By Raj Dhokia
The record signing has arrived amid a tough time in the season for the Gunners.
There is a strange sense of optimism surrounding Arsenal at the moment. For much of the January transfer window, Gunners’ fans were resigned to losing their talisman, Alexis Sanchez, with no replacement lined up. What’s worse; he was probably going to go to Manchester City, and potentially for nothing if he waited until the summer.
Fast-forward to the close of the window, and whilst Sanchez is gone, it is not all doom and gloom. They have replaced him with the able-but-underappreciated Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a straight swap. Ozil has signed a new contract and the former African Player of the Year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has arrived at the club in a record deal.
Can he solve Arsenal’s long-standing problems? From being a regular title challenger a decade ago, to struggling for fourth place, the demise of Arsenal has been slow but steady. Is there a change in tide on the horizon?
The qualities that Aubameyang will bring are not in question. Goals will come, and a lot of them. Aubameyang has scored 141 goals (98 in the league) in 213 appearances (144) for Dortmund. That’s a ratio of 0.66, considerably more than a goal a game.
In the absence of Sanchez, a goal-scoring outlet is paramount for the Gunners. Their previous record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, has somewhat struggled for goals this season, having only hit nine in the league and one since November. This is despite making an appearance in every single Premier League game Arsenal have played this season.
Aubameyang’s infamous pace and finishing ability will certainly help Arsenal score more but may also help to change the dynamic of games. Defences will be terrified of his pace and sit deeper, allowing the midfield of Arsenal far more time and space on the ball.
Partnerships New and Old
Perhaps one of the most promising partnerships that Gunners’ fans will hope to see flourish in the second half of the season is the reunion of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. The two were in lethal form together at Dortmund, scoring 62 goals between them in their last season together.
Add to this the fact that Ozil will remain at the Emirates and Jack Wilshere is seemingly back in the first team and back on form, service to the front-man will not be an issue. Both Ozil and Wilshere have an eye for a pass, and now they have someone to run onto the end of them.
It also remains to be seen whether Arsene Wenger will try and forge a relationship between Aubameyang and Lacazette, with the latter’s role at the club surely not finished yet. Both have had stints on the wing as well, and it could be interesting to see who plays up top.
Is it enough?
But, ask any Arsenal fan where their problems lay, and very few will likely say that they don’t score enough goals. This season, for example, Arsenal have 46 league goals, which is one more than Chelsea, one less than Spurs and only three less than Manchester United. Yet they have conceded 34 goals. This is five more than Liverpool, who have a notoriously leaky defence, and more than Burnley, Leicester, Brighton, West Brom and the same number as Newcastle.
But they have only conceded four goals on one occasion this season, suggesting that the goals they let in are spread across several games. Five times they have conceded at least three goals this season. With Petr Cech clearly past his prime, they back four cannot be assured that their mistakes will go unpunished any longer. Whilst Laurent Koscielny is a solid centreback, Nacho Monreal is steady, but not blessed with much pace and is also coming towards his twilight years. Meanwhile, Hector Bellerin is the opposite – he has pace in abundance but is often found further forward than the wingers and prone to leave gaping spaces behind him. Granit Xhaka in front offers little or no protection and is extremely prone to lapses in concentration.
So yes, Arsenal will score more goals but will this be enough to return them to former glories? Or has Wenger simply overloaded an already resourceful area? Time will tell.