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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Arsenal off the pace and Arsene Wenger out of touch

By starting record signing Lacazette on the bench the Frenchman was deprived of his main source of goals against Premier League pace-setters Manchester City

Alexandre Lacazette, centre, scores against Manchester City six minutes after coming on as a substitute. Nigel Roddis / EPA
Alexandre Lacazette, centre, scores against Manchester City six minutes after coming on as a substitute. Nigel Roddis / EPA

At almost £50 million (Dh240.5m), Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival at Arsenal represented a relative departure for Arsene Wenger.

It was the admission of an obvious weakness in his squad. Devoid for some time of a striker capable of firing a Premier League title bid, finally Wenger addressed a long-standing issue.

Famously frugal, he splashed the cash. In taking Lacazette from Lyon in the summer, Arsenal paid a club-record fee. Whether or not the modern market had inflated Lacazette’s value to the reported £46.5m paid, he cost more than Mesut Ozil did and more than Alexis Sanchez, too. Yet while two of Wenger’s other major acquisitions feel irreplaceable when fit, Lacazette, strangely, does not.

On Sunday, the Frenchman began the match against Manchester City on the bench. Wenger preferred Alex Iwobi in attack. When Arsenal met Liverpool at Anfield in August, Danny Welbeck started instead. For the second match against a top-six rival this season, Lacazette was named a substitute.

Understandably, he looked irritated. By the time he was introduced, in the 56th minute for makeshift centre-back Francis Coquelin, Arsenal were 2-0 down. Within three minutes, Lacazette was booked. Six minutes later, he scored, latching onto Aaron Ramsey’s through-ball and drilling low past Ederson in the City goal. It was an expert finish. It offered Arsenal brief hope.

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Also, it took Lacazette’s Premier League return to six goals, twice as much as any of his teammates this campaign. Ramsey and Welbeck both have three. Iwobi, Sanchez, Ozil and Olivier Giroud have four between them.

A predator and a performer, Lacazette has completed 90 minutes once in the Premier League. Thus far, Wenger has offered little reason as to why.

His omission from the onset against City seemed another decision his manager got wrong. Although they started brightly and rallied momentarily after Lacazette’s strike, Arsenal appeared always second best. City won 3-1 but should have been more clinical. Perched at the league summit, they are 12 points better off than Arsenal in sixth. After 11 matches, the London club’s title race looks run. They are closer in points to the relegation zone than they are to the top of the table.

Whereas Pep Guardiola’s side registered a third victory against one of the "five or six contenders" the Spaniard cites as potential champions, Arsenal have been thrashed by Liverpool and deservedly beaten by City.

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It continues a theme: in 18 away league matches against the rest of the big six since the beginning of the 2014/15 season, Wenger's men have won only once. They have gleaned 10 points from a possible 54.

The solitary victory came at the Etihad Stadium, in January 2015. Of the 11 players that started that day in Manchester, 10 are still at the club. In contrast, four remain at City.

Differing finances have played their part, but the clubs have moved in different directions. City are driven to dominate domestically and in Europe. Arsenal compete this year in the Europa League.

Blind loyalty has become Wenger’s shtick. As such, it is a regular stick with which to beat him. On Sunday, he complained about Raheem Sterling diving for the penalty at 1-0, and that David Silva was offside for City’s third. He had some justification with both. But it should not hide the fact that Arsenal lag way behind the Premier League pacesetters.

Afterwards, Wenger conceded City would be difficult to stop. It is early November, but the Frenchman sounds resigned to the fact his search for a first top-flight title will rumble on another season. Arsenal were last crowned English champions in 2004. Much like his team in the present title race, Wenger seems more than a little out of touch.

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