Arsenal greats tend to have one or two moments they are best remembered for. Charlie George in the 71’ FA Cup final; Tony Adams with that goal against Everton; Dennis Bergkamp’s flick vs Newcastle; the list could go on.
Alexandre Lacazette will probably not be remembered quite as fondly as the aforementioned, but against Slavia Prague he did produce a truly iconic moment in the history of our club.
Times have been tough for Arsenal over the past decade or so. Our decline can be somewhat represented by the last time we played Slavia in Europe. At the Emirates, back in 2007, we thumped them 7-0 in the Champions League. At the Emirates again, this time in 2021, we laboured to a 1-1 draw in the Europa League.
So, we went back to Prague needing a win. Anything less would cement our fall from grace and see our season as good as finished. But it would also feel like a failure in another, truly bitter way.
Slavia are a club who have faced a number of allegations of racism over the past few years.
Just this week, UEFA handed out a 10-game ban to their defender Ondrej Kudela for abusing Rangers' Glen Kamara in the last round of the Europa League.
In 2019, Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku claimed he had been racially abused by Slavia fans during a Champions League fixture. And just a month before that incident, the Prague home crowd had allegedly given Barcelona's Nelson Semedo similar treatment.
So, when Arsenal came to Prague, the desire to win was present for reasons far greater than just football. Lacazette knew this full well. Before the game, he and the other club captains got permission from Arsenal and UEFA to send out a message.
At kick off, when the referee blew his whistle, the Arsenal players took a customary knee, while the Slavia players stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the outer edge of the centre circle. Lacazette entered that centre circle, took a knee, and stared down the opposition – members of a club who consistently deny various allegations of racism.
The gesture had been made. The tone had been set.
But for it to truly leave a mark, Arsenal still had a job to do. Well, they started the game like a team who were more than aware of that.
In the 14th minute Emile Smith Rowe finished well after Bukayo Saka’s stunning solo effort had rebounded off the post. The celebrations were short-lived, however, as VAR ruled it out for the most marginal offside. In a game where an early goal is so vital, a sucker punch like that can often deflate a team. Not tonight though.
Just ten minutes later, Arsenal led 3-0 and the tie was won. Lacazette had been at the heart of everything good, scoring our second from the penalty spot before grabbing himself another in the 77th minute – making it 4-0 on the night.
For a club that has always been proud of its diverse fanbase, this was a tie that really meant a lot. Winning it 5-1 was a timely reminder of just what this club can mean to all of us.
Lacazette may not go down as one of the club’s greatest players, but he should always be revered for this iconic night in Prague.
A night where he led Arsenal to a win over racism.