Arsenal currently sit sixth, the position of the unlucky losers in the Premier League’s race for Europe. They are a couple of wins adrift of Spurs in the Europa League spot, but a couple of wins ahead of Burnley also. They’re marooned on a little island all of their own, desperately looking for the life raft on which to sail into European qualification waters.
Of all the sides at the top, their transfer activity has been the most striking. Swapping Alexis Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan might not have been viewed as entirely stellar business, but the deadline day arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang almost certainly was. Aubameyang has been a leading light in his time at Borussia Dortmund and he’ll bring a frightening goal threat.
The Gabon international scored 141 goals in 213 appearances for Dortmund, many of which arrived during his time playing alongside Mkhitaryan. The two were split up when the latter moved to Old Trafford, but they reunite now at the Emirates looking to kick-start another lacklustre season for Wenger’s men.
Aubameyang by Tim.Reckmann (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Going into the second half of the season, Arsenal now boast two quality centre-forwards in Aubameyang and Lacazette. If Wenger can manage to get both into a starting 11, their pace and direct running is simply going to terrify lesser teams. With Mkhitaryan having a point to prove also, it could prove to be shrewd business by the often under-fire manager. Mesut Ozil remaining at the Emirates must not be overlooked either, as he could well be the man providing the bullets for this super strikeforce to fire in goals.
Oddly, despite the large sum spent on Aubameyang, Arsenal are in profit for the window. The sales of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Walcott generated £75m, meaning had there been a desire to, £10m could have been spent on a defensive player. The more pessimistic fans will, of course, look further back down the pitch and worry immensely for European football next season. Four of the top five are still in the FA Cup places, so it is possible a sixth-placed finish would be sufficient. Arsenal are currently 1/66 to finish sixth or higher in football betting, meaning they may be relying on others irrespective of who has arrived at the club.
Henrik Mkhitaryan By Дмитрий Голубович (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Whilst having goals and pacey forwards is a great asset, Wenger hasn’t significantly strengthened the back four, guilty of some awful defending this season. In the recent 3-1 defeat at bottom club Swansea, Wenger claimed it was “better not to talk about the second or third goals,” referring to the quality of defending. Whilst fans are excited to see Aubameyang in the Premier League, would the money have been better spent on defensive players?
That isn’t Arsene Wenger’s philosophy, though, and it never has been. It could be argued that the Gunners haven’t been solid at the rear since the days of Viera and Petit, so the manager was never going to break the habit of a lifetime.
Whether his gamble on fast, skilful forwards pays off remains to be seen, but credit where it is due, he’s dipped into his pocket to try to boost Arsenal’s European qualification hopes and in doing so brings another of the world’s best players to our shores.