One month of competitive action into the new dawn at Arsenal, and we now have an international break to mull over the mad cap ride it has been so far. I’ll be giving a player-by-player verdict on their performances so far and their prospects for the future, as well as an overall summary at the end.
Goalkeeper and Defenders
Cech (£5m, 10pts) – Nothing encapsulates Arsenal’s start to the season better than the performances of Cech. At times, he has made reflex stops and one-on-one saves that reminded me of the Petr Cech of old. At others, the appalling passes, the comical near own-goal on the opening day, and the way in which he can be so slow to make low saves remind me that Petr Cech IS old. The adage ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ exists for a reason, and it would seem too dismissive to ascribe it to Cech, who has distinguished himself throughout his career as one of the League’s all-time great goalkeepers, but I think it is true. He is so blatantly uncomfortable playing out from the back, as he has never before been tasked with doing so for a large portion of his career. There have been flashes which make me think it could work; he began and played a key part in an excellent move that resulted in a goal against Chelsea. The Cardiff match, however, highlighted to me that moments such as that are the exception. As he lumped the ball carelessly to Arter, I was no longer surprised. When it gets to the point that it isn’t a shock that your goalkeeper gives the ball straight to the opponent, it might be time for a change. Overall, I don’t hate Cech for it unlike a lot of Arsenal fans on social media. He is being asked to do something he is not suited to. This has significantly influenced the rating I have given him; unlike others I will come on to he has been forced out of his comfort zone and is making the best out of a bad situation. It must also be worth noting, it cannot be easy for a goalkeeper to perform at the highest level behind a defensive line whom is equally all over the place. I actually feel bad for him in a way, and it increasingly looks as though he is being given more and more rope to hang himself with. I expect soon Leno will step in to tie the noose, and Petr Cech’s time as Arsenal’s No.1 will be over.
RATING – 4.5/10
Bellerin (£5.5m, 7pts) – The pacey Spaniard showed extreme promise in his early years at Arsenal, but his stagnation under Wenger was indicative of the poor individual defensive coaching that seeped into the club in recent years. The pressing system Emery is trying to instil into this Arsenal side, combined with his desire to play through the midfield from the defence, all play to Bellerin’s strengths. The opening game, against Manchester City however, his flaws were exposed at times. He wasn’t always given the defensive help from his teammates, but it was clear he hadn’t quite adjusted his positioning to a style which required him to start higher up the pitch. His one-on-one defending was exposed twice by Sterling, once resulting in a goal, as he still looked too reticent to commit to challenges. This is something that has to be overcome if the high-intensity system is going to function; the second goal too comes from the right flank. Marcos Alonso profited from this in the Chelsea fixture, and in the build up to the first goal it is not Bellerin nearest to the Chelsea fullback, but Mkhitaryan. Although this may make for bad reading, it should offer some comfort that his main weakness so far has been his positioning. Not only is this a result of being asked to play in a completely new defensive system, but he is also very young. I don’t think it would be too extreme to say this is probably the first time in his career he has been coached so strictly on the defensive aspect of his game. Going forward, he looks even more dangerous to me. Again, this was shown in the Chelsea game. Emery appears to be utilising cut-backs from the flanks, so I expect Bellerin to get a lot of assists this season from low crosses into the box. He peppered Ederson with a decent shot in the opener too, and if the good relationship going forward with Mkhitaryan can be further fostered, I think he could become a decent attacking outlet for Arsenal this season. This is a crucial time for Bellerin’s development as a player, and I personally believe that, regardless of the current defensive issues that Arsenal are having, Emery is a very good coach to get the best of him.
