MATCH REPORT: Crystal Palace 2-2 Arsenal

Arsenal’s 11-game winning streak has been brought to an end at Selhurst Park after an 82nd minute Luka Milivojevic penalty earned Crystal Palace a 2-2 draw.

The Serbian midfielder fired the hosts into the lead in the first half, but that advantage was soon overturned in the second period through Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strikes.

A second penalty would bring Palace back level, however, as Milivojevic earned himself a brace late on, securing a point each for both sides at full time.

Xhaka held his place at left-back, with Aubameyang also joining the Swiss midfielder on the flank in the starting eleven at Selhurst Park.

Palace sought the danger early on through Wilfried Zaha, getting on the end of Andros Townsend’s cross in the 16th minute before striking the outside of Bernd Leno’s near post.

Just a minute later, Townsend scuppered the chance to tuck away a well-worked move from the hosts, as Patrick Van Aanholt’s cut-back was steered wide of the mark from close range.

Arsenal’s response came via Alexandre Lacazette’s off-balance strike at goal in the 23rd minute, with the Frenchman firing wide on his way down from the edge of the box.

With the game braced for deadlock going into the break, Shkodran Mustafi’s late challenge on Cheikhou Kouyate, who placed himself between the player and ball, earned Palace the chance to go a goal up just before half-time.

Milivojevic claimed full responsibility from the 12-yard-mark and would make no mistake when stroking the penalty into the bottom-left corner, as Roy Hodgson’s men edged themselves in front.

The Gunners reported back with purpose in the second half, with Xhaka finding the top corner with an acute free-kick to equalise for his team in the 52nd minute.

Arsenal flipped the script in the 56th minute, amid shouts of a Lacazette handball in the build-up, as Aubameyang popped up at the back-post to stab in a second for his side.

Palace looked to respond with the likes of Max Meyer and Alexander Sørloth entering the field of play, as Emery’s side began to struggle with the inclination of the game.

With ten minutes on the clock, the hosts looked to Zaha to inspire some magic, as the Ivory Coast international skipped past Xhaka before tumbling to win a second penalty for the Eagles.

Milivojevic was on hand to repeat the dosage from the spot, as the Serbian made it 2-2 in the 82nd minute.

Arsenal could’ve bowed out on another twist with two minutes of normal time still to play, after Xhaka lifted a cross for the on-rushing Aaron Ramsey to attack, but the Welshman would fail to get anything behind his flick-on.

The two London clubs wouldn’t go beyond a share of the spoils, however, as Arsenal’s winning streak came to an end with a 2-2 score-line.

By Patrick Ribeiro (@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Bernd Leno (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Rob Holding (7), Granit Xhaka (7) – Lucas Torreira (7), Matteo Guendouzi (6) – Alex Iwobi (5), Mesut Özil (6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (6) – Alexandre Lacazette (5)

Subs: Stephan Lichtsteiner (5), Danny Welbeck (5), Aaron Ramsey (5)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City

Arsenal have made it ten wins on the spin with a 3-1 victory at home to Leicester City for the Premier League, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang jumped off the bench to bag a brace and push his team back into the top four.

The North Londoners started on the back foot, with Leicester taking the lead through Héctor Bellerín’s own goal before Mesut Özil could claw back an equaliser just before half-time.

Aubameyang was then unleashed on the Foxes in the second period, crowning two wonderfully-crafted moves with a couple of goals to seal a 3-1 win.

In Arsenal’s return to Premier League action, Unai Emery opted against fielding the club’s record signing Aubameyang, as Alexandre Lacazette led the attack with Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan flanking.

Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho claimed the first two opportunities within the first five minutes of the game, calling Bernd Leno into action on his second attempt at goal with a curling effort.

With Arsenal struggling to settle, the Foxes had another go at Leno’s goal, as the German positioned himself well to deny Harry Maguire’s back-post header in the 19th minute.

Claude Puel’s men required a slice of luck to eventually break the deadlock on the half-hour mark, with Héctor Bellerín’s block from Ben Chilwell’s cross betraying Leno and trickling into the back of the net.

