More often than not, most of the talk around Arsenal is in regards to their defensive frailties and rightly so, but Arsenal possess so many riches at the other end of the pitch. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the Premier League’s joint-leading goalscorer last season with 22 goals, Alexandre Lacazette netted 19 times in all competitions and Nicolas Pepe arrived in the summer for a fee of £72m.
The talent is there for all to see but the biggest challenge facing Unai Emery is accommodating all three players at once without it hindering the team defensively. At times this season, the Spaniard has tried to find a balance by selecting a more industrious midfield and, whilst in theory that provides them with a base upon which to go and attack, they’ve often been starved of service as a result of the creative force being removed from the team.
Pepe prefers to operate from the right-hand side, allowing him to cut inside on to his excellent left foot and so it seems the Ivorian has made that position his own. The issue comes centrally, both Aubameyang and Lacazette prefer to play through the middle but in order to accommodate all three one is forced to operate from the left flank. More often than not, its the former Borussia Dortmund man who’s forced to compromise.
There’s certainly an argument that of the two, the Gabonese striker is more suited to a wider starting position given his superior pace and athleticism but it does make you wonder how many more goals he would score if he played an entire season through the middle.
Lacazette is renowned for his hold-up play and whilst he doesn’t contribute as many goals as Aubameyang, he certainly displays positional intelligence, shows tenacity and is far more comfortable than his team-mate operating with his back to goal.
Why getting the midfield balance is key to the success of the front three
Although you can be sure Aubameyang would prefer to start through the middle, often starting from the flank means he can make diagonal runs and feed off Lacazette’s impressive hold-up play without being marked out of the game by the oppositions central defenders. The fact that he has scored a total of 49 goals in 77 appearances backs up the point that wherever he is deployed, the striker by trade carries a very potent goal threat.
Even if you are only getting 90% of the former Borussia Dortmund attacker’s full potential, you are also getting the best out of Lacazette as the pair can be interchangeable during games and now with Pepe for company, Arsenal are bound to score more goals.
All the ingredients are there for a devastating attack but as is the case for any star, the supporting cast (in this case being the midfield) is extremely important. Finding the right balance between industry, hard work and creativity in the middle of the park has eluded Emery so far and it seems to be the biggest issue the Gunners have at present.
It’s not only having an impact defensively, but it’s making it equally as difficult for the Gunners front three to produce their maximum. Creativity has been lacking in recent weeks and whilst all the attacking components are at the manager’s disposal, until he fixes that so very large issue in the middle of the park, we won’t see the best Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang have to offer.