When the Premier League calendar was officially unveiled, many predicted it would be a tough start of the season for Arsenal. A clash with the defending champions and a trip to Stamford Bridge a week after are fixtures any of the top six would struggle with. The sceptics were vindicated and the Gunners indeed lost their opening two games for the first time since 1992/93.
Mixed feelings ensued, however, as, on the one hand, Arsenal seemed to be more vigorous on the pitch, pressing the opponent harder and passing the ball more effectively. Conversely, the same defensive mistakes underpinned each performance, while an imbalanced midfield gave the impression that not much is yet to change since Arsene Wenger’s departure.
Despite being left scratching his head over Arsenal’s optimal starting XI, the Spaniard has shown a ruthless streak, dropping Aaron Ramsey after the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, while Mesut Ozil was substituted against Chelsea with the scores still level.
Even though Arsenal now face West Ham — who have been the biggest disappointment in the Premier League so far — underestimating the opponent is the last thing the Gunners can afford to do while in searching for their first league points this season.
Here are three ways Emery can shuffle his team to help Arsenal earn their first Premier League victory.
1 Unleash the Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was very much in contention for the Golden Boot trophy this season both according to the bookies and Emery himself Yet, he’s been one of the team’s biggest disappointment so far having not made much of an impact against Manchester City and Chelsea, with the Spaniard revealing that Aubameyang is short of confidence.
Perhaps the reason behind this is that the Gabonese is missing Alexandre Lacazette? Aubameyang himself noted that a spark existed between the pair, justified by the fact that they scored 12 goals and assisted four between them in the last six games of the previous season.
Thus far, whenever Lacazette has been introduced as a substitute, he's created space for his strike partner to attack and Aubameyang, resultantly, seems revitalised.
Aubameyang himself suggested he would be more than happy to make space for the Frenchman on the pitch being moved out wide. The two forwards boast a different set of skills, with Lacazette able to hold the ball up in a similar way to Olivier Giroud, while Aubameyang is more penetrative, using his speed and accuracy as his main weapons.
While playing together, the team’s attacking play becomes more unpredictable and dangerous to the opponent with the duel threat of both strikers.
Maybe it’s time to deploy this partnership from the beginning of the game, not when Arsenal are already losing. And a game against West Ham, who are fraught with defensive frailties, could be the perfect starting point.
2 Bring Lucas Torreira in
Despite arriving with a train of hype behind his name, Lucas Torreira hasn't exactly got off on the right foot in North London, on the receiving end of a scolding from Juan Carlos Carcedo for his absent-mindedness in Chelsea's third and winning goal last weekend.
Nonetheless, Torreira has the potential to exert a major influence over Arsenal's game, and we're yet to witness it.
No other player made more tackles in the Serie A over the last two seasons than Torreira, while the Uruguayan was also in the spotlight at the World Cup for his bully-ish style of play, despite his small stature. Cristiano Ronaldo can certainly attest to that.
Arsenal have missed a player with such a characteristic for some time. With Torreira in the team, other Arsenal midfielders will be freer to run forward and focus more on creating chances, safe in the knowledge that the Uruguayan is protecting them.
Quick and focused, Torreira can also drop into the defensive line when needed, helping Arsenal’s troubled and slow centre backs resist the Hammers' pressure — despite a slow start, they're still talented offensively and it's something Arsenal will have to be mindful of.
Whether it is Granit Xhaka or Matteo Guendouzi who makes way for Torreira, his place in the starting XI seems an inevitability. Similar to how N'Golo Kante's arrival evolved Chelsea's style of play — a player with which Torreira bears some likeness — the Gunners need Torreira to revolutionise theirs.
3 Let Mesut Ozil catch some breath
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
The never-ending debate over whether Mesut Ozil is indeed the world-class player he once was is reinvigorated again after his sloppy start to the season. The German was underwhelming against Manchester City, but it was at Stamford Bridge that he garnered the most criticism. It was embarrassing.
Mesut Ozil's stats v Chelsea:— AccaTracker App (@AccaTrackerTM) 20 August 2018
0 Shots on Target
0 Chances created
He had absolutely no impact on Arsenal’s play, contrasted against a visibly rejuvenated Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who scored a goal and added an assist to his tally that inspired the Gunners’ short-lived comeback.
It’s not to bash Ozil for the sake of bashing — his class and skills are undeniable — but he might need to reset his mindset to dazzle fans as he used to.
Pep Guardiola dared to bench Sergio Aguero last season. Zinedine Zidane did so to Gareth Bale in a Champions League final. Both were annoyed, but came back stronger: Aguero can’t stop scoring and Bale almost single-handedly — despite some help from Loris Karius — won the last Champions League final for Real Madrid.
Being benched can give a player a fresh perspective on how things stand and where the team needs to improve. It can also provide a motivational kick to work even harder.
Maybe Ozil needs that at the moment. Emery doesn’t seem to be afraid of such a move and Mkhitaryan’s performance last Saturday may only encourage the Spaniard to do so.
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