RATING – 5.5/10
Sokratis (£5.4m, 3pts) – Neither the philosopher, nor the excellent Brazilian footballer, the newly purchased centre-back Sokratis is a difficult player to assess. Typically aggressive, he adds a sense of grit to the backline which has so often looked weak in recent years. I have actually quite enjoyed the way he gives away cynical fouls, as it is something Arsenal have always seemed reluctant to do in the past. Rather than letting a player have a clean run past him, with or without the ball, he makes sure his opponent feels his presence. What is certainly evident from his opening 4 fixtures in an Arsenal shirt is that he is not a natural left-sided player. Forced to play as the left centre-back, he is visibly uncomfortable receiving the ball on his weaker foot, and so has sometimes played poor passes in our half when under pressure. I have no doubt, unless the systemic defending as a whole improves, this will cost Arsenal as the season progresses. A couple of times, notably against the high-press of Man City, he was forced into rushed decisions on his weaker foot, and so passed the problem on to Petr Cech by forcing the keeper to control the ball on his weaker side as well. Fundamentally, I don’t think it is a good idea for him to remain on the left of the pair for the rest of the season. Otherwise, I have been quite impressed. Although initially struggling with communicating the high line to his new teammates, in the Cardiff game I thought he looked more assured in the Arsenal shirt as a leader, even if the team still conceded twice. His pace has caught me by surprise; as a 30-year-old defender coming off a less than stellar season in Germany I feared his legs had gone. He doesn’t lack for commitment and is very decisive in his slide tackles, but not for fear of being beaten or embarrassed by the attacker; the latter is why I think Mustafi is often so quick to ground. Were he to move to the right side I think he would look much better, and in turn the team’s defensive solidity would improve. From an FPL perspective, he is an absolute stay away until the defence improves. He hasn’t taken a shot a yet, and even then he registered just 6 goals in his last 4 seasons at Borussia Dortmund. If you were desperate to get some Greek representation into your team (firstly, why aren’t you going for Holebas?) his key passes per 90 are significantly higher than his last season in Germany, to a whopping 0.25!
OVERALL – 5/10
Mustafi (£5.4m, 11pts) – Perennially the punching bag amongst Arsenal fans, Mustafi has been taking some low blows since the beginning of the season. It seems weird to criticise him off the back of probably his best game of the season, in which he scored a goal and looked significantly better defensively. But the problems with Mustafi have much deeper roots. I could write an essay on why I have finally come around to the argument that he is simply not cut out to be a top four centre back, but I think it can be summarised quite concisely. Distrust follows him everywhere. This is not necessarily him lacking faith in his own abilities. For example, he is probably the most comfortable centre back at the club with the ball at his feet, and his passing at times can be quite incisive. However, every time a player gets into a one-on-one with him the stadium and his fellow teammates fear the worst. We have seen that already this season, perfectly distilled in Morata’s goal in the Chelsea game. He allows Morata to continue to run with the ball for far too long because he doesn’t trust himself to successfully make the challenge, and not get sent off. Further he fails to position a supremely out of form striker into a position it would be difficult for him to score from, and allows him to finish on his weaker foot far too easily. Conversely, in the Man City game he was guilty of lunging in far too often, because he didn’t have the confidence in his own defensive abilities, that he would be able to prevent a goal-scoring opportunity. He chooses the cowardly option, absolving himself of obvious culpability my taking himself out of the situation, ineffectively, before he even has the option to defend competently. This is why I have more leniency with Bellerin. So often Mustafi sells his fellow defenders up the river, making their job so much harder. Although I criticised Bellerin for Sterling’s goal on the opening day, he shouldn’t have to track so far inside because there should be another defender there, pushing out to block the shot. That player should be Mustafi. Although he posses an attacking threat, as he is actually quite good in the air, I cannot in good conscience recommend a player whose performances are as erratic and sporadic as his decision making. I assume most of his 1.5% ownership is made up of his extended family, and numerous burner accounts he has created to make himself feel better.
OVERALL – 4/10
Monreal (£5.5m, 11pts) – The ever reliable Nacho-man has been a firm favourite of mine throughout his Arsenal career. Not the quickest, not the tallest, and not the strongest, but his desire and composure have elevated him to cult status amongst some Arsenal fans. His absence from the Man City game is one of the main reasons I think they got so much joy down the Arsenal left, and since then he has aided in the improved performance in that area of the pitch. He is always a surprise goal threat, as he proved against West Ham, and he has an amazing knack of ghosting into the penalty area un-noticed and finishing with an assurance not typical of a left-back. He is very shot happy, already registering an average of 1.3 per game There are beginning to be signs of him showing his age however, and recent rumours of Arsenal interest in signing a player in his position are not surprising. He has never been the quickest player, but if you’re pace is being exposed by Cardiff, we might have some serious issues to address. As you often see with defenders when they lose that first yard, they try to compensate by being more aggressive, which inevitably, when it goes wrong, exposes their lack of pace even more. Although he has only picked up 1 yellow card so far, expect him to rack up a fair few more over the course of the season; in fact, when I read that stat, I was very surprised to see it so low even at this stage. Having a player prone to a -1 is very risky in an unsettled defence. You might argue his goal threat outweighs this, but goals are always more unsustainable for defenders than assists and his xA per 90 is 0.03 compared to Bellerin’s 0.24 this season. Were I to opt for an Arsenal defender, it would definitely be a choice between the fullbacks, and that last stat tips the scale in Bellerin’s favour for me.
