Arsenal: Gunners need to build around Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang
The winter window arrivals have hit the ground running at the Emirates, and it’s important that Arsenal build around them.
Arsenal fans are once again experiencing the all-too-familiar of feeling flat and deflated as the clock winds down on yet another underwhelming season in the red half of North London.
With the top-four well out of the picture despite Sunday’s thrashing of Stoke City, Arsene Wenger’s men face a tough task of even qualifying for Europe’s second-rate competition as they find themselves five points behind London rivals Chelsea in fifth.
Arsenal’s decline has been rapid, but it’s been bubbling.
To put things into perspective, last season was the first time the Gunners had failed to finish in the top four since the 1995/96 season. This campaign, things look destined to end up even worse as Arsenal look set to accept finishing no higher than sixth.
It’s time to hit the reset button, and the arrival of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang needs to be the catalyst to spark mass change.
A new dawn on the horizon?
Without fully opening the can of worms that is the Arsene Wenger debate, it’s hard to argue that Arsenal have been going stale faster than a fresh loaf in the desert.
Predictable laboured play. Predictable Wenger. Predictable Arsenal.
It wasn’t a happy Christmas in Gunners fans’ households, as they found their side out of form and below bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
In addition, key players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez continued to spit their dummies out, with their performances and desire – or lack thereof – prompting angry reactions from supporters.
The gloomy atmosphere worsened as the January window approached. Fans had resigned themselves to the fact their prized assets were moving on, and that, given the recent track record, not much would come in the other way.
Despite the initial lack of optimism, last January may just prove to be the most pivotal month in recent Arsenal history.
Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang have at least tried to bring a new lease of life into the club in many aspects, and it could well show what will be a sign of things to come in a what will be a huge, important summer.
Out with the old, in with the new
Getting rid of the deadwood and bringing in a new style and approach in all areas are just what the club needs, perhaps in more ways than one.
A summer ‘clear-out’ may be on the cards. Arsenal need to redefine themselves, and the January acquisitions are helping that transition.
The sale of Sanchez to Manchester United was a move that needed to happen. He was unhappy and holding Arsenal back. On the face of it, it was probably a decision that most fans dreaded would be made, but as it has turned out, (at least so far) it’s been for the better.
Aside from two the abysmal showings against a rampant Manchester City side – who, in Arsenal’s defence, are making most opponents look poor – and a shock defeat at Brighton, there are signs that things are slowly changing.
Confidence is spreading; dispatching a re-born AC Milan by a 5-1 aggregate scoreline in the Europa League without the cup-tied Aubameyang, a testament, and yesterday’s dismissal of Stoke City despite an under-par performance shows they are learning how to win ugly.
Arsenal’s run-in is friendly, with a trip to Old Trafford at the end of April the only fixture that should pose any real concern to Wenger’s men.
It’ll be a defining period for many of the current squad, a final chance if you like. At least that’s how it should be if Arsenal are to rebuild.
Impressive early numbers
It can often take time for new players to become accustomed to new teams. Especially if, in Aubameyang’s case, it’s their first in the Premier League.
For the Armenia and Gabon internationals though, it has been quite the opposite.
Both got off to the best possible start, with Mkhitaryan grabbing three assists, and Aubameyang a goal in the 5-1 dismantling of Everton on their debuts.
Since then, Mkhitaryan has added another assist and goal in his first five league appearances, not to mention his Europa League contributions.
Aubameyang has added four more goals to his debut strike, giving him five in six games.
Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck are just two to have also enjoyed the duo’s arrival, with both getting on the scoresheet multiple times since; confidence is spreading.
The instant impact has probably been shadowed by those back-to-back Manchester City defeats, but there’s no denying they’ve both hit the ground running.
Wenger the sticking point?
A case could be made for moving on many of the current Arsenal squad. The abilities of certain players have been questioned, and the league table over the last 18 months is proof.
Pound-for-pound, player-for-player, Arsenal just aren’t good enough compared to their high-flying rivals.
Defensively the Gunners have been brittle, even the illustrious figure of Petr Cech is having his frailties exposed.
The likes of Hector Bellerin and the usually reliable Laurent Koscielny have been inconsistent and Shkodran Mustafi hasn’t been a dazzling light either.
Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal have had to share playing time, and the chopping and changing could well be at fault for their defensive wobbles. Arsenal have conceded 41 goals so far this season, compared to 36 and 30 in the respective preceding two seasons at the same stage.
It may not be the sole reason, but it no coincidence it’s attributed to their fall in the league. Wenger’s change in tactics and inability to ‘stick’ to a particular set-up may have cost his team.
While the situation surrounding his contract and future at the club is still very much up in the air, the Frenchman may well be the chain around the ankles of the club in the summer window.
Another ‘wasted’ year?
What happens in the summer remains to be seen, but an early decision will set the tone in the transfer department.
Should the club and Wenger stay put until the end of the 2018/19, as per his renewed contract, then it could reduce the opportunities in the market.
Opinion is still split, but in order for the club to move forward and hit the reset button, it may be the right time for Wenger to step aside.
It’s hard to envisage the commencement of any significant changes with him at the helm. Why would he invest heavily in new players, a new team if he only has one season with them?
With that in mind, would it be another year wasted, just to allow Wenger to ‘see out’ his contract?
Arsenal need a new identity and building a team around Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang is the key to getting it.
The arrival of those two has laid the foundation, but the question remains whether the club will build on it.