The pair had been rivals for many years. First competing for the Ligue 1 Golden Boot award, but also for a few seasons as part of one of the biggest derbies in French football, Lyon vs. Saint-Etienne. It was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs. Alexandre Lacazette or Lacazette vs. Aubameyang. Opponents first and foremost, but also nice to each other when together off the pitch.

“There has always been a lot of respect between us,” Lacazette said.

After all those years of playing against each other, they are finally playing for each other at Arsenal — and they are a large reason why the Gunners are preparing for the Europa League final

This season, Unai Emery has found the right way to make them perform up front together. At the start of the campaign, the manager was keen for the Gabon international to play wide on the left, with the Frenchman on his own up front. Little by little, Emery has worked things out to find the right tactical structure that allows them to line up next to each other in and around the box.

Emery’s 3-4-1-2 formation became really efficient at the turn of the year. Since Jan. 1, Lacazette has 11 goals and five assists in all competitions, with 16 goals and four assists for Aubameyang over the same span. In total, they have 50 goals in all competitions between them. When Arsenal faced their toughest opponents — Napoli in the quarterfinals and Valencia in the semifinals — the duo virtually knocked both sides out by themselves.

“It was just a matter of time. They clicked as soon as they met in the dressing room 19 months ago. They get on so well together in their social lives that it was just a matter of time before it spilled over onto the pitch,” Laurent Koscielny, the club’s captain who has seen the partnership blossoms, told ESPN.

The off-field element is crucial to their partnership, as well. Being around those two is a joy. You can hear them laugh from afar at each other’s jokes … or at each other’s expense. They are always planning things or cracking jokes. Their amusing celebration at Mestalla against Valencia during the Europa League semifinal second leg was prepared before the match. The atmosphere was hot in the stadium and they could not wait to cool it down with a goal. So once they scored, they pretended to be chilly on the pitch like if they had put the air con on!


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