Overall – 5.5/10
Guendouzi (£4.5m, 6pts) – If you had have told me Arsenal were going to sign a 19-year-old French midfielder from Ligue 2 in the Summer, I would have checked the date to make sure it wasn’t 2009. If you’d have said he would go on to start in the opening game against the reigning champions and go on to do so in every fixture so far, I would have checked to see if Wenger was still in the dug-out. The fact that both of these things are true, and that Guendouzi has been unanimously Arsenal’s best player this season is a testament to his talent and great performances (but it also probably says something about the rest of the squad as well). Recently awarded Arsenal’s August Player of the Month for his efforts, the young Frenchman looks energetic and doesn’t appear to be phased by the stage he finds himself thrust upon. That is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of his performances so far. Whilst he has made mistakes, a few careless giveaways against Man City and West Ham led to dangerous counterattacks, he does not appear phased by them. He is always trying to do something. You cannot accuse him of padding stats with easy passes, unnecessary sprints, or gesticulating to feign passion or leadership. He shows real desire and commitment to the team. The brief moments he has shared the pitch with Torreira, he looks an even better player, as he has another central midfielder to sweep behind him. At just 19, he will make mistakes, but the way he recovers even within games, and in such a short space of time appears to have learned from them is remarkable. For his size, he is surprisingly agile on the ball, and his technique allows him to open up space in midfield and pick out a teammate in advancing areas. The eye he has for a pass was illustrated by a quite sensational through ball he played to Bellerin, whom in turn set up Mkhitaryan at Stamford Bridge. Ironically nicknamed amongst Arsenal fans ‘the Afro Iniesta’, he might be one of the most exciting prospects I have seen at Arsenal in a while. I would hope he gets the chance to continue his starting role, and a partnership with Torreira would be my preferred midfield duo. If he is a starter, at £4.5m he would have to be in the conversation for a spot on your FPL bench. With the rest of the midfield seemingly in flux at the moment, this might be the only assured route into the Gunners side.
RATING – 7.5/10
Xhaka (£5.4m, 7pts) – Like so many players in this Arsenal squad, Xhaka has a divisive reputation amongst Arsenal fans. Some see him as someone who has been under-coached since his arrival and constantly played out of position. An ever increasing percentage simply see him as not of the calibre to be a consistent starter in the Arsenal side if we are to challenge for Champions League places and, eventually, the title. His performances thus far this season have only emboldened the latter. I think the middle ground between the two positions is probably where I fall. People overlook his improved performances towards the end of last season. His improvement was largely due to the extra defensive cover afforded to him thanks to the back 5. He didn’t need to cover as much defensive ground, his ill-discipline wasn’t exposed, and the opposition was not as able to show up his poor lateral movement. This season, with Emery deploying a back 4, these weaknesses have resurfaced. There is no doubt he is an accomplished player in possession, and very gifted at picking out a pass. That is simply no longer enough to maintain a starting position in a side with top 4 ambitions. Indeed, this has been shown-up not only by his poor performances thus far, but also by the good showing of the aforementioned Guendouzi. The amount of times his lack of pace has been exposed by the combination of the high-defensive line and pressing style is beyond count. Deployed as the more defensive of the two, he should be tasked with protecting the backline, but at the moment he can barely protect himself. Watch back at opposition counters against Arsenal, and he looks as though he is running with a parachute on his back as he attempts to cover ground. This is worsened by his lack of positional awareness; were he more suited to the role of a defensive midfielder, he would have the instincts to sniff out danger and prevent his pace being exploited, a la Busquets or Xabi Alonso. Ill-disciplined at times, he feels like a red card waiting to happen, especially in the high-pressure games. Although I praised Sokratis earlier for his cynical, tactical fouling, I get the impression that, like Mustafi, Xhaka’s are borne out of fear and lack of confidence as supposed to situational awareness. His xG Chain and xG Build up per 90 stats continue to impress, but this is only because he is the player linking defence to attack and so this statistic can be misleading. This is also why his pass completion is so high, and if it were to drop below 85% it would be a sign of a very poor performance. I think it is possible to believe all of these things, and still not say that Xhaka is a bad player. He is a decent player, told to play in a position, role and formation that is he is absolutely not suited to. But that begs the question, why have multiple managers now not been able to find that position and role? Perhaps the role he is best suited to no longer ‘exists’ in modern football, or at least not in the Premier League. His decent set-piece delivery makes him an option in FPL, and he has been known to produce the occasional stunning long range effort, but the price bracket makes him an absolute no go for me. Add to that his yellow and red card potential, and I think it’s a fairly easy conclusion to come to.