Arsenal replied moments later through Granit Xhaka’s free-kick, but Kasper Schmeichel kept his focus to tip the Swiss international’s effort over for a corner.

The Gunners continued to raise the bar towards the end of the first period, with Özil rewarding his team with a cool first-time finish from Bellerín’s cross to level the game on the brink of half-time.

Picking up where they left off, Mkhitaryan neared Arsenal’s second in the 50th minute with an acrobatic effort floating wide, as Emery’s side began to pile on the pressure.

Wilfred Ndidi threatened to pull the score back the other way with a header crashing against the bar on the hour mark, but, with Aubameyang already on the pitch, Arsenal were able to ease the mood a little when Özil placed Bellerín in a prime position to cut back, gifting the ex-Borussia Dortmund man with an assist for an easy finish.

The Gunners bettered their previous effort just three minutes later to go 3-1 up, as Özil latched onto Lacazette’s weighted pass into the box to feed Aubameyang for another casual tap-in in the 66th minute.

Lacazette scuppered his chance to get his name on the scoresheet in 78th minute, having gotten on the end of Özil’s cut-back with the goal at his mercy, but the Frenchman instead found a way to place the ball within Schmeichel’s grasp.

The ex-Olympique Lyonnaise striker added to his frustrating night with a shot over the bar from Iwobi’s pick-out in the 83rd minute, as the Gunners cruised through the latter stages of the affair.

Arsenal wouldn’t need a fourth, however, with the game at the Emirates Stadium concluding itself at 3-1.

By Patrick Ribeiro (@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Bernd Leno (8) – Héctor Bellerín (8), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (6), Stephan Lichtsteiner (5) – Lucas Torreira (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (5), Mesut Özil (9), Alex Iwobi (7) – Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7), Matteo Guendouzi (6), Aaron Ramsey (-)

MATCH REPORT: Cardiff City 2-3 Arsenal

Arsenal have landed their first away victory of the season in a five-goal-thriller versus Cardiff City, as the Gunners rose to defeat Neil Warnock’s side 3-2 in Cardiff, this afternoon.

A goal apiece saw both sides go into the break locked at 1-1, but the Gunners later pulled in front through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the second half.

The Bluebirds battled to claw a second equaliser through Danny Ward, but it was Alexandre Lacazette who’d have the final say in the 82nd minute, firing the Gunners to a late win.

A return to the starting eleven was on the cards for Mesut Özil, who was followed into Unai Emery’s plans by the introduction of Lacazette, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi missed out.

Nervy moments at the back almost allowed Cardiff to find the opener early on, as Harry Arter intercepted Petr Čech’s pass before blazing a good opportunity over in the 7th minute.

Arsenal hit back at the other end, with Aaron Ramsey latching onto Lacazette’s flick to force Neil Etheridge into an uncomfortable save.

A goal came soon after for Emery’s men, as Mustafi edged ahead of his marker to power Granit Xhaka’s corner into the back of the net with his head, giving the Gunners the lead in the 12th minute.

Chaos at the back for the Bluebirds almost allowed Arsenal to grab a second, as Nacho Monreal struggled to overcome Etheridge following Bruno Ecuele-Manga’s gift.

Cardiff’s Danny Ward came inches away from finding an equaliser in the 19th minute, arriving just a fraction too late to Bobby Reid’s low cross, with Junior Hoilett later missing the target from the follow-up.

With half-an-hour of the game gone, Lacazette came close to doubling Arsenal’s lead with a right-footed shot from the edge of the box, hitting the face of the post before the ball was cleared to safety.

The visitors’ lead wouldn’t last until the break, however, as Hoilett intercepted Xhaka’s cross-field pass to send Joe Bennett down the left flank, as Victor Camarasa popped up on the receiving end of the full-back’s cross before thrashing a shot past Čech.

It was through Lacazette that the danger resumed in the second period, with the French striker firing over acrobatically from close range in the 50th minute.

Mustafi was out to repeat the dosage from the first-half, this time sneaking in behind Sol Bamba to head at goal prior to Etheridge’s save in the 53rd minute.

No less than ten minutes later, Arsenal found themselves back in front through Aubameyang, as the Gabonese forward slotted his shot into the bottom-left corner from the edge of the box to get off the mark this season.

