Coping Without Lacazette – Chances for Young Players
After a below-par start to the season, the news that Alexandre Lacazette would miss up to seven games with an ankle injury was exactly what Arsenal fans didn’t want to hear. Lacazette and Aubameyang had both continued their fine form from the end of last season and were by far the two biggest bright spots for Unai Emery in the early stages of this season. The French striker had been playing with an ankle problem which had persisted since the Emirates Cup game with Lyon in July.
Strong, Even Injured
Even playing hampered by injury, Lacazette put in some fine performances in Arsenal’s opening four league games. In particular, he was outstanding in the North London Derby just before the international break. His work rate was phenomenal and his fantastic goal on the stroke of half-time was crucial psychologically for the remainder of the match.
Having allowed Eddie Nketiah to leave on-loan to Leeds, Arsenal sacrificed some depth at the striker position. Obviously, this move looks like it will be fantastic for Nketiah as he has been on absolute fire for the Championship side scoring in the league and league cup for Marco Bielsa’s team as well as netting in every game he’s featured in for their under-23 team.
This move will be great for the young, Englishman’s career long-term but it does look like Arsenal could use him in Lacazette’s absence. Nketiah would have been an excellent option had he remained at the club but unfortunately for Arsenal in the short-term, he is unavailable to Unai Emery.
So, with Lacazette set to miss the next few weeks and Nketiah currently on loan, Arsenal have only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang available as an out and out striker. A very good option of course but with the volume of games, is it realistic for Arsenal to lean on Aubameyang that much for goals and expect him to continue his current hot streak?
The Gabonese striker played and of course scored in what is a very important win in the Europa League at Eintracht Frankfurt last night. Unai Emery will need to get creative with how he uses his squad, in particular, in the League Cup match with Nottingham Forest and Europa League tie with Standard Liege in order to keep Aubameyang at his fittest and sharpest for the Premier League.
Nicolas Pepe will have to start firing for Arsenal with Lacazette missing. The Ivorian has looked impressive at times and unconvincing at others in his first six games at the club. He has lacked end-product thus far but now is the time to make his mark. The game at home to Aston Villa this Sunday is a perfect opportunity for Pepe to get his first goal at the Emirates and regain the confidence he had at Lille last season. It’s amazing the impact a goal can have on a player’s confidence and psyche.
If Emery goes with an attacking line-up with Pepe as a right-winger, I believe we will see the best of him. Playing as a striker alongside Aubameyang doesn’t suit Pepe and this was obvious against Watford in what was unquestionably Pepe’s most disappointing performance for Arsenal. Obviously, it is still very early in Pepe’s Arsenal career so patience is required but with Lacazette missing, there really is no time like the present to get his life at the Emirates up and running.
Blooding the Young Guns
The League Cup tie with Nottingham Forest may be a chance for 18-year old Tyreece John-Jules to get a start for Unai Emery. He will be sure to be in the squad and after impressing for the under-23 side so far this season, Emery may use this game as an opportunity to look at the youngster against serious, senior opposition. You would expect Emery to select a very young side at the Emirates against the Championship side and John-Jules could be one of those who gets his chance.
Reiss Nelson has found playing opportunities hard to come by in recent weeks but as we saw at Watford, with Lacazette unavailable, there is more chances for him to feature. Nelson will be disappointed to have not started in Frankfurt last night but I would still expect him to feature over the next few weeks. It has been rumoured that Emery could experiment with Nelson as a central striker and Lacazette being side-lined is the perfect opportunity to try this out, if it is indeed something he has considered.
Bukayo Saka got his chance in the Europa League opener at Eintracht Frankfurt and he grabbed it with both hands. A really exciting display saw him bag his first senior goal for Arsenal as well as registering two assists. He is a very highly rated talent and having just turned 18-years old, the sky is the limit.
He will definitely feature in the League Cup game against Nottingham Forest and Europa League game with Standard Liege but don’t be surprised is he also gets some time off the bench in the Premier League. All you can ask of these young players is that they take the chance when it is handed to them and it cannot be denied that Saka did exactly that. He’s certainly showed Unai Emery that he is a legitimate option right now and not just a player for the future.
Arsenal will, of course, be heavily reliant on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang over the coming weeks. Hs responsibility for goal-scoring will be upped even further with the absence of his strike partner and best friend Alexandre Lacazette. Aubameyang is as reliable a goal scorer as you could ask for but contributions will definitely be required from other parties. Whether this will come from young players being given their chance or from the bigger names like Pepe and Ozil remains to be seen but it will have to come from somewhere if Arsenal are to get positive results without one of their biggest players.