A brave new era at Arsenal was ushered in on Saturday when Henrikh Mkhitaryan played in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to put them 4-0 up against Everton. Those two combined for a remarkable 59 goals and 31 assists in their final season together at Borussia Dortmund and they were up to their old tricks on Saturday. They linked up well to tee up Aaron Ramsey for the opener, and the Gunners went on to beat a sorry Everton 5-1. Positivity abounded at The Emirates for the first time in a long time after the toxic presence of Alexis Sanchez was removed, the banner of his dogs was taken down and new heroes were worshipped.
Mesut Ozil has signed a new contract, giving the club a huge boost, and he can look forward to playing with some exciting attacking talent in the months and years ahead.
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 1, 2018
Of course, Arsenal still struggle to defend, and Everton could have scored more than one had former Gunner Theo Walcott been less profligate when through on goal. But going forward they were a dream, a throwback to the Arsene Wenger sides of yesteryear, defined by pace, precision, superb movement and rapid passing. This was Wengerball in all its glory, and Sam Allardyce was the perfect victim after making disparaging comments about Arsenal in the build-up to the game.
Finally, Arsenal have a striker with ferocious pace to lead the line. Walcott tried but was always better suited to wide areas, and the same is true of Sanchez, who often came too deep in a bid to influence play. Instead, Arsenal fans have typically seen the cumbersome Olivier Giroud lead the line over the last few years. For all his strengths, namely aerial ability, good hold-up play and a decent finish, he is painfully slow, as Chelsea fans are about to discover. Summer signing Alexandre Lacazette is nowhere near as quick as some fans hoped, while Danny Welbeck is a pretty good sprinter but a hopeless finisher.
Not since Thierry Henry in his pomp have Arsenal had a central striker with great pace leading the line. Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, Marouane Chamakh, Giroud, all of them hold-up merchants. Wenger tried to address it by signing Jamie Vardy a couple of years ago but was rejected. Now Arsenal are blessed with the talents of Aubameyang, the deadliest striker in Germany during his time at Dortmund, and he absolutely loves to play on the shoulder of the last defender. His rapid pace will allow him to get in behind, and his poacher’s instincts should allow him to bang goals in with regularity.
It spells great news for assist king Ozil, whose talents are somewhat wasted when he has a slow coach like Giroud in front of him. Ozil can play razor sharp through balls for Aubameyang to latch onto, and so can Mkhitaryan, who benefits from an already strong understanding with his teammate. The big loser appears to be Lacazette. Fans wondered if Wenger would try to fit him into the system, shunting him out wide or perhaps playing Aubameyang on the wing, but it seems the manager knows Aubameyang is better down the middle, terrifying defenders with his pace, and Lacazette – whose goal scoring ratio has been unexpectedly poor this season – must content himself with a place on the bench.
Replacing a £50 million summer signing with a £60 million January signing in the starting is such an un-Arsenal thing to do that fans must be feeling as though they have entered a parallel universe. It speaks of a change in philosophy at the club, a power shift behind the scenes as new people have taken on bigger roles when it comes to recruitment, and possibly hints at a final throw of the dice for Wenger. The Gunners are outsiders to reach the top four this season, and their leaky defence will leave them hamstrung as they bid to close the gap on Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, but with their shiny new attack, they have a chance. A bookmaker like sportsbetting ag has great odds available, check them out, and you will see that the odds are attractive on Arsenal finishing in the top four by the end of the season. With Aubameyang leading the line and Mkhitaryan and Ozil feeding him, they could just pull it off.