Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal took a risk in delaying contract talks with Alexandre Lacazette until the summer – with the captain now revealing he has opened discussions with other clubs.
Lacazette’s deal expires at the end of the current season and the 30-year-old currently looks set to leave the Emirates Stadium.
Lacazette said he was “in discussions with a lot of clubs”, adding he was “missing” playing in the Champions League and that he had “never cut contact” with Lyon, who he left to join Arsenal five years ago.
The comments could not come at a worse time for the Gunners, who face London rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening with their Premier League top-four hopes floundering.
Arsenal have now lost their last three games – to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton – and sit sixth ahead of their short trip across the capital.
Asked if he was taken by surprise by Lacazette’s remarks, Arteta replied: “Well he doesn’t need to tell me what he does in his own life but he has, we have discussed that and he is entitled to do that – then he has a duty to do his best here.
“His contract situation allows him to make the decision about his future. We have expressed clearly what our intention is – to speak in the summer once we know where we are, about what we are going to do in the future together.
“And for the rest, I just want him fully focused on his duty, which is now defend Arsenal in the best possible way, like he has done all the time he has been with us. That’s why he has been wearing the armband of this football club, that’s a big reason.
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“The contracts start and end with the expiry date that you have agreed on that day that you put the pen down.
“Then you have to deal with the consequences with that and that’s the reality of the contract that he has, and the commitment and the duty that he has with the football club.”
Lacazette is unlikely to feature at Chelsea after testing positive for coronavirus and Arteta admits Arsenal may have also missed the boat on attempting to keep the France striker at the club.
“It is the agreement that we made with him, that was our position and our position remains the same, that is what we are going to do,” he said.
“The risk of that happening, it was always there since the moment we made that decision, then it is up to him. It is not up to us or him it is up to both parties.”
Thomas Tuchel, meanwhile, says the return of versatile defender Reece James has given him vital tactical flexibility as Chelsea bid to finish the season on a high note.
James missed two months earlier this season due to a hamstring injury and was sidelined again with a recurrence of the problem in March.
Since the 22-year-old returned to fitness, Chelsea have looked more composed at the back and carry more threat down the right flank.
Tuchel claims James is so good that he cannot decide whether the England international is better suited to play at right wing-back or right-sided centre-back.
The Chelsea boss revealed deploying James on the right of a three-man defence has not only helped combat opponents in recent weeks, but also contributed to keeping his player fresh.
"He can play both positions brilliantly, but we can only select him once," Tuchel said on Tuesday.
"I think that the back three is a little bit less demanding physically, in comparison to the wing-back position and given that he comes back from a long injury, a re-injury over so many weeks.
"This is anyway the next step, how many games can he play as a wing-back, if he plays wing-back during a season, reliable on a level where he's decisive.
"It's a bit less demanding physically in the back-three in terms of accelerations, long accelerations and high speed.
"That helps us to have him on the pitch for more minutes, and that's why he plays in there. So we need to decide, but that's the reason at the moment."