Alexandre Lacazette will make his first appearance in front of Arsenal’s home crowd this weekend as the Gunners step up their pre-season preparations in the Emirates Cup.
Arsene Wenger splashed out a club record £52 million ($68 million, 58 million euros) to sign Lacazette from Lyon this month and the France striker is expected to get his first taste of the Emirates Stadium when Arsenal face Benfica on Saturday.
With Arsenal’s Premier League campaign getting underway against Leicester on August 11 after next week’s Community Shield clash with Chelsea, Lacazette has an opportunity to make a good initial impression on the Gunners faithful in the four-team friendly tournament.
Aside from a desire to justify Wenger’s hefty investment, Lacazette’s Emirates debut will carry extra significance for the 26-year-old, who grew up admiring Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’.
Emulating that 2003-04 Arsenal team, who won the title without a single defeat thanks to inspired contributions from French stars Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, might be aiming a little too high, but Lacazette is confident he can make a big impact in his debut season.
“Arsenal is a legendary club. Throughout my childhood, thanks to Thierry Henry and other French players, I always dreamed of playing for this club,” Lacazette said.
“Arsenal’s past appeals to me. I like clubs with a history. Also, the fact that the manager has been here for a while shows that it is a stable club which I like.
“In my opinion, Arsenal is also the club that plays the best football in England so I really wanted to come here.”
Lacazette’s arrival has given fresh hope to Arsenal supporters hoping their team can build on an unexpectedly upbeat end to a traumatic season.
For months it seemed Wenger was on the brink of calling time on his 21-year reign as Arsenal suffered one humiliating setback after another.
Yet, despite Arsenal’s failure to qualify for the Champions League and repeated fan protests against Wenger, the 67-year-old was last seen on English soil cavorting jubilantly around Wembley after his side’s surprise FA Cup final victory against Premier League champions Chelsea.
Days later, Wenger ended the speculation over his future by signing a new contract, but the Frenchman knows patience is still in short supply among supporters who haven’t seen their club win the title for 13 years.
Having finished 18 points behind Chelsea, Wenger is betting Lacazette can help close the gap by replicating his form at Lyon, where he had the best shot-conversion rate of any forward who scored 20-plus goals in Europe’s leading five divisions last term.
Lacazette took just 15 minutes to bag his first Arsenal goal in a friendly against Sydney FC in Australia two weeks ago, but he failed to net in any of the next three matches, including a lacklustre 3-0 defeat against Chelsea.
Although Alexis Sanchez is not scheduled to return to training until next week following his Confederations Cup duty with Chile, Wenger is sure to face questions about the Arsenal forward, who has only one year left on his contract amid talk he is trying to engineer a move to Paris Saint Germain or Manchester City.
Spanish side Sevilla and German outfit Leipzig, featuring Liverpool target Naby Keita, face off in Saturday’s other fixture at the Emirates.
Leipzig v Sevilla (1300 GMT)
Arsenal v Benfica (1520 GMT)
Leipzig v Benfica (1300 GMT)
Arsenal v Sevilla (1520 GMT)