RATING – 4.5/10
Torreira (£4.9m, 7pts) – The idea of Arsenal signing a combative midfielder seemed like a pie-in-the-sky idea for a long time, but the Uruguayan from Frey Bentos appears to be the player fans have been craving for years. We haven’t seen too much of Torreira so far, as he is somehow yet to break into the starting line-up. The cameos we have seen from him however have been extremely impressive. He appears to be just the player we hoped we were going to get when the deal was announced. An energetic, combative midfielder who is as good with the ball at his feet, but just as good at timing slide tackles and intercepting passes. Although he is just 5 foot 5, he has also proved decent in aerial duels, and is sort of like a cross between Kante and Veratti, in the sense that he is adept at nipping the ball away from opponents and then opening the play for his teammates with a pass. He did just that for Lacazette’s goal against Cardiff, finding the Frenchman with a quick incisive pass forward. From the little we have seen, it looks as though he will beef up this Arsenal midfield, providing positional and spatial awareness to shield the defence that Arsenal have missed since the halcyon days of the Coquilen-Cazorla partnership. Expect him to be deployed as a deep midfielder, meaning that even at a discounted £4.9m, and despite providing an assist in the previous match, he too is not an FPL asset to consider.
RATING – 7.5/10
Ramsey (£7.4m, 6pts) – A player I had so much hope and expectation for at the beginning of the season, Ramsey has yet to deliver under Unai Emery. Not to say he has been bad, but I was surprised to see him substituted after 50 minutes in the first game, and not to start away at Chelsea. For someone whom most Arsenal fans expected to be key to much of what Emery would try to build at Arsenal, it was slightly concerning. The last two games are much more of what I expected. Playing the full 90 minutes, he was positioned as almost a second striker, often making runs beyond the central player. Clearly this is a key instruction he has been given, because even against Manchester City he was running off the shoulder of Aubameyang, and often the furthest player forward at the end of attacking moves. When pushed into this advanced position, although he is less involved in the build up, he is still able to make incisive passes; he produced 2 key passes against West Ham, and 4 against Cardiff. A comparison between Ozil bares this out. This season, the Welshman has a lower xGBuildup per 90, yet over double the key passes per 90 and quadruple the xA per 90. This shows he is in the most threatening positions to make decisive contributions to attacks, a clear sign in the faith the management has in his qualities. Although we haven’t seen these underlying statistics bare fruit in terms of goals and assists, Ramsey’s record when fit is such that it appears to be only a matter of time. The relationship to Lacazette will be key if he is to continue high up the pitch centrally, but so to will his ability to drop a little deeper and take the ball from the holding midfielders when Arsenal dominate possession. At times against Cardiff, he was forced back in order to start a move against a deep-lying defence that didn’t allow the same space naturally available against sides whom attack. The fact that he has gone somewhat under the radar in performance is not unexpected, the two games with the most attention on them were the two in which his minutes were limited. I expect him to come good this season if he can avoid injury that has so often curtailed his runs of good form. Dropping to £7.4m is not surprising given his lack of returns, and his reasonably high ownership at the beginning of this season. With Arsenal into their green patch of fixtures now, he would be the main midfield asset to consider investing in, given the form and uncertainty over the other premium options.
