Striker crisis: How Mikel Arteta should address Aubameyang and Lacazette absences
Arsenal is set to begin the 2021-22 Premier League season away at Brentford tonight and will be without key striker duo Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
🚨 Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang + fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette are both unwell & therefore will not be available for their side’s opening game of the new Premier League season at Brentford tonight @TheAthleticUK #AFC #BrentfordFC #BREARS https://t.co/RFFL2fWNPH
— David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) August 13, 2021
As reported earlier by The Athletic’s David Ornstein, the veteran forward pair are both unwell and unavailable for selection as the Gunners look to start hot out of the blocks at the Brentford Community Stadium before coming up against Manchester City and Chelsea in their upcoming Premier League fixtures.
To compound the situation, England U21 international Eddie Nketiah is also unavailable through injury and Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will now find himself scrambling to survey his tactical options against what should prove to be a tricky opponent in Thomas Frank’s Bees. So, what choices may Arteta have to rely on? Here are a few.
Gabriel Martinelli through the middle
Many in the Arsenal fanbase spent a considerable amount of time last season speculating that young Brazilian forward Gabriel Martinelli could be a long-term option to lead the line for the Gunners, but he has yet to be given a real chance in that role.
Martinelli is a pressing machine, however, and utilizing him through the middle could put Brentford’s backline under regular pressure if that is the match plan Arteta is set to deploy tonight. His desire to get forward and into the final third combined with his technical quality on the ball would present a balanced forward profile that could be tricky to deal with.
Throw Folarin Balogun into the fray in a full Arsenal debut
Arsenal fans were pleased when the drawn-out uncertainty in whether or not the Gunners were going to lose yet another youngster Folarin Balogun was put to rest when the New York-native extended his contract at the Emirates. But is Balogun ready to be thrown into the fray completely unexpected?
Balogun comes with high praise during his time at Hale End, but he has yet to log a single minute in the Premier League for the club, and unexpectedly calling upon the England youth international tonight not only seems completely out of character for Arteta, but it would be a less than ideal debut for a player that many think still is not ready for the English top flight.
A Manchester City-type false nine option for Arsenal
The least popular option (at least amongst the Arsenal fanbase) would see Arteta deploy his forward line with a false-nine. If such a decision was made, it would be likely that one of Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith Rowe, or Willian would be tasked in the role on the night akin to similar decisions we have seen in the past by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.
At the very least, a false-nine in the vein of one of the aforementioned triumvirate would offer a high level of mobility across the forward line that could aid in getting Brentford’s backline out of its shape. It would also throw a massive spanner in the works for Thomas Frank’s heavy reliance on data analysis and scouting would unquestionably have conjured up a match plan to target ways to shut down the Arsenal front ranks.
Given the options involved, for me, Gabriel Martinelli getting a real chance through the middle seems the most viable. Though not a true centre-forward like Folarin Balogun, he at least can call upon a far better tactical understanding given his appearances and understanding with those around him. His non-stop ability to press should also provide Mikel Arteta with another avenue to get at Brentford’s back line and potentially put new signing Kristoffer Ajer under pressure in an expected competitive debut for the Bees.