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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Alexandre Lacazette offers Arsenal a glimpse of his quality in defeat to Sevilla

France striker scores on first game at his new home stadium as the tournament hosts win Emirates Cup.

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his goal during Arsenal's defeat to Sevilla in the Emirates Cup. John Walton / PA Wire
Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his goal during Arsenal's defeat to Sevilla in the Emirates Cup. John Walton / PA Wire

It is a familiar criticism of Arsenal. They take too many positives from defeat. Yesterday they were entitled to clutch at one. They even secured silverware with a loss, lifting the Emirates Cup as a 5-2 thrashing of Benfica was followed by a 2-1 setback to Sevilla.

Yet the real bonus came not from the scoreline but the scorer. Alexandre Lacazette’s first start at the Emirates Stadium brought a first goal. The finish was calm, the shot steered into the bottom corner in a manner that suggested it was a routine affair for a player of his class. Perhaps, for £53 million, it ought to be. Certainly the 91 goals he scored in competitive football in his last three seasons at Lyon count for rather more.

The most pertinent element came in the contrast with a colleague. When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made the initial incision before centring, Danny Welbeck miscued his shot, allowing Lacazette to show altogether more precision.

Welbeck occupied Alexis Sanchez’s usual role, on the left of the front three, as Arsenal wait for the ill Chilean to return to training tomorrow [TUE]. Yet the Englishman has been displaced by Lacazette. He was the eager, effective frontrunner in the FA Cup final, creating space for others with his running. Versatility has been a constant in Welbeck’s career; so, too, an inability to become a prolific scorer.

Earlier, he accelerated away from the Sevilla attack, only to prod a shot into the advertising hoardings. This was Welbeck in microcosm. If only he were a better finisher, he might not be the odd-job man, starter and substitute, shuffled around the side. Lacazette promises more consistency in attack.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, meanwhile, was Arsenal’s best player, his excellence in both wing-back roles nevertheless highlighting the problem of a player entering the final year of his contract. His supreme adaptability and great speed mean he would be a major loss should he leave.

The midfielder excelled on the left in the FA Cup final and began by reprising that role. One sudden surge was followed by a pinpoint cross which his right-sided counterpart, Hector Bellerin, met, only to blaze over.

If the Spaniard, in theory a natural wing-back, did not convince, Oxlade-Chamberlain did, continuing a theme. Arsenal did not field wing-backs for 20 years but Saturday’s chosen pair, Sead Kolasinac and Reiss Nelson, were hugely impressive against Benfica.

It all explains why Kieran Gibbs could go. Oxlade-Chamberlain looks a more compelling choice, even though he had switched to the right by the time he set up Lacazette’s leveller.

But it was sandwiched by Sevilla goals. If Arsenal’s wing-backs showed attacking verve, behind them, slipshod defending was a feature, just as it was in the 3-0 defeat to Chelsea eight days earlier. If it is harsh to fault Arsenal for Steven N’Zonzi’s languidly brilliant winner and there are mitigating factors – Shkodran Mustafi is yet to feature in pre-season after his Confederations Cup exploits – greater organisation is required.

Both goals were well taken. Joaquin Correa’s adept finish was steered coolly beyond Petr Cech. More concerning for Arsenal was the way the offside trap was sprung. Their man at the heart of the back three, the job often reserved for the defensive leader, was filled by a midfielder.

Ever an advocate of constructive players, even in supposedly destructive roles, Wenger selected Mohamed Elneny at the back. Smooth and assured as the Egyptian was in possession, his defensive credentials seemed shaky when Ever Banega slid a pass past him for Wissam Ben Yedder to hit the post. Elneny was left floundering. He fared better when, using a midfielder’s anticipation, he would dart forward to intercept.

Tellingly, the finest piece of defending came from a specialist defender, a sliding Laurent Koscielny perhaps saving a goal with an interception to prevent Nolito’s cross from reaching Ben Yedder. The worry should be that such last-gasp heroics were required. Even the addition of a potent finisher cannot always save a side who concede too many chances.

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