The Arsenal fans are back – and Alexandre Lacazette could be as well.
The France striker has started the last two Premier League games on the bench for the Gunners, but he must now be at the forefront of Mikel Arteta’s mind for Sunday’s crucial north London derby at Tottenham following this excellent showing against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.
Lacazette scored one and had a hand in another as Arsenal guaranteed qualification to the knockout stages as group winners with a 4-1 win in front of 2,000 fans at Emirates Stadium.
It was the first time since March that Arsenal had played in front of supporters on their own ground and they responded with a performance as good as we’ve seen for a long time.
The Spaniard made 11 changes from the team that lost to Wolves at the weekend, with Lacazette one again starting in a deeper No.10 role behind Eddie Nketiah, just as he had done in the win at Molde last week.
And the forward was the star of the show as Arsenal proved far too good for Vienna during an excellent opening 45 minutes in north London.
He opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, crashing a swerving shot past Richard Strebinger from 30 yards to end a run of eight games without a goal.
And then, soon after the returning Pablo Mari had made it 2-0 with a glancing header from Reiss Nelson’s corner as he hit the post with a smart snapshot from the edge of the box.
Lacazette has scored in three of his last four games against Tottenham and this felt like a performance aimed at ensuring he would be in the side on Sunday.
The 30-year-old was linking the play superbly and it was his perfect through ball that sent Nicolas Pepe clear in the build-up for Arsenal’s third, which was eventually finished off by Nketiah.
He was withdrawn on 63 minutes by Arteta, which was perhaps a sign that Arsenal’s manager was looking ahead to Sunday’s trip against north London.
Arteta has seen his side score just two goals in their last six games in the Premier League, with one of those coming from the penalty spot.
Joe Willock has started the last two games – against Leeds and Wolves – operating behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the No.10 role, but has struggled to make an impact.
And whilst using Lacazette in the playmaker role is a new experiment, his performance against Vienna showed he can provide and still be a goal threat.
He has certainly given Arteta a decision to make ahead of Sunday’s game at the league leaders, as has Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who was equally impressive playing in his natural central midfield role alongside Mohamed Elneny.
After Kohya Kitagawa had pulled one back for Vienna, Maitland-Niles linked up well with the lively Pepe before driving into the box and setting up Emile Smith Rowe to score.
It’s unlikely that his performance will be enough to earn him a starting spot at Spurs, but he certainly won’t have done his chances any harm.
After the disappointment of recent home games in the league, this was the perfect tonic for Arsenal – who now head into the north London derby with a much-needed spring in their step.