In Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezzman, France found a duo that work perfectly off each other; a hold-up striker whose prowess in the air, affinity to move towards the ball carrier, and skilful passing were the foil to the quick movements of trigger-happy Griezzman.
The 4-4-2 may no longer be in vogue but Didier Deschamps found a way to use the system to suit the variety of similar talents in the French squad and, ultimately, was rewarded.
It’s a challenge Unai Emery now faces at Arsenal.
Unai Emery Must Find Room For Both of Arsenal’s Star Strikers
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have shown themselves to be, at times, a dynamic partnership, but getting the most out of the duo is something Emery has yet to do.
Their partnership is restricted. The duo have started alongside each another just twice this season – against arguably some of the weakest opposition the Premier League could put forward: Cardiff City and Newcastle.
It speaks volumes that the pair were only first given an opportunity against a side that, prior to that match, registered just one shot on target all season. Perhaps an equally-pointed argument is that the same side tallied twice and found the majority of their open space on the flanks; behind Mesut Ozil and Aubameyang.
That vulnerability is at the heart of the issues Emery faces. His lineup is littered with attacking players, maestros like Ozil and Aaron Ramsey known as much for their killer passes and threatening runs as for the space they leave behind them.
Forcing all that talent into the same starting eleven does more than just create defensive vulnerabilities, it forces Arsenal’s world-class talents into unnatural positions.
If Emery chooses to stick with Lacazette as the tip of his spear, he is forced to play Aubameyang wide, where the Gabonese striker is far from his best.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Elite Number Nine; Average Winger
In 413 minutes this season Aubameyang has recorded one league goal from 12 shots, the same as Lacazette who’s done it in just 276 minutes. More troubling is that Aubameyang hasn’t pulled away in touches, passes or even expected goals; he leads by ten, 11 and 0.44 respectively.
The realisation is best visualized when compared to his peers. Prior to joining the Gunners, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was an elite finisher who took high-quality shots and, more often than not, finished them.
xG per Shot, Shots Per 90 2015-16 to 2018-19 pic.twitter.com/8ABqRFkW4C
— Scott #Project24 Willis (@oh_that_crab) September 13, 2018
The same graph narrowed down to just this season shows a different picture, one of decidedly average shot selection and the same volume.
Since being relegated to the flank, Aubameyang has not been able to find the space he needs to get the shots he’s built a career upon. Instead, he becomes a run of the mill offensive winger who offers little defensively.
With Aubameyang as the Gunners’ frontman, Emery puts the striker in his natural position and gives him the best opportunity to prove he is still the player who dominated the Bundesliga, but it comes at the cost of Arsenal’s most in-form forward.
Lacazette has more than earned the starting role with his performances this season, and it would be harsh to push the French national to the bench on the hope that Aubameyang might find his feet once playing in his natural position; and like Aubameyang, Lacazette has also struggled to contribute from the flank.
Which brings us back to Didier Deschamps and the 4-4-2.
Dinner Party of Two
Arsenal need to find a system that brings the most out of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Deploying both as strikers seems to be the perfect solution; whether that’s a 4-4-2, a 4-2-2-2, a 4-3-1-2 or some other beast is up to Unai Emery to decide.
A midfield diamond with Mesut Özil at its peak would allow for Arsenal to make the most of three of theur most effective forwards, and the base of the diamond seems perfectly suited to Lucas Torreira’s abilities. Granit Xhaka and Henrik Mkhitaryan seem the obvious choices for the other two midfield spaces.
While the formation is far from perfect – where does Aaron Ramsey slot, for example – it could solve the problem of making room for both Lacazette and Aubameyang in the starting eleven, without forcing the Gunners most talented creators to play in unnatural positions, where the end product inevitably suffers.
It may not be conventional, but the Gunners only other option likely looks like this.
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