RATING – 6.5/10
Iwobi (£5.5m, 11pts) – Another recent contract renewal prior to the beginning of the season, this season is a real sink-or-swim scenario for the Nigerian. Having stagnated since breaking into the Arsenal first team a few seasons ago, Emery might be the manager who can reinvigorate Iwobi’s career and help him push to the next level. Given his first start away at Chelsea is illustrative of the faith Emery has in Iwobi. Ironically, it was the same fixture last season that saw Iwobi put in his most impressive performance of the 2017/18 campaign, and he again impressed at Stamford Bridge in a similar role. Deployed out wide, he diligently tracked and pressed, having added a more muscular side to his game enabling him to compete in the challenge. The main difference to the game last season was the added quality in the final third. He appeared to have an element of added composure to his delivery, which has so often been erratic. As previously mentioned, Emery looks to be very keen to utilise cut backs into the box, which Iwobi used twice to create guilt edge chances. His xA per 90 is an impressive 0.99, thanks largely to the quality of his delivery in the Chelsea game, although it was against West Ham where he registered his official assist. His great performance at Chelsea earned him a start against the Hammers, to the surprise of many, but he failed to impress again in my eyes. Dragged off after 49 minutes, he appears to be a player suited for a game in which hard-work and diligence will be the order of the day. Dominating the possession, Iwobi is not as creatively gifted as other Arsenal midfielders and so is not as useful in those sort of games. I can see him and Welbeck being options on the flanks away against ‘the Big 6’, because of their work rate, but by no means do I imagine them to be regular starters against the other 13 teams. His goal against Chelsea showed composure, and an instruction to get into the penalty box which, if given game time, could see him get more goals this season. It is difficult to say he has significantly improved, because the good performance he gave was very similar to the good performance last year. The added composure however is an aspect of his game that has lacked since his debut season, and bodes well for the coming season. Erratic starts and minutes mean that he should not be relied upon for fantasy, and even the game where he will feature are likely to be fixtures with a comparably limited attacking potential.
RATING – 6/10
Mkhitaryan (£7.2m, 17pts) – I’m tempted to rename the Armenian ‘Mixed-bag Mkhi’. On the one hand, from a FPL and contributions perspective, it is hard to argue with what he has produced this season. A goal and an assist at Stamford Bridge, 5 key passes in the same game, and 2 key passes against Manchester City. He has certainly been Arsenal’s chief creator from that perspective. The opening three games have also seen a burgeoning partnership with Hector Bellerin going forward. The two look to be developing a very good partnership together, and their understanding has resulted in many of those cut-backs being created. Whilst Bellerin overlaps, it allows Mkhitaryan to cut inside and either receive a pass, or create a chance centrally for the striker or himself. This is evident in the fact he took 3 shots against both West Ham and Chelsea. His shot map is reflective of this, with all of his efforts in open play in threatening positions near or in the box. His combined xG & xA per 90 are the best since his astounding season under Klopp at Dortmund, which makes sense given he was also deployed on the right in a pressing system in that season. This all bodes well for Mkhitaryan from a creative, attacking and FPL perspective. But then, there is the cost he has taken on the team defensively. Many people were surprised by his minute cameo against Cardiff, but to me it wasn’t totally shocking. In my opinion, I thought he was extremely poor against Man City. I think it was the angriest I have been at the performance of an Arsenal player in some time. As an experienced pro, playing in front of a young Maitland-Niles who was out of position at left-back, the way he disregarded his defensive duties was outrageous. Time and Time again, he allowed Walker to breeze past him with ease, barely even making an attempt to stop the onrushing Englishman who tormented poor Maitland-Niles constantly until the youngster was forced off through injury. He half-heartedly committed to the press in midfield, and was so lacklustre in every defensive aspect of the game. Mesut Ozil often attracts criticism for his poor effort tracking back, but the German was head and shoulders above Mkhitaryan in this regard against the reigning champions. His poor play impacted the rest of the team too, with Xhaka and Guendouzi forced to cover the space vacated by Mkhitaryan, undermining the whole game plan of keeping the centre of the pitch compact. Switched to right side against Chelsea, the first half at Stamford Bridge was somehow even worse. It was very generous of him to welcome Jorginho so kindly into his first derby in the Premier League by allowing him so much free time to control the tempo of the game. So too was it good natured to ensure Alonso wasn’t too confused by his switch further back the pitch, by allowing him all the freedom he desired to attack without harassment. The left side by contrast was diligently marshalled by Iwobi, who put his more senior teammate to shame with his work rate. Ironically, the game against West Ham was probably his poorest offensive performance of the three. He only registered 1 shot on target, had a little over 80% pass accuracy, and lost the ball 6 times in the attacking third. Perhaps most worryingly, he failed to make a single key pass or an accurate cross, of 8 attempted, in a game where Arsenal had 17 efforts and over 61% possession. So not only were his underlying stats poor, but he failed to impress on the eye either, and was lucky it was Iwobi and not he who was hooked early on. So if he is not producing the goals or assists that make up somewhat for his lacklustre performances, then he is really of no use to the side, hence why he was on the bench against Cardiff. I can understand the appeal, given the £7.1m price tag, and I too was suckered into buying him after the Chelsea game. The benching against Cardiff has me very worried for his FPL potential, if regular minutes against the weakest opposition is not assured. Further, as an Arsenal fan, I don’t feel good about owning a player who has been so underwhelming in my eyes so far. Although he is by no means an absolute must sell during the international break, if you are looking to utilise the Gunners’ favourable fixture run, I would not bring in the Armenian.
