Neil Humphreys: Lacazette off to flying start
One game, one goal, Arsenal striker delivers on debut
|(Per Mertesacker 4, Alexandre Lacazette 83)|
Arsenal have searched in vain for a reliable goal-a-game striker since Robin van Persie.
In a literal one, they now have one in Alexandre Lacazette.
First game, first goal, the Frenchman's debut wasn't quite a Cinderella story, but it had a whiff of Disney at least in Arsenal's 2-0 win over hosts Sydney FC last night.
Less than 15 minutes into his opening appearance, the £45 million (S$80m) signing ghosted into the penalty box to write the corniest of endings.
But Arsenal will gladly take corny this season if it leads to a happy ending. Too many complicated, unpredictable campaigns have crippled previous title challenges.
A straightforward, conventional No. 9 up front promises the kind of comforting consistency and familiarity that have eluded Arsene Wenger's sides for too long.
Lacazette had one chance and took it, demonstrating the kind of finishing simplicity that Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott have never quite mastered.
No one is getting carried away after a 20-minute cameo in a pre-season friendly, but Lacazette's extraordinary goals-to-games ratio at Lyon has at least followed him to Sydney.
In the 83rd minute, Alex Iwobi broke free on the right and slipped a ball towards the penalty box. Lacazette arrived late, his timing perfect.
His run and side-footed finish showed the kind of striking precision that had escaped Arsenal all night.
In the dugout, Wenger managed a wry smile. Outraged supporters have demanded a decent finisher for years.
It's important that he gets that off his shoulders because you as a striker expect to score, so you could see he was happy.Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Alexandre Lacazette scoring on his debut
The tentative, early signs are that Arsenal might finally have one.
Add Lacazette's debut goal to the competent performance of the young Gunners and Wenger has reason to be quietly confident.
While Lacazette languished on the bench for the first 68 minutes, Sydney's ANZ Stadium reserved most of their applause for Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson.
He's 17, a native Londoner and ran the right flank like it was his personal fiefdom. Facing the rugged A-League champions, he was supposed to be a boy against men but clearly read the script the wrong way round Down Under.
Nelson's fearlessness was matched only by his astonishing bursts of acceleration.
Arsenal's recent track record with teen prodigies is patchy at best, but Nelson's style suits Wenger's 3-4-3 formation. He relished running between the lines and deserves further pre-season exposure.
Of course, Sydney are still months away from their domestic season and it showed. The only surprise about the first half was Arsenal's solitary goal.
Their indefatigable warrior in the FA Cup Final, Per Mertesacker, put the Gunners ahead after four minutes.
From a Mesut Oezil corner, the German attempted an overhead kick and looked like a praying mantis on a trampoline.
But his hooked effort somehow found its way through Sydney's statuesque defenders.
As the hosts continued to labour, Wenger's kids partied in the space.
Chris Willock, just 17, held the fort in defensive midfield. Krystian Bielik, 19, played on the right side of a defensive trio and Cohen Bramall, still only 20, busied himself along the left flank.
He was playing non-league football before Christmas.
These kids might just be all right for Arsenal.
But apart from the galloping, young tearaways, the game only really offered two entertaining diversions - watching how many saves Sydney goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne made and wondering when Lacazette might get a run-out.
In the 55th minute, Redmayne saved Danny Welbeck's poorly struck penalty and the custodian's various body parts denied other Gunners as Sydney's resistance gradually fell away.
The English Premier League will demand greater striking accuracy from Arsenal next season.
Lacazette must be the man to provide it.
When he finally arrived in the 68th minute, the game threatened to descend into farce as Wenger replaced every out-field player at once.
But Lacazette's finish added a sheen of quality to a scrappy contest.
It's only one game. It's only one goal. But games and goals haven't always gone together for Arsenal's mercurial forwards.
At the very least, Lacazette offers a new hope.
He may also allow Wenger to ponder life after Alexis Sanchez.