A great many Arsenal supporters must have placed their heads in their hands at the news of three match suspension for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. There was a general fear that it was another blow to an already battered and beleaguered side that is struggling to hit the heights.
The offending tackle was nothing more than a misplaced, mistimed, over enthusiastic lunge. The sort often committed by a striker but as soon as Aubameyang connected, there was little doubt which coloured card the referee was going to produce. In all fairness, similar tackles haven’t received a red but that argument is actually futile given that Max Meyer could have ended up in plaster after he left the field.
Mikel Arteta must have cursed his luck or lack of it and he will now call on his other players to perform in the Captain’s absence but it’s a big ask.
Of those being challenged, Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal’s £72m summer signing, will need to step it up. He’s had a difficult first season but he has shown all the signs of a player that will come good, given time and support.
He has great acceleration, excellent vision and a natural instinct for goal. Pepe may have lost his confidence but he hasn’t lost his talent. I suspect he will continue to develop this season under Arteta but he won’t be able to replace Aubameyang at the moment.
Eddie Nketiah has been on the supporters’ radar for a couple of seasons now and he has shown that he can find the net at all levels of the game. His refusal to join Championship side Bristol City on loan wasn’t exactly a shock because Nketiah desperately wants to cement his place in the Arsenal first team.
He is potentially a great addition but Arsenal’s current circumstances could put too much pressure on him and hinder his progress. Even if he was reasonably successful in that short time, Nketiah is still not an ideal replacement for Aubameyang simply in terms of his experience at this level.
Gabriel Martinelli is a fearless young prospect for future stardom at the Emirates and he has seized every opportunity to show his worth with his pace, poise, and instinct. He has impressed even as a substitute and is very, very close to muscling into the side ahead of the academy prospects but like Nketiah, it could be too much weight on his shoulders, taking on Aubameyang’s mantle.
Of course, we have left the most likely successor until last. Did everyone forget about Alexandre Lacazette ?
Supporters have been guilty of overlooking the value of the Frenchman, who is massively less flamboyant but who is equally effective. Lacazette is undoubtedly a world class striker, but his game is substantially different to the Gabonese hitman.
Over the last two seasons, Lacazette and Aubameyang have had very little service and have, to some degree, made their own luck, yet, that suits the Frenchman. He is a vital link to any forward play, and is usually active three quarters of the way up the pitch, orchestrating moves whilst trying to find the space to finish the move.
If anyone is to replace Aubameyang, Lacazette is the ready made candidate with all the experience and natural flair to make the captain’s absence seem negligible.
And finally, Arsenal have been linked to Dries Merten of Napoli but at 32, I can’t see why Arteta would want him. It’s not that he isn’t good, of course he is but Arsenal have good strike options at their disposal. Do they really need another when their defence is as impenetrable as a large mesh fishing net.
Is Aubameyang off in the summer ? Are Arsenal off loading Lacazette ? This type of moves indicates some changes ahead but I hope I’m wrong.