Rating – 6.5/10
Ozil (£8.3m, 6pts) – To say Ozil has had a nightmare Summer would be an understatement. Much aside from the humiliation of being knocked out at the group stages of the World Cup with Germany, he then had to suffer a torrent of vitriolic racist abuse for ‘not performing’. Scapegoated nation-wide, he rightly came out and defended himself, highlighting the institutionalised racism he and many others have been subjected to by the German football federation and the German national media. A courageous thing to do, he has seen his comments misconstrued, his complaints ignored, and had further xenophobic criticism levelled at him. Sometimes we like to think of footballers in the vacuum of the sport they play, and forget they are real people with real feelings; their level of wealth and fame does not change that. I think this is particularly applicable to Ozil. After a semi-retirement from the national team, many expected we would see the German playmaker back to his best from the off, with Arsenal now his sole focus. Whilst I don’t doubt we will see an improved Ozil from last season, it will take time. To expect him to come back and hit the ground running was, in hindsight, a little naïve.
To analyse the performances on the pitch still holds merit however. Many, including myself, were unsure as to how Ozil would fit into Emery’s Arsenal, and particularly how he would adapt to the pressing style and formation changes. I think in the first game he put my fears over his adaptability to bed. It will not jump off the page as a great performance stats wise – he took no shots, and had an xA of just 0.11 – but his work rate and commitment defensively were extremely impressive. In stark contrast to the other flank, Ozil tracked his man back towards his own goal more than I have ever seen before. He looked fitter, more willing to commit to the collective, and more determined in duels. This is evident when looking at his touch map; he took roughly the same amount of touches in his defensive sector as he did in advanced right positions. It was a different Ozil and a different performance. By no means was he flawless, losing the ball a few times due to poor control. Creatively he was not as incisive as you might expect, but his record in that department is such that it feels like only a matter of time before he delivers offensively. I’ll address the elephant in the room – the West Ham game. Dropped not just from the starting line up, but the entire squad, rumours circulated of a training ground bust-up with Emery that had its roots following his substitution against Chelsea. Moved to a more central position, the German struggled to have an impact on the game, failing to make a key pass, and was hooked off after 68 minutes. Visibly angry at the decision, he was apparently informed in training he wouldn’t be starting the next fixture, to which he reacted badly and stormed off. Publicly, it was stated he was sick, but the fact that he still turned up on match day and was pictured with the playing squad in the dressing room, throws that into doubt. Various well-informed sources corroborate the ‘bust-up’ rumour, so I am of the opinion it was true. Without him, Arsenal managed to win 3-1, suggesting that perhaps they didn’t need Ozil after all. Re-instated for the Cardiff fixture, an away trip you would have expected him to miss last season, he was pushed back out wide and his performance was the better for it. As you’d expect, it was his best performance of the season creatively. He looked much more comfortable playing with Aaron Ramsey, as he had another player willing to run beyond him and create open spaces for him to glide into. The match itself was very frantic, and whilst at times he looked a little overrun, it was encouraging to see him link well with Aubameyang and Lacazette, finding the two frontmen at every available opportunity. It was his incisive pass that gave the ‘hockey assist’ to Aubameyang’s goal. It looks like he will be played out on the right flank when he and Ramsey share the pitch, and given that is where he has produced his best performances thus far I think it is hard to argue it should be otherwise. I’m still with those who think his best position is No.10 behind the striker, but it appears Emery disagrees.