Cardiff’s bounce-back trailed the North Londoners’ lead once more, however, as Ward reacted first to a loose ball inside the box by heading an effort in off the inside of the post, with 20 minutes of normal time left on the clock.

But the twists kept coming at the Cardiff City Stadium, with Arsenal reclaiming the lead for a third time through Lacazette in the 82nd minute, rifling his shot past Etheridge from a tight angle.

The danger still lurked in Arsenal’s box, but Sean Morrison rose to head his effort over the bar in Cardiff’s best opportunity to salvage a point, as the Gunners dragged a 3-2 away victory over the line.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Sokratis (6), Nacho Monreal (6) – Mattéo Guendouzi (6), Granit Xhaka (6) – Mesut Özil (7), Aaron Ramsey (7), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (6) – Alexandre Lacazette (8)

Subs: Lucas Torreira (6), Danny Welbeck (-), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (-)

MATCH REPORT: Leicester City 3-1 Arsenal

Ten-man Arsenal were defeated once more on the road, as a second-half Jamie Vardy penalty and a late Riyad Mahrez finish gave Leicester City all-three points in a 3-1 win for the Premier League.

The visitors were left with an uphill battle early on, as Kelechi Iheanacho opened the scoring in the 14th minute before nabbing a red card out of Konstantinos Mavropanos a minute later.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then equalised for the Gunners early in the second period, but a Vardy’s strike from the spot and Mahrez’s cool finish late on prolonged Arsenal’s dismal away from come full-time.

The Gunners maintained a strong XI for the trip to the King Power Stadium, surprising only with the starts handed to Danny Welbeck, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding.

Arsène Wenger’s men looked to carry on from their fine display at home to Burnley with a positive start versus the Foxes, as Alex Iwobi forced Eldin Jakupovic into action in the 7th minute with a curling effort pushed wide.
Leicester offered a fierce reply, initiated by Vardy’s strike in the 13th minute before Iheanacho was able to place the hosts ahead, as he drilled in Fousseni Diabate’s knock-down on the half-volley.
Matters complicated themselves further for Arsenal following the restart, with Iheanacho again in the thick of things when bettering Mavropanos to race through on goal, leaving the Greek defender resigned to bringing the ex-Manchester City attacker down and receiving a red-carded.
Leicester continued to knock on the visitors’ door, with Arsenal requiring Petr Čech to deny a couple of attempts from Harry Maguire and Iheanacho, as the game reached the half-hour mark.
In Arsenal’s best move of the half, Henrikh Mkhitaryan neared an equaliser in the 34th minute when seeing his strike from inside the box being pushed just wide of the target.
From the subsequent corner, his ex-Borussia Dortmund teammate, Aubameyang, also came close to biting back for the north Londoners with a toe-poke deflected away from goal, as the two sides departed the half to a 1-0 score line.
It was Arsenal again who started brightest in the second half via Sead Kolasinac’s wicked volley from inside the box, with the Bosnian hitting the face of the post before Leicester could clear their lines.
Good work from Vardy gifted Diabate the time and space to hurt Arsenal on the counter-attack in the 47th minute, but Shkodran Mustafi remained alert by covering Čech and stopping the Ligue 2 import’s strike on the line.
The visitors were soon handed their just reward for attacking with intent, as Maitland-Niles escaped his man down the byline to feed Aubameyang inside the box, who’d thump home the equaliser at the second time of asking.
Vardy stepped up to undo all of Arsenal’s good work in the 75th minute, however, as Mkhitaryan arrived late in his challenge on Demarai Gray inside the box to gift Leicester a penalty.
The English striker made no mistake up against Čech from the 12-yard-mark, propelling the Foxes back in front with his well-hit penalty.
Mahrez made it 3-1 in the 88th minute, utilising his composure to manoeuvre around Rob Holding and Čech before burying his finish, as Arsenal returned to north London with yet another away defeat.
By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)
Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Ainsley Maitland-Niles (7), Rob Holding (5), Konstantinos Mavropanos (4), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Aaron Ramsey (6), Granit Xhaka (7) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Alex Iwobi (6), Danny Welbeck (4) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)
Subs: Shkodran Mustafi (5), Eddie Nketiah (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 5-0 Burnley

Arsenal celebrated Arsène Wenger’s final game at the Emirates Stadium with a 5-0 win over Burnley for the Premier League, as a sell-out crowd said their goodbyes to their manager.

