Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 'bromance' could rescue Arsenal
Whether executing dance routines on the training ground, fooling around in ice baths during preseason or combining to precise and deadly effect on the pitch in the Premier League, it's clear for all to see that a perfect "bromance" is blossoming between Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The manner in which the two forwards combined to score Arsenal's second goal in the 3-2 win over Cardiff on Sunday showed that an intuitive understanding is developing between the men born two years apart in France. Lacazette picked out Aubameyang with a stylish flick before his strike-partner buried his shot from the outside of the box. Cue smiles all round.
Aubameyang wasn't directly involved when Lacazette scored the winner with a formidable finish on 81 minutes but he was on the pitch, accentuating a telling statistic about the two strikers. Since Aubameyang signed for Arsenal in January, the pair have only shared the pitch for 474 minutes but have scored 11 goals in that time, with a further five combined assists. Lacazette has six of those goals, including one from the spot when Aubameyang generously passed up the chance to have a hat-trick against Stoke last season so his friend could score.
It took new manager Unai Emery three matches before he warmed to the idea of using the pair in tandem and the statistics indicate it is a productive strategy. So too does the evident joy both men display in each other's company -- that is not to be underestimated.
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There is something special about watching players with a genuine connection play together. The way they combine, the way they joke and even the way they bow to each other in celebration, as Lacazette and Aubameyang did at the weekend: it all takes a relationship out of a purely professional context and breathes genuine life into it. Supporters can identify with that.
Arsenal's most recent "bromance" was a powerful one but not a meeting of equals. Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Flamini cultivated a quirky and endearing affection for each other but one of the pair was one of the best creative players on the planet and the other was a functional midfielder who struggled to get in the team.
Rather, the Lacazette-Aubameyang phenomenon is more reminiscent in spirit of Flamini's other great Arsenal connection: the "Gang of Four" he formed with Tomas Rosicky, Alex Hleb and Cesc Fabregas in 2007-08. They formed one of the most cohesive midfield units Arsenal have had in the Premier League and forged a lovely friendship off it: in a sense, they were quintessential WhatsApp group chat combo before such a thing existed.
Even so, there is something special about a strike partnership and Arsenal will hope they have the makings of something equivalent to Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who fired Blackburn to the title in 1994-95, or the duo of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, whose perfect symbiosis was so essential to Manchester United's treble in 1998-99.
Arsenal have been blessed with abundant attacking talent over the past 30 years or so but a genuine partnership of this kind has proven somewhat elusive.
The closest might be the combination of Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright, which inspired Arsenal to Arsene Wenger's first title in 1997-98, although the emergence of Nicholas Anelka eroded even that. Bergkamp and Thierry Henry had the closest of understandings but their roles were too closely demarcated between creator and scorer.
The Lacazette-Aubameyang partnership feels like a meeting of equals: two strikers with plenty of goals in them who don't mind teeing each other up too. That they have forged a genuine bond makes it even more exciting to see. As Lacazette said earlier this summer (LINK 1): "When he came to the club... we talked and realised we liked each other, so it's been since the beginning. I like to be with Aubam, he's a good boy, a good man and a good player and every day we laugh a lot so I like to hang out with him.
"I hope we will score a lot of goals together, can win a lot of games and win some trophies."
That said, it's too early to be confident of that. Lacazette and Aubameyang will have to finesse their roles: who plays wide, who plays central and how that evolves during matches. Emery will likely cycle through many more combinations before he finds his best team and there is much work to do, particularly in defence. But in his two smiling strikers, Emery certainly has a burgeoning and potentially brilliant "bromance" to build on in attack.