Aubameyang absence gives Gunners chance to experiment
The headlines from Saturday's 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park revolved around the performance of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who both scored and was sent off.
Arsenal started the game in fine style, dominating the play and deservedly went in at the break 1-0 to the good after Aubameyang slid the ball past Vicente Guaita following smart interplay between David Luiz, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.
It was a Gunners goal made in heaven, with three of their attacking stars combining and Mikel Arteta will have been encouraged by the synchronicity they showed.
However, Arteta will have been less pleased by the skipper’s red card, the forward initially receiving a yellow from Paul Tierney after fouling Max Meyer, only for VAR to rightly upgrade it to a dismissal. While in real-time it did not look too serious an incident, replays showed the 30-year-old had gone in well over the top and in retrospect, deserved his punishment.
A three-match ban awaits and Arteta may look to experiment with his line-up. Arsenal are in an interesting position in that they sit 10th in the Premier League, 11 points from the Champions League places. While a top four finish would be incredible, a year off European football may not be a bad thing as he assesses the squad.
With Aubameyang’s deal expiring next summer, and the noise around the camp suggesting he could leave at the end of the campaign, the Spaniard may well be planning for the future in the matches against Sheffield United, Bournemouth and Chelsea.
Arsenal certainly have options to fill the void on the left of the attack. Record signing Nicolas Pepe is one and may benefit from switching flanks.
Pepe has almost exclusively been confined to the right but while he has shown signs of repeating his efforts from last term at Lille where he netted 22 times in Ligue 1, while also providing 11 assists.
Defenders seem to have figured him out though, often forcing him onto his unfavoured right foot, a move that significantly limits his effectiveness.
Reiss Nelson is another player who has looked sharp when given a chance. The 20-year-old has regularly featured from the left and most recently scored the only goal in the 1-0 FA Cup victory over Leeds.
Nelson is one for the future but despite being younger, Gabriel Martinelli is seen by the fans as the here and now. The Brazilian has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and while he can play from the left, prefers to start as his side’s number nine.
However, he would hardly be the first attacking player to hone their skills before being switched inside and any Premier League minutes Martinelli can get can only be a bonus.
After netting seven in his first seven matches, the 18-year-old has failed to have a significant an impact but there is a reason he has been called the “talent of the century” by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
A run in the side will undoubtedly boost his progress and the fans are imploring Arteta to let him loose, with the remainder of this campaign almost a shot to nothing as the Basque gets used to life as a manager.
Aubameyang will, of course, come back into the side once he is back available. He is the club’s best player but with rumours abound that the Gabon international is preparing to leave, the next three games look like they could prove a dry run for next term.