First-half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette set Arsenal up for a big afternoon in north London, as Wenger’s men took a 2-0 lead into half-time.

Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi doubled the Gunners’ lead to 4-0 throughout a dominant second-half display, leaving Aubameyang to add the finishing touches to a 5-0 victory with his brace.

In Mesut Özil’s absence, Arsenal paired Aubameyang with Lacazette in attack, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan also returned to the first XI.

The two forwards took just 14 minutes to combine to great effect, with Aubameyang popping up in the six-yard-box to tap in Lacazette’s driven cross and place the hosts a goal up.

Lacazette came close to assisting Mkhitaryan in the 33rd minute, having been unleashed down the right flank by Granit Xhaka’s toe-poke, but the ex-Borussia Dortmund man could only steer his volley over the bar.

Mkhitaryan neared joy once more ten minutes later when firing a deflected shot, as Nick Pope reacted well to delay conceding a second on the brink of half time.

Lacazette wouldn’t be stopped, however, as the north Londoners entered the interval with a 2-0 lead after the Frenchman’s volleyed finish from inside the box, courtesy of Héctor Bellerín’s pull-back.

Arsenal came out firing with yet more troublesome wing-play in the second half, with Aubameyang setting Wilshere up before the latter clipped his effort over the bar.

Burnley replied through Sam Vokes’ close-range header in the 48th minute, requiring Petr Čech to be alert with a well-positioned save.

Before the Clarets were able to build on their response, Arsenal powered on to make it 3-0 through Kolasinac, firing low and hard to beat Pope at his far-post in the 53rd minute.

Mkhitaryan edged himself closer to a goal just a minute later with a curling effort from outside of the box, floating mere inches away from its desired destination.

Iwobi then inflated Arsenal’s score-line with a fourth in the 64th minute, receiving Aubameyang’s pass inside the box before firing deep into Pope’s net.

The provider morphed back into goalscorer in the 74th minute, as Aubameyang was able to divert his first-time finish away from the goalkeeper and into the top corner from Bellerín’s ball into the box.

Danny Welbeck was unlucky not to have bagged a goal himself after coming off the bench, with the post denying an arrowed volley from firing in before the full-time whistle.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Calum Chambers (7), Konstantinos Mavropanos (8), Sead Kolasinac (7) – Granit Xhaka (8), Jack Wilshere (7) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Alex Iwobi (6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (8) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Aaron Ramsey (6), Per Mertesacker (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-0 Stoke City

A Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace helped Arsenal on to a 3-0 victory over Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners recouped its five-point-advantage over 7th-placed Burnley.

The North Londoners needed to wait until the second period to find the back of the net, with Aubameyang opening his account for the day from the penalty spot in the 75th minute.

Arsenal’s record signing followed up with a second goal late on before Alexandre Lacazette’s third secured a comfortable-looking victory.

Following a brief international break, the Gunners returned to Premier League action with the likes of Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck squeezing into the XI, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan sat out with Lacazette on the substitute’s bench.

It was Stoke who started brightest, however, as Xherdan Shaqiri fired wide of David Ospina’s goal with a curling effort early on.

In a game of few chances, Aaron Ramsey went closest for Arsenal when lifting a volley over the keeper in the 23rd minute, with only the top of the crossbar denying the Welshman prior to a goalless half.

Arsenal garnered a few more half-chances towards the hour-mark, but neither Welbeck, nor Nacho Monreal and Mohamed Elneny could find the avenue past Jack Butland.

Chances at either end saw Shaqiri stun the numbers with a deep corner onto the post, with Aubameyang following up to pull a save out of Butland when being placed through on goal by Özil in the 70th minute.

Arsenal’s chance to break the deadlock came via the penalty spot, with Aubameyang again being elected to seize the opportunity before opening the scoring in the 75th minute.

