Fitting two players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette into a team is a problem most managers can only dream of. They boasted superb goal scoring records for Borussia Dortmund and Lyon respectively prior to teaming up in north London.
Either striker walks into the starting line-up of at least 14 Premier League teams. That number would be even higher in several other European leagues. Quality, and multiple options in a similar position, causes problems for managers, though. It can be difficulty with balancing the side or troubles keeping players happy, but, whatever it is, it’s seldom easy.
Unai Emery seems to have settled with Aubameyang out on the left and Lacazette operating down the middle. Like many mobile central strikers, both have played on the wing in the past.
Arsenal, despite seemingly having a couple of hundred wingers a few years ago, are short on natural width. Slotting Aubameyang, who is one of the quickest players on the planet, into that position doesn’t seem stupid.
Lacazette’s skillset is less suited to a wide berth. He is more of a poacher than Aubameyang, and there’s a risk he would be isolated if put on the left. It makes sense to do what Emery has done so far.
The trouble, though, is not that it is dysfunctional. It is that this is imperfect.
Aubameyang is less influential from a wide role. He was one of the top 10 strikers in world football, putting him on the wing to accommodate Lacazette is not ideal. This might get Emery results in the short-term, but it puts a ceiling on where Arsenal can go.
Arsenal have needed a top-quality striker since Robin van Persie departed. As individual signings they made sense. Signing both together would be understandable if Arsenal had a strong XI and a squad ready to compete on multiple fronts. They do not.
As a pair of striking options, rotating and occasionally starting together against weaker teams, Aubameyang and Lacazette would be a fearsome duo. Playing together with one of them shunted out to a wide role is not quite the same.
They are good enough, as we saw against Everton last weekend, that Arsenal will win matches. Just having that quality is a step up from some Arsenal teams of recent years. They will buy Emery time and good favour for this season at least. But, and this is one of the biggest questions facing the Gunners, what do Arsenal do from there?
A lot depends on the future of Aaron Ramsey. Trying to fit the Welshman, the pair of strikers and Mesut Ozil into one team is not easy. A diamond in midfield, with Ramsey in the middle two and Ozil at 10 is one option. Anything else requires either a striker out wide or a big call from Emery, like forcing Lacazette to play second fiddle (which isn’t the worst idea).
Maybe Arsenal find a way to make this work. Maybe Aubameyang flourishes from a wide role, where he has more room to use his devastating pace. Or maybe, just maybe, Arsenal find a talented, dribbling left winger who forces Emery’s hand.
Aubameyang and Lacazette are a luxury. It’s progress from the days of Marouane Chamakh at least. How they are used, however, will determine what Arsenal achieve under Emery. Find a way to get the best of both players and Arsenal could have one of Europe’s scariest attacks.
Although functional, using one of the world’s best strikers – who averaged almost a goal-per-game in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons – on the wing is not a long-term solution. Finding a natural wide player has to be one of Emery’s priorities, unless he thinks a diamond can work (and there’s nothing to suggest he does).
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