He hasn’t produced the tangible returns you would have hoped for a £8.3m, hence his £0.2m drop already. I firmly believe he will start racking up assists as the Arsenal attack begins to click, but until we see it with our eyes, and the stats are more encouraging, it is impossible to recommend buying or even sticking by him.
RATING – 5.5/10
Aubameyang (£10.9m, 14pts) – After a blistering start to his Arsenal career, returning once in the opening 4 games is underwhelming by comparison. All the debate around where he would play subsided initially, as he started at striker for the two toughest matches of the season so far. He worked very hard in both, pressing high up the pitch, and looking to offload to support runners where he could. Muted in attempts on the opening day, he definitely should have scored at least once away at Stamford Bridge. Although frustrating, that miss was so glaringly poor that it is weirdly reassuring, because a player of his calibre does not miss many sitters in a season. He notched 4 shots against Chelsea, and another 3 against West Ham, but only 4 of the total were inside the box. Despite usually being a penalty box striker, he has shown an increased willingness to shoot from range this season. Indeed, his only goal so far has come from probably his most difficult chance, as he finished supremely well to curl an effort into the goal against Cardiff. I am in two minds because, whilst I maintain that he should be played centrally as a striker, the partnership he has with Lacazette is there for all to see. The Frenchman assisted Aubameyang’s goal with a deft touch, and has aided the Gabonese striker every time he has come onto the pitch. In my mind, the way to harness the best of both of their games, would be to partner them together as a strike duo. Obviously this would require a sizeable formation change, and would mean switching to a set up Emery hasn’t used before, but I think the way to get the most goals out of this team is to play them both together. When shuttled out to the wing against Cardiff, Aubameyang worked diligently, and his pace has the potential to be a real weapon on the flanks. Lacking a natural wide-man, if played on the wing he brings something to the side it sorely lacks; the potential to run at an opponent, beat them for speed, and cut in to have an effort on goal. Something else to note is that PEA has been statistically very creative this season. Despite registering his lowest xG & xA per 90 of his career, he has his highest key passes per 90. Perhaps illustrating a slightly different role so far, if continued I would be shocked if he doesn’t break his personal assist record this season. It is only a matter of time, regardless of where he is played, before the goals start going in. With Arsenal’s favourable fixture run, seemingly improved form, and a burgeoning partnership with Lacazette, his £10.9m price tag is not seeming so bad, and those early sellers could be punished in the coming weeks.
RATING – 6.5/10
Lacazette (£9.4m, 18pts) – Despite his limited minutes this season, Lacazette has arguably been one of Arsenal’s best players. After the record signing of Aubameyang in January, you would have forgiven him had he been a little annoyed to start the season on the bench. However, he has redoubled his efforts, and that is showing on the pitch. Arsenal’s best spell in both home matches so far have come when the Frenchman was introduced off the bench. He brings a surprising physicality to the centre forward spot which Aubameyang cannot provide, and is very very good at linking the play. Without him there has sometimes felt like a disconnect between players in the final third. In a similar way to Giroud in seasons past, he acts as almost a backboard for the other attackers to find passes with, safe in the knowledge that he will be able to keep hold of the ball, and keep the move going. His mobility also means, as he showed in his brief cameo against Chelsea, that he can turn a defender when he has his back to them, giving an extra dimension the aforementioned Giroud has always lacked. In this way, whenever he is on the pitch, he often becomes very involved, and has managed 9 shots and 6 key passes in under 180 minutes of game time already. His Man of the Match performance against Cardiff can be summarised by his 2 extremely telling contributions. The exquisite touch to set up Aubameyang for his goal showed the great partnership the two have struck, which would certainly result in many goals and assists for the Frenchman. The way he was able to hold off the Cardiff defender, receive the strong pass from Torreira, and power home an unstoppable strike in the 80th minute typified the tenacity he showed all game. That goal had an xG of just 0.06 to anyone doubting just how hard of a chance it was to convert. As he played 90 minutes, and appeared committed to the press Emery deploys and the requirement of forwards to track back, the Cardiff game gave me a lot of encouragement that Lacazette will be used more in this favourable run of fixtures. Although I am still unsure whether or not he will start in the tougher fixtures, the fact that the side as a whole has improved every time he has taken to the field should offer owners encouragement. The uncertain minutes thus far has seen his price drop to £9.4m, and although starts are still far from certain, big points returns seem to be coming his way. It is a premium striker slot to assign to someone who isn’t nailed on to play for 90 minutes, but at least whenever he does come on, he looks capable of scoring or assisting. Despite my positive opinions of him, I am not looking to bring him in to my side, but I do fear his potential to explode over the next 3-4 weeks.