The ex-Borussia Dortmund man pounced on a flick-on to grab his second in the 86th minute, volleying past Butland, as Arsenal proceeded with their search for a third, with Lacazette adding the finishing touches to a 3-0 victory from the 12-yard-mark in the 89th minute.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Calum Chambers (6), Nacho Monreal (6) – Mohamed Elneny (6), Aaron Ramsey (8) – Mesut Özil (7), Jack Wilshere (7), Danny Welbeck (6) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Alexandre Lacazette (6), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (-), Granit Xhaka (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-0 Watford

Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League after defeating Watford 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium, this afternoon.

The Gunners’ evening commenced with Mustafi picking up Arsenal’s 1,000th Premier League goal, as the hosts took a 1-0 lead into half-time.

Second-half strikes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rounded off the score, with Petr Čech’s first penalty save for the North London outfit, as well as his 200th clean sheet, also decorating Arsenal’s display.

In Laurent Koscielny’s absence, Arsène Wenger called on Rob Holding to partner Mustafi at the heart of defence, meanwhile the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi also found their way into the starting line-up.

Mustafi was able to provide the start Arsenal craved for in the 8th minute, heading Mesut Özil’s free-kick back across goal from inside the box to put his team a goal up.

The Gunners eyed an early second, unlocked by Elneny’s pass through to Sead Kolasinac on the left-hand side of the byline, but the latter would end up over-hitting his cross somewhat for the lurking Aubameyang at the back-post.

Watford replied with a goal-bound Richarlison free-kick in 25th minute, with Roberto Pereyra the first to react to the rebound before letting Arsenal off the hook when slicing his attempt over.

No less than a minute later, the hosts were up at the other end through neat combinations, as Özil found himself one-on-one before a trailing Orestis Karnezis leg did just enough to stop the German from scoring deep inside the box.

The Hornets saved their best football for the final period of the first-half, but little reward enabled Arsenal to hold on to their 1-0 lead through to the break.

Watford positivity resumed in the second period, but Arsenal promised to undo the visitors’ appetite with a second, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan offered Aubameyang the chance to round the goalkeeper and make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.

Javi Gracia’s side could’ve pulled a goal back as soon as the 62nd minute via Troy Deeney’s spot-kick, but Petr Čech’s penalty save – a first in Arsenal colours – kept the Vicarage Road outfit out.

The same privilege from the 12-yard-mark wouldn’t be handed to the Gunners just a few minutes later, as Adrian Mariappa’s late tackle on Mkhitaryan went unnoticed.

In the 76th minute, Aubameyang returned Mkhitaryan the favour after the latter managed to squeeze a shot under Karnezis for his first league goal at the Emirates, as Arsenal took a 3-0 lead.

Danny Welbeck looked to add a fourth before time was up, but the Gunners would settle for three in their first string of back-to-back wins since January.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (6), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Mohamed Elneny (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Mesut Özil (7), Alex Iwobi (6) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Calum Chambers (-), Jack Wilshere (-)

To live or die by the chaos: Where next for Arsenal’s leaky defence?

So, it seems like Arsenal have their swagger back. Well…sort of.

Central to the recent turn of events was Alexis Sanchez’s departure to Manchester United in January, welcomed by many as a real weight off aching shoulders, with results against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and the 4-0 demolition job against Crystal Palace in the Premier League going some way into reflecting a similar posture throughout the squad.

Here’s the complicated, yet equally predictable bit – the Gunners’ two-sided self then went on to put on a dismal defensive display away to Swansea City, losing 3-1 and worsening a streak of away games unlike any other under Arsène Wenger.

However, in the space of four days, the North Londoners were able to light up their season with the reinvigorating capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, adding to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival, before the news of Mesut Özil’s contract extension boosted the morale to no end.

Better still, Arsenal were able to couple a thrilling few days with the 5-1 dissection of Sam Allardyce’s rigid Everton side, in an inspiring evening at the Emirates. As poor as the once-cocky Toffees boss may have believed his team to be on the day, the sight of Özil, Alex Iwobi and Mkhitaryan – all in heavy rotation – popping the ball off with such fluidity was a joy to behold.

