There will probably be a way of foreboding amongst lots of the residence contingent on the Emirates this weekend, conscious not simply of their very own staff’s slovenly begin in dropping to Premier League newcomers Brentford, but in addition the probably debut of a £97.5 million (€115m) striker within the mould of one other participant well-known for inflicting the Gunners’ defence nightmares.
Drogba scored 13 objectives in 15 video games in opposition to Arsenal spanning 9 years and two spells at Chelsea between 2004 and 2015, typically brutally exposing a defensive brittleness that finally got here to outline the latter days of Arsene Wenger’s reign as supervisor. It’s a weak spot the membership have struggled to eradicate ever since Wenger was sacked in 2018, regardless of searching for to inject better resolve by investing appreciable sums in numerous centre-backs underneath Unai Emery and now Mikel Arteta.
Ben White is the most recent, and at £50m the most costly try to reply the issue, however the sight of the previous Brighton defender being outmuscled and outmanoeuvred by Brentford’s Ivan Toney, a prolific Championship aim scorer but unproven on the highest degree, hardly bodes properly for his prospects of dealing with one in all Europe’s best marksmen in Lukaku.
Lukaku enjoys a longstanding friendship with Drogba courting again to his first spell at Stamford Bridge in 2011, telling Chelsea’s web site: “Our relationship means the world to me. It isn’t like we speak as soon as a month, I speak to the man each few days! Now we have a gaggle chat so we’re continually speaking and I have been on the telephone with him a bit extra prior to now two weeks. I had loads of inquiries to ask and he nonetheless is aware of lots of people right here so he actually ready me properly with the final particulars.”
The striker’s mission this season is so as to add a leading edge to a Chelsea staff that defied their very own profligacy in entrance of aim to win final season’s Champions League. A Premier League title problem is anticipated this time round for the Blues and what higher place for Lukaku to put down a marker in his second debut than at Drogba’s residence away from residence.
Lukaku has confronted Arsenal 17 instances in his profession thus far — having performed for Chelsea, West Brom, Everton and Manchester United previous to his two-year spell at Inter Milan — however has scored simply three objectives and solely ended up on the profitable aspect 5 instances. That report is because of a mix of things, not least the extra modest ambition of West Brom and Everton, but in addition a small indication of the inconsistencies which stalled his private progress in England.
Lukaku insists, nonetheless, that he’s a distinct man upon his return to the Premier League this summer season, benefitting considerably from Antonio Conte’s tutelage whereas spearheading Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years with 24 objectives in 36 league video games.
“As a participant the Italian sport is so completely different,” he defined at his unveiling press convention on Wednesday. “It is so tactical and technical. It’s a must to make the precise run or motion to get one other participant free. We all the time had loads of possession, so we have been taking part in within the reverse half. More often than not you have been again to aim and all the things was going by me.
“I keep in mind having a dialog with Conte about this and he informed me if I wasn’t good at that I would not play. For me that was an eye-opener. As soon as I mastered that side then for me all the things grew to become simpler.”
Now 28 years previous, Lukaku believes he has matured right into a extra full ahead since he final performed in England — which included simply 15 appearances in his first spell with the Blues after a €12m transfer from Anderlecht in 2011 — however in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, he may have discovered a pure tactical match. The German supervisor actually appears to suppose so, notably referencing that transformation in Lukaku’s link-up play when discussing his new centre-forward.
“He likes to play bodily, he’s comfy taking part in together with his again in direction of the aim,” Tuchel stated. “However he’s additionally very, very robust in utilizing his pace and tempo. Romelu has a wide range of strengths. He’s robust within the air, he’ll give us a brand new energy once we cross from the aspect. We shouldn’t have to alter our model of play to make him shine.”
In any case, Chelsea’s downside final season wasn’t creating probabilities however taking them. Timo Werner scored simply six objectives in 35 League appearances final season after his €53m transfer from RB Leipzig, producing a list of exceptional misses ample to create a prolonged blooper reel. A lot of these have been from shut vary and the expectation will probably be on Lukaku to complete the identical patterns of play the place Werner could not. All 24 of his Serie A objectives final season got here from inside the width of the six-yard field.
Drogba’s objectives in opposition to Arsenal have been barely extra different — together with one free kick from outdoors the field and a number of finishes from tight angles — however he was principally efficient in the identical areas near aim the place Lukaku must be. Creating an understanding with these round him is prone to take time however Lukaku is extra adaptable lately and it helps that the others in Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1 system have had a season to gel collectively.
Kai Havertz and Mason Mount are the frontrunners to occupy the 2 No. 10 positions however there are a number of choices past with United States worldwide Christian Pulisic amongst them. Werner may play there and also will hope to rival Lukaku up entrance however the Belgian’s accountability is obvious, underlined by inheriting the No. 9 shirt from Tammy Abraham, now departed to Roma for €40m.
Lukaku’s aim report is exceptional, notably so for a participant who has by no means actually escaped query marks over his high quality. To this point, he has netted 251 instances in 508 video games at membership degree, plus a Belgian report of 64 in 98 video games internationally.
It’s maybe simple to overlook he additionally already has extra Premier League objectives than Drogba managed all through his profession, and in much less time. Drogba required 254 video games to succeed in 104 objectives. In the meantime, by scoring in Manchester United’s 2-1 win at Watford in September 2018, Lukaku famous his one hundred and fifth in his 225th match.
But Drogba holds a legendary place in Chelsea’s historical past, not simply due to his report but in addition the defining contributions he made in so many huge matches, combining tempo, method, talent and energy to overwhelm opponents and win main honours (4 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, three League Cups and one Champions League). He grew to become the talismanic, all-conquering No. 9 that solely Diego Costa for a brief spell has actually come near emulating since.
Drogba was the entire striker Lukaku now believes he’s. A equally harmful show in opposition to Arsenal on Sunday could be the proper first step towards proving it.