RATING – 8/10
I have seen Arsenal dubbed ‘The Accidental Entertainers’ in homage to Keegan’s famous Newcastle side of the 90s renowned for their inability to defend, but love of attack. I assume this is meant as a jibe, but if we end up replicating the Magpies’ second place finish I’ll be over the moon. Realistically however, this wont happen – I’m terrified of heights, and thought of space travel makes me feel sick. Arsenal also probably won’t finish second, and a competitive fight for the top four looks like the best the case scenario at this present moment.
A mixed set of fixtures, with mixed performances; each match in itself appeared schizophrenic. You had the laughable defensive effort of the the first half against Man City, contrasting with a 20-minute spell where we looked very dangerous going forward.
There was the high line and press that allowed Morata a clear run on goal to score for Chelsea (yes, I count a 1-on-1 with Mustafi as a clear run), but in the very same game Petr Cech, rightly lambasted for his poor passing in the opener, starting a sequence of play from the back that resulted in a goal, after the Gunners spurned 3 guilt-edge chances in the first half.
Against West Ham you would have forgiven Arsenal fans for chalking three points on the board prior to kick-off. What Happens? West Ham deservedly take the lead, Arnautovic could have scored two or three, and somehow Arsenal pull one back through Monreal to draw level before half-time. The second 45 begins and the crowd is on edge as Felipe Anderson is given the freedom of North London to waltz leisurely through the Arsenal midfield, and those familiar murmurs begin. Come full-time, the game finishes 3-1 and the Emirates crowd are chanting the name of super-sub Danny Welbeck.
Cardiff, well Cardiff was something. A Neil Warnock team away is a typical ‘Arsenal in crisis’ headline waiting to happen in seasons past. Yet the squad flies back from Wales with another 3 points on the board, not that that even comes close to telling the full story. Cech once more had some poor moments; I feel he could have done better for Cardiff’s first, and his pass to pick out Harry Arter was quite a sight. Xhaka, despite registering an assist, showed why he cannot play as the deepest player in a midfield two in the Premier League. His lack of pace and movement was woefully exposed on the counter, and against better sides than the Bluebirds Arsenal will be punished more. All that needs to be said about the defence is prior to this game Cardiff had not scored. The game finished 3-2. The Dr Jekyll to the defensive Mr Hyde continued to be the attack, as Alexandre Lacazette showed his quality in his first start of the season. Such was his importance to the attacking flow of the Gunners, I am unsure whether Arsenal win this game without the Frenchman in the line-up. Once again, Lucas Torreira came on as a substitute to prove his quality, and really has to be on the pitch from the outset for the foreseeable future; his defensive energy is rightly lauded, but his beautiful pass for Lacazette’s thunderous finish should not go unnoticed.
As an Arsenal fan, these games have both filled me with dread but inspired pangs of optimism. Personally, I think we have looked much more competitive against Man City and Chelsea than we did last season. If that is the price we have to pay for looking extremely suspect against the weaker sides, whilst still getting the result, I will happily accept that. After all, that was always the most disheartening aspect of being an Arsenal fan in recent years – the sheer gulf evident to all in the matches against the other members of the ‘Big 6’. The idea of this current Arsenal side going away to Liverpool or Tottenham, for example, is obviously still scary and a fixture I would be extremely surprised to win. Yet, I am much more confident that this Arsenal side will put in a performance I can be proud of as a fan. I am much more confident they will play expansive football. I am much more confident the manager will have a specific game plan of how to combat the opposition’s strengths. I think at this early stage, confidence and optimism is all I can ask for.