Even I, as a fan who at times hasn’t felt as invested as one would like, couldn’t contain myself from looking like a giggling mess in the visual presence of Aubameyang’s dink into the far-post, spearheading Arsenal into a 4-0 lead before half-time.

AubaGoal

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with his goal-bound effort on his Arsenal debut.

On first viewing, with the goals taken away by Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, the Gunners’ latest additions certainly look likely to hand a healthy portion back, unlocking the potential to entertain in a manner much closer to home. But, staying true to familiarity, the inability to extend the club’s January assault on options for our defensive sector has been leveled as a serious cause for concern. Could it continue to be Arsenal’s undoing?

The frailties are there for all to see, littered across and beyond Wenger’s maligned backline. Laurent Koscielny, at the increasingly alarming age of 32, has a well-documented physical limitation, meanwhile Shkodran Mustafi has long looked totally devoid of the confidence and reliability we’ve come to expect from the ball-playing defender. That state was so much so that the defender was even rumoured to be seriously considering a swift exit back in the summer, before eventually being held by the club.

Rob Holding has been somewhat stable, but raw, whereas Calum Chambers’ light has been waning for quite some time and Per Mertesacker, in accordance with many, has probably extended his career a year longer than Arsenal should’ve been prepared to settle for.

Sead Kolasinac joins the problem, falling out of favour with Wenger to often give way for Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-wing back, who’s looked as impressive as he has been awkward in an unfamiliar role.

Be it a back four or five, Arsenal’s shape is also sandwiched with key low-notes in Petr Čech and Granit Xhaka. One has taken to the slope of deterioration, meanwhile the latter shows grave signs of struggling to untie himself from the pressures of top-tier Premier League football, subsequently handing his confidence and creative progressiveness a beating.

XhakaSouthampton

The under-fire Granit Xhaka, who’s yet to find his feet as Arsenal’s coveted deep playmaker.

And just like that, the North Londoners’ issues become widespread and in serious need of being rectified.

You only need to go as far as the boss’ words last week to know what’s currently found at the back isn’t ideal. Talk centered around West Bromwich Albion’s  Jonny Evans, holding a considerably higher asking price than what may actually turn out to be necessary a few more months down the line, and an apparent interest in David Luiz, locked down at cross-city rivals Chelsea. All quick-fixes.

Wenger seemed keen to add to his backline, but adequate names came few and far between – commonplace in the January transfer window. This may well render the focus on defensive reinforcements, or lack thereof, as useless.

It’s with the current squad that Arsenal must set out to achieve its current objectives, whether that’s a top four finish, Europa League glory, and/or decorative success in the Carabao Cup final. Possible? Yes, because it’s important to remember that the aforementioned players under scrutiny aren’t actually bad players.

Koscielny, when fit, is up there with the very best in Europe. Under his influence, and Mustafi deserves a great amount of credit for this, the Frenchman and the German formed a formidable partnership at the beginning of the 2016/17 season that took the latter 22 league games before tasting defeat. Did it all happen by chance?

There was life in Xhaka before Arsenal – an eye-catching stint at Borussia Mönchengladbach that saw the Switzerland international garner an illustrious list of followers across European football. Among his weaknesses, confidence, a chronic issue throughout the evolution of others, seems to be the key factor weighing his qualities down.

Others might well point towards Wenger’s choice of structure being a hindrance when playing out from the back, as well as the key component that makes Arsenal’s defensive transition look far more reactive, rather than proactive. A dated problem, but the club’s state of mind certainly hasn’t been too far behind, this season.

With the arrival of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, strangely enough, the Gunners might well be able to assure themselves defensively and push on from the disappointments of the first-half of the season, following the old mantra that attack is the best form of defence.

AFC5-1EFC

Arsenal players join each other in celebration, as they defeat Everton 5-1.

Wenger appears keen to adhere to that assessment, telling the Arsenal website earlier this week that “when you say we’ve conceded too many goals, I think we don’t score enough.

“That’s our basic problem,” Wenger said. “That’s our DNA. We are an attacking team. The danger is when you are an attacking team that doesn’t score, you create your own problems.”

