Alex Lacazette finished his debut season at Arsenal as the club’s top scorer with 17 goals, not a bad return given he was sidelined by knee surgery for the best part of February and March.
Despite bouncing back from injury to end the campaign with eight goals in 10 games, Didier Deschamps opted not to pick the Gunner for France’s World Cup squad. He remains on the reserve list should someone pick up an injury, but the decision represents a crushing blow all the same.
Speaking last week, ahead of the announcement of the squad, Lacazette was confident about his chances, especially having overcome his mid-season blip in form.
Asked by L’Equipe [translated by Get French Football News] whether he was ‘guaranteed a spot’, ‘most likely going’ or was a ‘possible’, the 26-year-old replied, “Most likely going maybe? I think my two goals in [November’s 2-2 draw with] Germany definitely helped!”
Lacazette went on to reveal that prior to that match, Deschamps had labelled the friendly a ‘make or break’ moment for his chances at international level.
“Basically, he told me that my future depended on that match. He essentially told me, “You have a lot to prove tonight, I’m giving you the opportunity to start a big match. Seize the opportunity and show me!”
He went on to reflect: “It was a relief [scoring]. A forward is judged based off his goal return or the opportunities created. I went without scoring since the game against Denmark in 2015.
“I really needed those two goals, they really helped me. Was it enough to be in the 23 man squad? I don’t know, but it would make me really happy. Very, very happy!”
Without a World Cup to look forward to, Lacazette now faces the prospect of a few weeks holiday before he returns to Arsenal to work with a new manager. If there is a positive from Deschamps’ decision, it’s that the striker, like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, will be properly rested ahead of pre-season.
Hopefully, having endured a lot in his first year in England he’ll also be mentally and physically tougher. As he admits, his return from injury in March marked a turning point.
“Before the operation, I felt pain, but I told myself that I could continue. I was going through a rough period, where I wasn’t playing well or scoring, but I didn’t want to find any excuses. Eventually, my knee started to lock up, so I couldn’t hope to finish the season and go to the World Cup with my knee in that condition.
“Seeing as my pain went away [after the operation], I felt liberated. That time off helped me to analyse everything that happened to me during the last months.”
Lacazette’s return to the pitch saw him immediately end a scoring drought, the likes of which he’d never endured in his time as a professional.
“I had never experienced that. At night, when I would go home, I would repeat to myself, “Come on, next time it’ll go in!” But it wasn’t…and I’d only realised this after five or six matches. Suddenly, I started asking myself, “How long has it been since I last scored a goal?” It started to bother me.
“I don’t know how the other strikers manage, but personally, it got to my head. I couldn’t blame anyone, it was all from me. I couldn’t blame the coach because he was giving me my chance on the field. I couldn’t blame my teammates since chances were being created…it was just me.
He added: “Apart from scoring, nothing can help. Your everyday life of course, but on the day of the match, that’s all that matters. After my operation, I started to score right away and it all came back. You get more involved in play and your confidence goes through the roof.”
It’s not often you hear a striker talk so openly about the trauma of not scoring. Here’s hoping Laca can pick up where he left off when things get going again in August.
It’s well worth reading the rest of Lacazette’s interview, there are some interesting snippets about his body language and his respect for Arsene Wenger.