It’s a big call, and one that is dependent on who Arsenal have available to face Manchester United for Thursday’s gigantic Premier League clash at Old Trafford.
The Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang discussion is one that has been rumbling on for months: are his powers fading or is he the ultimate victim of stylistic progression in this team and the lack of overall chance creation?
Personal opinion will dictate which side of the fence one falls one, and those unwilling to fall either side of the debate will point to combined influences. With Manchester United to come, talk has arisen over whether Mikel Arteta has a call to make.
Seeing Gabriel Martinelli come on for the final 25 minutes against Newcastle and not only produce a sumptuous finish to double the lead but also inject energy and pace into the forward line has thrust him back into the spotlight. If Bukayo Saka isn’t passed fit to play, should the Brazilian get the nod on the right wing?
Should Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta drop Aubameyang against Manchester United if Gabriel Martinelli is selected to play in Saka’s place?
In searching for reasons why he should do, the possibility of interchangeability across the front line, unpredictability in regards to the opposition’s preparations and his direct style of play being a lethal weapon against a poor defence are all valid points.
He isn’t best suited to the right wing as the Gunners’ five advanced lanes of attack see the player on the far right act as the widest of the quintet, while on the left there is the overlapping full-back who allows the left-sided player, most often Emile Smith Rowe, to shift into the half-space. So as far as his best position, the opposite flank is more suited depending on personnel.
However, he is many peoples’ pick over Nicolas Pepe should Saka be deemed unavailable.
This brings up the discussion of balance. Martinelli will want to attack the the penalty box more than hug the touchline, so if he is to play there is more reason to field Alexandre Lacazette as the No. 9 to provide symmetry in the final third. Losing someone like Saka to bring security and combination play on the right, the striker needs to be someone who can play more of a connective role.
Which, of course, means Aubameyang misses out in the Premier League.
Is this even a realistic outcome? Arteta, to his credit, stuck with the captain last season even when his form plummeted. He made it abundantly clear that he is the first choice centre-forward and if he’s fit, he always plays. Meritocracy is something the manager is instilling in this group but he has repeatedly stated that what Aubameyang ‘transmits’ has been among the most important aspects of the team.
Yet in a game of this magnitude, you need your best finisher on the pitch. Even if Aubameyang misplaced his shooting boots against Newcastle, if the ball falls in the 18-yard box it’s him you want on the end of it. Crucially as well, he’s finding the right positions.
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On the basis that Martinelli and Aubameyang both play, finding a system to keep the right side ticking over with the levels of penalty box penetration needed will surely be the way Arteta goes – even if as a balancing act a Lacazette, Smith Rowe and Martinelli trio may suit better with the Brazilian on the right.