As mentioned at the start of this piece, some of the football displayed last Saturday was particularly palatable. It was all very ‘Arsenal’. The good kind of ‘Arsenal. And, yes, you can pick issues with the mistakes made by Everton, but can’t we all with just about any goal that’s conceded? We’re certainly never short of culpable players.

The chaos caused by three fluid playmakers, working in tandem with Aubameyang’s movement, stripped the Toffees down to their bare bones in the first half and the prospect is there for this team to do as such with greater regularity.

It’s a methodology that subscribes far more to the retention of possession, as opposed to the highlighted throwaway/high risk, high reward nature of a Sanchez-led attack, which, in theory, should put the defensive sector under less strain.

In a throwback to the days of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky, among others, should Arsenal pull it off in the final third, the results and well-being of the team, particularly those under-fire, is sure to follow. That certainly seems to be the lasting hope, with only the football ahead of us able to establish whether it’s truly the answer to the Gunners’ faulty season.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 5-1 Everton

An Aaron Ramsey hat-trick spearheaded a glittering Arsenal display at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners took Everton apart with a 5-1 victory, this evening.

Two strikes from the midfielder, further amplified by Laurent Koscielny’s header and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s debut goal for the club, saw Arsène Wenger’s men storm into the break with a 4-0 lead.

Everton pulled a goal back via Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but Ramsey ensured he’d keep the headlines with his third goal in the second half, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan also starred with a hat-trick of assists.

Gripping anticipation saw Arsenal fans flock to the Emirates Stadium for Aubameyang’s first outing in red and white, with the contest against Everton also highlighted by Theo Walcott’s first return as an opposition player.

The new Gunners signing was quick to link up with his former Borussia Dortmund teammate, Mkhitaryan, who’d put his pass across goal on a plate for Ramsey to take, as the Welshman placed the hosts 1-0 up by the 6th minute.

Mkhitaryan sparked more danger cutting in from the left flank, as he fizzed a strike just wide from range in a positive start for the North Londoners.

Soon enough, Arsenal were off celebrating a second goal, as Shkodran Mustafi glanced his header towards the back-post for Koscielny to nod in after 14 minutes.

Ramsey returned for more in the 19th minute, bagging his brace with a deflected strike from range to deceive Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

There was a chance for Walcott to get in on the act at the opposite end, as he raced through on goal with Monreal in his trail prior to Mustafi’s providential block.

The 37th minute brought the moment so many had envisioned, as Mkhitaryan slipped Aubameyang through to dink the goalie and set Arsenal cruising with a 4-0 lead into half-time.

Everton returned stronger for the second period, however, with Walcott spotting Oumar Niasse with an early cross before the Senegalese striker could hit the post with an outstretched leg.

Petr Čech’s search for a 200th Premier League clean sheet had to be rescheduled for another time, as the Toffees fought back through Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s headed goal in the 64th minute.

A bit of persistence from Mkhitaryan on the flanks would put a smile back on the fans’ faces after cutting a cross into Ramsey’s path, setting the Arsenal number 8 up expertly for his hat-trick in the 74th minute.

Taking the sting out of Everton with the fifth, the Gunners were able to secure a 5-1 win and three much-needed points come full time.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (7), Nacho Monreal (7) – Granit Xhaka (7), Aaron Ramsey (7) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (8), Mesut Özil (7), Alex Iwobi (7) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)

Subs: Sead Kolasinac (6), David Ospina (6), Jack Wilshere (-)

How Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fit into Arsenal’s Starting XI?

It took some time, but Arsenal have finally completed the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a club record £56 million fee. The 28-year-old joins the Gunners with a reputation as one of the deadliest forwards in Europe, having scored a whopping 141 goals in all competitions for Dortmund since signing in 2013. Aubameyang’s goalscoring prowess and bonafide star status makes him an ideal replacement for Alexis Sanchez, who joined Manchester United last week in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan sign for Arsenal.

In replacing his most productive player with two attackers that previously combined for 56 goal contributions in a single league season (see Borussia Dortmund 2015-16), Arsene Wenger has come out of a sticky situation with some credit. Now, Le Professeur must figure out how to fit his two shiny new signings into a lineup that already contains Mesut Özil and previous club record signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Here are a few different tactical setups Wenger might go for as he aims to please his star players and maximize Arsenal’s attacking output.

