Lacazette overcomes obstacles at Lyon to emerge as a €70m transfer prize

What a difference 12 months can make.

At this time last year, Alexandre Lacazette was struggling. His fitness was lacking, fans were not pleased and he could not have looked unhappier. Coming off the best season of his career -- he scored 27 goals in 33 Ligue 1 matches in 2014-15 -- his summer was aggravating to say the least.

First, there were rumours that he wanted to leave. At his level and age, only 24 at the time, a lot of big European clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool were showing interest. It was crucial for Lyon to keep him, however, so both parties started to open up talks about a new contract.

Matters quickly took a turn for the worse, as talks became increasingly toxic between the player's agent (Lacazette was on holiday in the West Indies) and club president Jean-Michel Aulas. Aulas didn't play fair; the OL boss decided to make negotiations over the player's salary public, stating: "We have offered him €4 million a year. ... Obviously, his agent mentioned higher figures, but they don't reflect the market or Alexandre's interests."

The fans went mad at Lacazette for refusing such an offer, and Lacazette went mad at Aulas for exposing him in such a way. Even though they were eventually able to reach an agreement -- he signed a two-year extension in September -- he was booed by club supporters following a home defeat against Rennes in the third game of the season and publicly criticised (again) by new manager Hubert Fournier.

He was out of form, struggling with a back problem, and the wounds left in the aftermath of the whole transfer saga were huge. Lacazette's mind was not in football and his level was poor; he scored just one goal in his first six league games of the season.

But the French international is Lyon through and through. He was born there and joined the club's youth system at age 10. Since making his senior team debut in May 2010, he has never played for another team in France.

"It is hurtful to be treated that way. The president hurt me and disappointed me with the things he said," Lacazette told L'Equipe a few weeks after the fact in a long, heartfelt interview. He also had a big dig at Fournier. "I would have rather him supporting me instead of criticising me again and be on the fans' side," he added.

After recovering from injury and with a new manager at the helm in Bruno Genesio, who replaced Fournier in December 2015, Lacazette was back to his best. He managed to finish the league campaign with 21 goals in 31 games.

The circus between Lacazette and Aulas could have started again this summer, but it seems that both have matured a bit. This time around there are no arguments, no Twitter spats, no angry fans.

Lacazette explained early on that he was happy at Lyon, although he would take a great offer if it presented itself. Lyon were on the same level -- ready to accept the right fee for the player but determined to keep him all the same. West Ham made a first attempt with a €40m offer back in June, which was rejected, and Arsenal's €35m bid met the same fate last month.

Lacazette has worked very hard in preseason this summer, reconnecting with Nabil Fekir, his mate and favoured partner up front who missed almost all of last season through injury. Fekir is fit and ready this time around.

To no one's surprise, Lacazette destroyed the Nancy defence on his own in Lyon's Ligue 1 opener on Sunday, scoring a hat trick in his side's 3-0 victory. The atmosphere could not have been more different than the tension that clouded his play at the beginning of last season.

"I'm very comfortable at Lyon. The proof was there today that I was in the right state of mind. I scored three goals, I'm pleased.

"With my teammates, everything is going well. So for me, all is well," he said on French television after the match.

But there are still two weeks to go in the transfer window. "If there are offers that can't be refused, I'd like to not refuse them," he added.

While Lacazette put in a great performance in Nancy, Arsenal lost against Liverpool at the Emirates, showing once again their desperate need for another striker. Will Arsene Wenger's side come back with a second offer? Wenger is trying to finalise a deal for a centre-half first, but Lacazette is there for the taking if he wants him.

For both Lacazette and Arsenal, the move would make sense, although getting Lyon to agree will be hard work. Aulas is adamant that Lacazette will stay.

"It's good that he should stay at least one more year with us," Aulas said in an interview published by the Journal du dimanche on Sunday. "It's in his interest. He's the leader of a good team who play in a very attacking style. The day that Real (Madrid), Barcelona or Manchester United come to see us, it will be different." Aulas has put a €70m price tag on the player.

Wenger and Arsenal will be very reluctant to sign a check for that amount. However, the pressure will mount if things don't go well for them away at Leicester City on Saturday.