Last week Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis set off a firestorm among Arsenal supporters by suggesting that Arsenal already have the squad that could win the League and that further spending would be done “wisely”. This week Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker have both spoken out about the need for new signings, seeming to contradict the Chief Executive. And as corroboration, there are a number of reliable reports that Arsenal are actually bidding on Leicester City player of the year Riyad Mahrez and Lyon’s leading scorer Alex Lacazette. If you wait long enough, everything evens out.
Arsenal have almost certainly bid on Lacazette. Lyon claim to have rejected a £29m bid from Arsenal for AL and I don’t see a reason to doubt them. In that case, that means Arsenal have already been in contact with AL and probably agreed to a deal. So now all that’s left for Arsenal to do is meet Lyon’s asking price, which is £42m.
Before you get all “that’s too much”, just don’t. I agree with you if your message is that all of football spending has gotten to the point of absurdity. Paul Pogba, a highly talented center mid but certainly not the best player in the world, is about to be sold for a record £90m+. Gonzo Higuain, a talented striker who is not even universally seen as a top talent, is on the verge of moving to Juventus for £79m. So, Lyon want £42m for Lacazette, a striker who has scored 48 league goals in the last two seasons? That seems to me like a price.
Lacazette is an interesting forward. He was a counter-attacking machine with Lyon in his first two seasons, scoring 3 goals on the counter in his first season and 4 in his second. Those are “Vardy” numbers, by which I mean that those are the exact same stats that Vardy put up with Leicester over the last two seasons. Moreover, scoring 4 goals a season off the counter attack is a great number; last season the player with the most (Huntelaar) had 5 while all of the other top forwards, like Neymar, had 4.
This season Lacazette’s counter attacking goals dried up because his main linkup man, Fekir, was injured. But to his great credit, Lacazette scored 15 goals from open play and recrafted his game to shoot more inside the penalty box and in the 6 yard box. Lacazette upped his penalty box shooting from 59% to 70% and took 12 shots in the 6 as opposed to 4 the season before. This shows me a player who works on his game and is able to adapt to different styles.
What’s most encouraging is that Lacazette and Mahrez would fit together perfectly, like Mahrez and Vardy. Lacazette loves to feed off his speed and his team’s verticality. Arsene Wenger’s footballing philosophy, as we learned from the book Invincible, is all about verticality.
If we look at through ball key passes (a vertical key pass that bypasses defenders and creates a shot for his teammate, the most dangerous kind of pass in the game) the top 10 players in Europe’s top Leagues were Messi, di Maria, Fabregas, Özil, Nolito, Mahrez, Sanchez, Lamela, Pastore, and Drinkwater.
Last season I often said that Mahrez was the real star at Leicester. Vardy is quick and he was a predatory finisher, but his quickness is pointless unless he has someone giving him the ball. That someone was Mahrez.
Mahrez and Lacazette together would be very similar to Mahrez and Vardy, with the real key there being… Mahrez. And on an Arsenal team with Özil and Alexis, two more players who love to feed the ball to a speedy forward, Arsenal would have the makings of a very dangerous attack.
The only problems are that Leicester will demand, rightly, top coin for Mahrez. They would be mad to sell Mahrez at all but even madder to sell him to a title rival. But Mahrez seems to have had his head turned and there are reports that he is asking for a transfer. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Leicester drag this out as long as possible in order to generate more interest from other clubs and in order to try to persuade the player to either stay at Leicester.
If Arsenal can sign Lacazette it would be a good summer. If Arsenal can sign Mahrez it would be one of the signings of the season. If Arsenal can sign Lacazette and Mahrez, along with the fact that they have already signed Xhaka and a young center back who will eventually take over from Koscielny, it would be the best summer transfer season I have ever seen as an Arsenal supporter. Hands down.
That said, I’m tempering my excitement. Signing either player is going to be difficult and Mahrez may well be impossible. Wenger’s going to need some of his famous luck to pull this off.
Luck and £90m.