 

4 – 2 – 2 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

A formation that is as exciting as it is unlikely for Wenger to try, the 4-2-2-2 would see Arsenal essentially field a front four of their attacking talent. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil take up free roles on either wing, cutting inside to combine with the two forwards while the wing-backs overlap to provide width.

Although he hasn’t been as prolific as fans anticipated, Alexandre Lacazette has proven that he is more than just a poacher, showing excellent holdup play and ability to keep the ball in tight areas around the box. The Frenchman plays slightly behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who thrives as the team’s target man and would benefit from another forward to keep defenders occupied.

The overwhelming amount of attacking impetus could potentially unbalance Arsenal’s shape, meaning the midfield pairing would need to be positionally disciplined and defensively aware. Mohammed Elneny may be Arsenal’s least exciting midfielder, but he could be the key to this formation succeeding. The Egyptian international excelled in a defensive midfield role in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semifinal win over Chelsea, and would take up the same responsibilities in a 4-2-2-2. One of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, or Granit Xhaka would partner him in the middle of the park to keep things ticking and link midfield to attack. If the Gunners are particularly struggling to retain possession in midfield, Mesut Özil could tuck in from the right side to work some of his German magic.

While the 4-2-2-2 may appear to be top-heavy on paper, it could get the most out of Arsenal’s attackers if executed properly. Arsene Wenger is unlikely to revert to what is essentially a modified 4-4-2, but his recent tactical versatility could mean we’re in for a surprise.

 

4 – 3 – 3

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

Arsene Wenger might not have to switch from his beloved 4-3-3 to fit his two new signings into the starting lineup.

Again, Mkhitaryan plays on the left wing, the position Thomas Tuchel used him in during his remarkable 2015-16 campaign with Dortmund. The Armenian notched up 21 goals and 26 assists in all competitions that season, and Wenger will hope he can regain that form by playing in his favored position in a team that suits his playing style.

There is one notable difference between this setup and a classic 4-3-3, and that’s the right wing position. Here, Aubameyang will be less of a traditional right winger and more of a right-sided shadow striker, making runs off of Lacazette and drifting into dangerous positions. As he will provide little support for Hector Bellerin on the right flank, Mohammed Elneny (or the equally mobile Ainsley Maitland-Niles) is again key as he will be tasked with protecting the right-back.

In theory, this formation could work, but playing your new record-signing striker on the wing—albeit not in a traditional winger’s role—could definitely be an issue. That said, it wouldn’t be unlike Arsene Wenger to stick to his system and ask players to adjust their positions to suit it—watch this space.

 

3 – 5 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

For the first time in basically forever, Arsene Wenger is showing a willingness to switch his formation on a match-by-match basis based on the opposition. At long last, Arsenal (sort of) does tactics!

Earlier this season Wenger tended to play a 3-4-3, especially when he thought his side needed extra defensive support which, in the case of Arsenal, is just about every match. Recently, however, he has opted for his trusty 4-3-3—but the need to accommodate two forwards could see a three-at-the-back formation used more regularly.

A 3-5-2, for example, would look similar to the previously used 3-4-3, but with an attacking midfielder playing behind two strikers rather than two attacking midfielders behind one striker. The prospect of Mesut Özil pinging through balls to Lacazette and Aubameyang is enough to make Arsenal fans quickly forget about that strange Chilean who loved his dogs a bit too much. Mkhitaryan, then, can take up a position in midfield where he’s able to combine with Özil and burst forward when the opportunity arises. He’ll have to be a bit more disciplined, though, as Wenger said he sees the 29-year-old as a potential “box-to-box player.”

Although the prospect of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, and Özil in the same lineup is truly tantalizing, Arsene Wenger faces a genuine challenge in fitting all four of them into a functional starting eleven. It’s a good headache to have, and if the Frenchman gets it right he may just have the scariest attack in the Premier League. In what’s turning out to be an increasingly grim season, things might be a little less depressing if the club is at least fun to watch. After all, isn’t that the whole point?

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly