London (AFP) – Alexandre Lacazette is dreaming of a fairytale ending to an otherwise difficult debut season at Arsenal by firing the Gunners to the Europa League final in his native Lyon next month.
Lacazette scored twice as Arsenal swept aside CSKA Moscow 4-1 in their quarter-final, first leg at the Emirates on Thursday night to take a huge step towards the semi-finals.
The French international has largely failed to live up to his £46.5 million ($65 million) club record price tag Arsenal paid for his services back in July.
After an underwhelming first half of the season, Lacazette’s troubles were compounded as Arsenal again broke their transfer record for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January to take his place as Arsene Wenger’s first-choice striker.
With Aubameyang cup-tied for the Europa League, Lacazette has his chance to shine in the competition that represents Arsenal’s last realistic shot at qualifying for next season’s Champions League should they win in Lyon on May 16.
However, Lacazette also missed out on victories over Ostersunds and AC Milan in previous rounds due to a knee injury that kept him sidelined for six weeks.
Lacazette returned to action in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Stoke, when Aubameyang even passed up the chance of his first Arsenal hat-trick to let his strike partner end his near three-month wait for a goal from the penalty spot.
“I missed football a lot during my break,” said Lacazaette. “I have come back stronger, but it is true scoring on my comeback on Sunday helped.”
– World Cup place at risk –
Aaron Ramsey was also on target twice, including a sensational lobbed finish with the outside of his foot, whilst Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan shone on a night when Arsenal showed they have the attacking potential to end a 24-year wait for a European trophy.
“It’s important for me because in the league, Aubameyang is going to play, unless the coach plays the two of us together,” added Lacazette.
“But I know in European competition, it is the chance to show plenty of things for me. I am desperate to win this trophy and, when we play like we did tonight, we can go far.”
Lacazette’s lack of playing time has also put his chances of making France’s World Cup squad at risk.
But he knows making a big impression in his homeland and the city where he played his entire career with Lyon until the last year could make a big difference to his chances of going to Russia.
“It’s in my mind a lot. Playing in front of my family, a final, it’s the type of thing that only comes around once.
“I know that by performing and going far in the Europa League, I give myself a much better chance to go (to the World Cup).
“Then you have to play well in the league and not get injured.”
Arsenal’s victory was their fifth consecutive win in all competitions to bounce back from a run of four straight defeats that left manager Arsene Wenger under mounting pressure to end his 22-year reign in charge at the end of the season.
However, the Frenchman hailed his side’s reaction to the disappointment in particular of losing the League Cup final to Manchester City last month.
“We responded well. People forget we lost three games in a week because the first game was a final and it takes time to recover from that,” said Wenger.
“We suffered a lot recently but we have to be feet on the ground, humble, and try to do our job well.”