During Arsenal’s last two Premier League games, five goals have been scored after introducing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the bench, four by the club-record signing himself.
Indeed, just moments after being brought on as part of a double substitution that subtly changed the shape of the Arsenal team against Leicester City on Monday night, the Gabon striker tapped home the simplest of finishes to a low Hector Bellerin cross. And just moments after that, Aubameyang converted from point-blank range again – this time rounding off a sublime counter-attacking move from Unai Emery’s side.
As things stand, it’s a shrewd ploy – wear down the opposition, even offer them a false sense of security, then throw on arguably the best striker in the Premier League and allow his movement and technical quality to capitulate a defence that had previously enjoyed some sense of belief in its own organisation and abilities.
The problem though, is that Arsenal have been privy to a relatively comfortable run of fixtures up to this point in the season, barring early skirmishes with Manchester City and Chelsea, and although choosing between two strikers as talented as Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang is always difficult, the decision isn’t quite so tough for games Arsenal are expected to win.
As the last two victories have proved, if Arsenal are struggling for cutting edge then Emery can fling both of them on, forgetting about shape, structure and systems ,and let their partnership do the damage.
But during that comfortable run, Emery has failed to find a formula that gets both strikers into his starting XI playing to the best of their abilities without affecting the balance of his team. From the four games Aubameyang and Lacazette have started together this season, there has only been one in which both scored and Arsenal conceded less than two goals – that was against Everton when the Gunners defied all odds to hold onto a clean sheet.
There has also been two games in which neither scored and none in which both forwards lasted the whole ninety minutes, highlighting how Emery doesn’t feel too comfortable playing them together in the same system for an entire game. Half an hour here or there though, once Arsenal have asserted their control over the match, and the consequences are usually deadly.
So what happens when Arsenal face Liverpool in just under a fortnight’s time? In big games you want your biggest talents on the pitch and in the starting XI, but Emery still lacks a game-plan that gets Lacazette and Aubameyang into the team with both purring and neither leaving Arsenal too open at the back.
That’s when we’ll discover how much Emery is prepared to gamble, and which striker he has the greater faith in. Either way though, it will be the toughest selection call the new Gunners gaffer has faced during his short time in north London.