LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 26: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal greets Alexandre Lacazette of … [+]
The sight of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the stands for last week’s North London derby was an unexpected one. After all, the Gabonese striker is Arsenal’s highest-paid and highest profile player. He has the natural talent to decide a match on his own, but Mikel Arteta felt he had no choice but to leave the 31-year-old on the bench after he turned up late to a team meeting.
Once the match started, though, it was difficult to envisage how Aubameyang would have lifted the Gunners’ performance. There was a natural balance to Arsenal’s attacking unit, with Emile Smith Rowe deployed on the left, Martin Odegaard through the middle and Bukayo Saka providing width on the right.
The triangles forged between Odegaard and Smith Rowe as a creative duo and Kieran Tierney overlapping as the full back down the left wing gave Arsenal a degree of fluid interchangeability in the final third of the pitch. It was through this pattern that the Gunners created the opportunity for Odegaard to score the equaliser.
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 14: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal looks on from the substitutes stand … [+]
Aubameyang could have feasibly played as the central striker in the place of Alexandre Lacazette, but the Frenchman is better with his back to goal. This appears to be something Arteta wants from the number nine in his 4-2-3-1 system. Lacazette does more to bring others into the general game.
Even still, Lacazette’s place in the Arsenal lineup isn’t exactly nailed down at present. If Sunday’s North London derby demonstrated the best of Arteta’s team as a creative unit, with Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka extremely effective at controlling things in the middle of the pitch, there are still questions over who should lead the line.
Not just who should lead the line, but what sort of player should lead the line. Does Arteta want a true goalscorer to convert opportunities inside the penalty box? Or would he prefer a facilitator in the mould of someone like Robert Firmino to create space in behind for teammates cutting inside off the wings?
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 28: Roberto Firminho of Liverpool celebrates after scoring their … [+]
Arteta’s team is still a work-in-progress. Arsenal haven’t been as active in the transfer market as the Spaniard might have liked since his appointment over a year ago and this has forced him to largely work with what he inherited. However, those who have arrived at the Emirates Stadium, like Odegaard and Thomas, have strengthened the squad.
Youngsters Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah give Arteta two more options in attack, but neither are ready to play week-in, week-out. It’s therefore possible Arsenal will enter the market for a new striker this summer. Who they identity as a target will reveal a lot about what Arsenal wants from his team going forward.
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 18: Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 … [+]
Earlier in the season, Arsenal struggled for invention in attack. The exile of Mesut Ozil from their Premier League PINC -1.5% squad baffled as the Gunners looked for a player in his mould. Now, they have Smith Rowe to fill the void left behind by the German, who has since departed to join Fenerbahce, while the loan addition of Odegaard has also helped in this regard.
Now, it’s in the centre forward role where Arsenal appear to be lacking the perfect frontman. Aubameyang, Lacazette, Martinelli and Nketiah all have their own qualities, but none feel like the long-term solution Arteta wants. Before any transfer market move, though, the Spaniard must first work out what it is he is looking for in his number nine.
I am a soccer writer based in the United Kingdom. Over a decade in the industry I have written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the world including the New