Premier League

Arsenal Čech Out Lafont As Long-Term Replacement

 • by Andrew Gibney
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A starter in one of Europe’s top five leagues as a teenager, it was inevitable Alban Lafont was always going to attract interest

Now, according to The Sun, the Toulouse goalkeeper is an Arsenal transfer target with Napoli also keen on the 19-year-old Frenchman.

Still a teenager, he has played more than 80 times times in Ligue 1 after making his debut aged just 16.

Fast forward two years and Lafont, who was included in our list of the ten best teenage footballers in Europe, is being tracked by Arsène Wenger as the long-term replacement to Petr Čech at Arsenal.

The usually reliable Čech began to come in for criticism after his performances last season, especially when the Gunners lost away at West Bromwich Albion. This season, though, the former Chelsea stopper has seen his form continue to decline.

He recorded his 200th Premier League clean sheet in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Watford but this has been the Czech international’s worst season at the Emirates Stadium and the search for his long-term heir has begun.

Why Alban Lafont?

After moving to France as a nine-year-old, Lafont impressed clubs while playing for a small side just outside Montpellier.

Toulouse were sufficiently impressed to sign him up in 2014 and, before the 2015/16 campaign, he did enough to earn minutes during their pre-season preparations.

Later that season, with his team sitting 19th in Ligue 1 and without a clean sheet in seven months, their then-coach Dominique Arribagé took a chance and handed the 16-year-old his professional debut at home against Nice.

With just eight minutes on the clock, Lafont was forced into action. A cross from the left was headed into the air by fellow teenager and debutant Issa Diop. It fell to Jeremy Pied and the goalkeeper had to react quickly to turn the ball past the post.

“It filled me with confidence for the rest of the game,” he said afterwards.

“It was a bold move but it gave me the opportunity to wake up a squad that needed waking up,” admitted a relieved Arribagé. “He had struggled in a friendly against Eibar, but that made him realise what was required to play at the highest level.”

Toulouse won 2-0 and followed that result up with another clean sheet and a victory over Troyes. The wheels were in motion and although Arribagé was replaced by Pascal Dupraz, Le Téfécé would survive on the final day of the season, helped in no small part by their young goalkeeper’s displays.

“He’s good with his feet. He can make two or three saves in quick succession or come out to claim dangerous crosses even if he’s been quiet all game,” France Under-17 coach and former Liverpool winger Bernard Diomède said when asked about the France youth international. “That, for me, is what a top-class keeper is.”

Since his debut, and again last season when Toulouse stunned Paris Saint-Germain with a win early in the campaign, Lafont has shown exceptional talent in making saves from point-blank range.

Just when it looks like the opposition are going to score, somehow, the youngster makes himself big, covers the ground and gets a strong hand to the ball.

Playing against Bastia, a left-footed corner is flicked on at the near post, throwing the defence into disarray.

Alban Lafont makes excellent reflex saves

Lafont has already sensed the threat and knows he must make a move to his left. There is a huge gap in the middle of the goal for the Corsican player to exploit.

Alban Lafont makes excellent reflex saves

The Toulouse keeper does incredibly well, getting across the goal with his huge frame and making an excellent stop.

The Bastia player did everything right but Lafont was equal to it and managed to keep the score level.

Alban Lafont makes excellent reflex saves

What are Lafont’s strengths?

As well as his excellent reflexes, Lafont continues to grow into his body and is commanding and aerially competent despite still looking a little lanky.

He moves quickly along the ground and is able to play as a sweeper-keeper. Quick to rush off his line, he’s brave and strong, and will slide in with his feet to clear the danger.

Due to his size, he is also able to put his feet to good use while making saves, which makes it harder to beat him.

Will Toulouse let Lafont go?

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The French club are in a strong position when it comes to Lafont’s future.

Toulouse boss Dupraz wants him to stay: “Lafont, he will not go,” the colourful coach told Foot365 when they asked about the 19-year-old’s future.

He signed a contract extension in 2016 that keeps him in the Rose city until 2020. Although that doesn’t guarantee he will remain for another two years, it should ensure the Ligue 1 side receive a big transfer fee when he eventually does leave.

During an interview with RMC Radio Dupraz claimed he’d be surprised if any of his young stars left.

“They are quite happy to stay,” he said. “I tend to believe my president, even if a big offer comes in, these players should not go.”

Arsenal would need to offer around £20-25million to tempt the Ligue 1 club. Even then they would need to be persuasive in convincing Lafont that playing back-up to Čech would be better for his career than another season as first-choice at Toulouse.

The Gunners could try to sign the keeper with the agreement he can return to Toulouse for another season on loan. At this stage that would make the most sense for all parties.

Lafont is not ready to replace Čech just yet. Another season and another year older and he could make that push.

While that wouldn’t help Wenger’s situation now, it would be one eye on the future success of the club.

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