It is often assumed among the Gooner fan base that “it is the hope that kills” and once again we find ourselves at the mercy of that line, with the realization that we won’t continue to see the much-anticipated front three of Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in full swing after the International break, due to the ankle injury which has ruled out the latter of the trio till next month.
As much as this is such a quite significant dent from a clinical perspective (as well as other excellent qualities Laca brings to the table), it also creates numerous interesting possibilities and it’s significance may well be decisive in understanding what exactly Unai Emery truly regards as his model team after one season in charge and on the back of a pivotal summer transfer window.
However, following the conclusion of that frantic summer business, team selection is back at centre stage for Unai and although it still appears to be early days, judging from what has been observed in the first four games of the season, the core of the team has been built around Emery’s options in midfield. The Spaniard has so far settled for a three-man midfield and even turned it up a notch by daring to field four in the 3-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield.
Flood The Middle
With that in mind, we could see the Head Coach aiming to cope with the loss of Lacazette by trying to maximize the numerical strength of his existing midfield options, especially with one that boasts of distinct qualities. The quintet of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi, Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock possess different qualities and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Emery try to accommodate four of those in the same midfield, especially in away games (albeit not necessarily for conservative reasons), where the counter-attacking threat of Aubameyang and Pepe would thrive with the ideal system, perhaps starting with Watford on Sunday.
However, unlike the struggling system utilized at Anfield, it is not completely unfeasible to tinker on a system that would suit and get the best out of four of the aforementioned five players.
While Ceballos struggled to have the desired impact on the game at the tip of the diamond formation against Liverpool, it should be noted that he excelled playing ahead of a midfield trio for Spain during the International break. He was deployed on the left side of attack with the license to roam into slightly more central advanced spaces, considering the less advanced areas that the three midfielders behind him took up. Consequently, Ceballos recorded arguably Spain’s best moment of the game, with THAT immaculate through ball to Jordi Alba to set up the winner over Romania. A constant feature of Ceballos in that role for Spain was the continuous telepathy with his full-back and when he dropped deep he still managed to showcase his passing range on a couple of occasions, mainly from the same left-hand side while also creating time and space for the two strikers.
Reiss Nelson Time
However, while Emery could opt for more midfield options, perhaps what would seem more logical across majority of the fan base would be the continuous deployment of a three-man attack, which in essence means giving the likes of Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli the huge opportunity to stake a claim in the first team, with the former deemed ready enough (and rightly so) to start the first two games of the season. More so, Laca’s one-month layoff means the prospect of seeing Martinelli given his chance to impress across the front three remains exciting and hopefully imminent, especially putting the loan exit of Mkhitaryan into consideration. The work ethic of the Brazilian has been one of the early observations from the 18-year old’s game and it goes without saying that this would have already caught the gaffer’s attention. These teenage sensations in Nelson and Martinelli suddenly find themselves in a potentially golden situation and therefore need no better silver lining than what has unfortunately happened with their star strikers situation.
With the start of Lacazette’s spell on the sideline in mind, The elephant in Arsenal’s dressing room surely has to be Aubameyang, largely owing to the fact that he naturally seems more comfortable at centre forward with countless runs through the middle as well as darts to the wide channels. However, it is also important for Unai and his crew to understand that the Gabonese needs to be looked after more carefully and under no circumstance should his fitness be gambled with.
Three at the Back
An interesting scenario that could also develop is the two-way possibility of fielding Mesut Ozil right behind Pepe and Aubameyang in the attack while fielding three at the back, presumably a 3-4-2-1 formation. Regardless of the success/failure of this set-up when it was utilized last season, the new options in the team may well provide a more balanced system that accommodates three at the back, which could in turn help to fit Ceballos in, just behind Mesut Ozil; similar to the way Santi Cazorla was utilized around the German. With Pepe harnessing his craft out wide and cutting in centrally, this could develop a terrific understanding with Mesut; a move which could ensure Lacazette’s work is cut out.
However, it remains quite pellucid that Laca has forced his way back into the side twice in his two seasons here. In the second half of his first season, injuries and the signing of Aubameyang put his spot in the team into question but he came through that with impressive mental strength. He also suffered a bit of uncertainty with a guaranteed starting berth in the team during the early months of the Emery era but his return not only cemented his role and the manager’s trust in him but also earned him the Club’s Player of the Year. In essence, regardless of how the team/system progresses in his absence, he’ll be fine when he returns, with the same application as expected.
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Post by : Olumide Awolowo @KingHenryTheFif
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