Lacazette injury leaves Arsenal sweating after another awful display in Fulham draw

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Alexandre Lacazette Mikel Arteta Arsenal GFX
The striker limped off with a hamstring problem on Sunday, leaving the in-form Frenchman facing a race against time to be fit to face Villarreal

Match statistics: Arsenal 1-1 Fulham

This was a horrible afternoon for Arsenal.

It was one that started full of optimism following the high of Thursday night’s excellent 4-0 win in Prague which booked Mikel Arteta’s side a spot in the Europa League semi-finals.

But it ended in the latest of a series of lows that have littered this awful season.

Eddie Nketiah’s injury-time equaliser may have salvaged a 1-1 draw against relegation-threatened Fulham, but that will do little to raise the mood after yet another disappointing performance.

The point leaves Arsenal ninth in the league with six games remaining, six points off the top six and nine points adrift of the Champions League places.

It is little surprise that they are believed to be one of six English teams to have signed up for a new breakaway European Super League, because on this evidence they are miles off qualifying for Europe’s elite competition via the conventional domestic route.

They do still have a chance via the Europa League obviously, but the injury suffered by Alexandre Lacazette midway through the second half could end up proving particularly damaging to those hopes.

Holding Nketiah Arsenal 2021

Fulham had just taken the lead through a Josh Maja penalty when Lacazette pulled up as he sprinted towards the visitors' box during an Arsenal attack.

He immediately clutched his hamstring, and as he limped off with his shirt pulled up covering his face, he must have been wondering how long he would now be facing on the sidelines.

In the grand scheme of things, this draw matters little to Arsenal. Not that Arteta or his players will see it that way of course.

It has been clear for some time that the Gunners' priority is the Europa League and rightly so, given what is at stake should they go on and win that competition.

Arteta’s team selection here said it all. Thomas Partey and Nicolas Pepe, both so impressive in the win against Slavia Prague, were rested, as was Bernd Leno - with Mat Ryan handed his home debut in goal following his loan move from Brighton in January.

Arsenal’s manager knows how vital the upcoming games against Villarreal are, and how important it is to keep his players fit.

And that is why the injury to Lacazette will be such worry, especially with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang currently sidelined after contracting malaria while away on international duty with Gabon.

Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal 2020-21

It remains unclear how long it will take Aubameyang to recover. He is back home having spent some time in hospital earlier in the week, but has yet to return to training.

Lacazette has been key in Aubameyang’s absence, scoring twice in the wins against Sheffield United and Slavia, and leading from the front with his work rate and link-up play.

But now he looks set for an extending spell on the sidelines, something that could prove to be a hammer blow for Arsenal’s chances of salvaging something from this awful season.

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Arteta’s side played the final half an hour at the Emirates with Nketiah as their central striker. The 21-year-old has been marginalised by Arteta in recent months, and had clocked up just a couple of minutes of Premier League football since January, prior to replacing Lacazette.

But now he might have to be the man who spearheads Arsenal attack against Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final, depending on how long it takes for Lacazette and Aubameyang to recover.

His close-range finish in the dying seconds which cancelled out Maja’s penalty should give him a timely confidence boost, but it is far from ideal for Arteta at such a crucial stage at the campaign.