nketia also made their debuts, having come up through the youth ranks.
For Kolasinac, his debut could be viewed in two ways: either we have had a glimpse of Arsene Wenger’s plan for the sturdy defender at Arsenal, or he was merely demonstrating his versatility in playing a different role from the one he most frequented at Schalke. As the left defender in a back 3, he had mostly a quiet game, with many of the attacks seeming to start from young Krystian Bielik’s right side. Kolasinac certainly looks the part of Premier League defender, with a physique that would not be so out of place in rugby. Given that his role was that of a defender first and foremost, we were not given much of an opportunity to see how fluid he looks combining down the left flank with the midfielders and forwards, but he looks set to enter the rough and tumble of English football more than adequately equipped for the fight.
Cohen Bramall was a welcome sight for fans that were excited to see what exactly is to make of the exciting wing back from the lower divisions. The answer? Loads of pace. I mean loads. But there seems to be more to Bramall than that. He seemed to have excellent attacking instincts, at one point arriving at the edge of the box to deliver a very well controlled outside of the foot volley that looked as if it could have sneaked in if it hadn’t been saved.
Donyell Malen also made a very promising start to life in a senior Arsenal shirt after arriving over a year ago from Ajax’s youth setup. He looks very quick and confident on the ball, perhaps more of a winger than it might have seemed as he was presented to the fans as a striker. It is clear that Arsenal have a lot of attacking talent ready for a chance at some senior level action.
So what does this all say about Arsenal’s recent transfer dealings? Well to be honest, practically nothing. It was only the first friendly of the season, and some players are further from mid-season shape than others. Olivier Giroud, never exactly fleet of foot, looks as though his reasons for being in France on holiday were more, shall we say, gastronomically related than about his career.
What this performance, and even just the squad itself, show is a club that is intent on raising the level of performance and competition throughout the entire squad. It looks as though the quality of player that the club have targeted is on the rise, and one of its brightest, youngest, and newest signings, Kelechi Nwakali has yet to even feature.
In Need of a Loan
What has also become abundantly clear is that Arsene Wenger would be foolish to limit some of his best young players to the u23 squad for the upcoming season. All of the young players making debuts this summer look extremely well versed in the Arsenal style of play, and could most likely benefit more from the heavier mental and physical challenges of first team football on loan elsewhere.
Players like Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah could benefit from moves down into the Championship or League One to develop a little grit and steel into their game. One can only imagine the sort of grief that would rain down on these players if they grow up to be another generation shrinking violets playing pretty football and failing on big stages, so perhaps it would be wise to view a few scrapes and kicks as a small price for the greater good.
Not all players need this sort of trial by fire though. Krystian Bielik, having spent last season with Birmingham would benefit massively from a season in Spain or France, where extremely fast and technical players can cause different sorts of headaches to the ones brought on by the bar room brawlers of English lower league play. Bielik strikes me as a very cerebral player, who, similar to a Shkodran Mustafi, would absorb qualities from each stop he makes in his professional career.
Wherever Wenger decides to send these young players, the most important thing for them is that he finds them a good situation for both learning and for minutes on the pitch. The Frenchman has had mixed results in this regard, with moves like Hector Bellerin to Watford almost objectively failures, while moves like sending Francis Coquelin to Charlton seemed to flick a switch inside the player, morphing them into valuable contributors. With all of the recent investments into the Hale End Academy, with a corresponding restructuring of the coaching setup, it remains to be seen whether or not it becomes the world class talent pipeline like those in Amsterdam and Barcelona, or if it is merely a place where promising young careers go to stall like Chelsea.
But What of Those Rumours?! I Was Promised Rumours!
Well it would not be another week without a Kylian Mbappe story, would it? The fantasy that refuses to die, now it seems as though a Spanish news source has been the one to run with the “world record bid” rumours, and this one is massive: €140 million. Wow. If true, there could seldom have ever been a moment (well, at least since Leicester City 2 seasons ago) to fly so completely in the face of conventional wisdom, which holds Arsene Wenger as one of the sport’s greatest ever cheapskates. I have asked the question before, but could it really happen? Really?
In more concrete news. It does seem at least that Hector Bellerin will be staying. Not only has Bellerin used social media once again as a means of implying he will be returning, but Barcelona seem to have also found a fullback that “fits their physical and technical criteria” in Benfica star Nelson Semedo, and apparently reached personal terms with the player. Well isn’t that a relief? Now hopefully Hector will remember the slight against his ability the next time Barca try to woo him with a genetics lesson. This is a genuine relief.
In less concrete news, Arsenal have missed out on about 35 targets that had only ever been connected to them by journalists with column inches to fill. Still, it does not stop the hapless North Londoners from having transfers “hijacked”, undone by the player staying with his current club, or even being “pipped”. Of course, for most clubs, scouting a player and then not signing him is completely normal to reporters, but at Arsenal it is a sign of the team failing. Funny thing the sports media.
Thomas Lemar has not made any new ripples in Arsenal related stories for a couple of days now. This could be a sign that Arsenal have lost interest, but it is more likely that Lemar wants to see how bad the player exodus at Monaco gets before deciding whether to stay or not. Arsenal have placed either 2 or 3 bids depending on the source and the player is reportedly open to the move. The ball is now thoroughly in Monaco’s court, and the principality club is not exactly hurting for money these days.
Lucas Perez may have another suitor besides his old club and permanent fall back plan, and it is another Spanish club, Real Betis. Arsenal are intent on recouping most of the £17 million they spent on the striker a year ago, which Betis seems more willing to match than Deportivo la Coruna. It is almost certain that he will be sold back to Spain this summer.
Wojciech Szczesny is still in talks to head to Juventus, with the rumoured price up over at least £10 million now, from the minuscule £3-5 million that Juve were pushing for to get the deal done earlier this summer. At that price, anyone that believes Juventus are targeting the Polish shot stopper to be the true successor to Gianluigi Buffon are simply fooling themselves. Likely, Szczesny will be be solution for a few years while the Old Lady starts turning the mind of Gianluigi Donnarumma, eventually succeeding in bringing the next Italian goalkeeping legend to Italy’s biggest club. I would bet at least 50p on it.
In a bit of a surprise move, young English midfielder Dan Crowley has decided to make a permanent move away to the Eredivisie (you know, the perfect league for young players with suspected attitude problems…) side Willem II. Frankly, after a bright youth career that started to lose steam at its end, he was likely not a player to feature in the club’s future plans. Who knows, maybe the youngster will come good and we will all discover that Arsene has inserted a buyback clause into his transfer. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but if you were hell bent on a Crowley shirt in red and white, there could be a chance again down the line.
Finally, it looks as though the Alexis Sanchez saga will last another season, with his contract impasse neither being resolved, nor any concrete offers made for his services. Many out there are of the mind that Arsenal are assuming all the risk in this situation, but if Alexis has a down year, or his niggling injuries turn into chronic ones, he could find himself staring at a much thinner wage packet next year, as a 28 year old coming off of a career season is a much more attractive prospect than a 29 year old showing signs of decline. Alexis is full of confidence and a tremendous footballer, but at some point he needs to conclude this drama, regardless of his decision. Ultimately, I think Arsene Wenger is approaching this the right way, especially if the choices are stay or Manchester City.
That’s all for today Gooners! Remember, Wenger may be busy coaching right now, but there are a lot of irons in the fire, and you can bet that we have not heard the last of stories linking Arsenal to some exciting new talent!