Life as an Arsenal supporter these days seems to consist of an endless amount of debate and division. From one’s feelings on the manager or the owner to whether or not faith should be placed in one young player or another, the list is endless. The years without domestic league triumph and European glory have made many impatient at the first hint of failure, often making even the most trivial of debates elicit passion from its participants. The last two seasons have seen this trend worsen as the Gunners have slipped from their once certain place in the top 4 into a frustrating limbo between true competitor and mid-table obscurity. To hear some football journalists tell it, the wheels are almost perpetually about to come off of Arsene Wenger’s team, and the drama is too lucrative to pass up. However, the team continued to show this weekend that although the rest of the football world sees them as ready to come apart at the seams, internally, the group is still very much fighting as one unit.
One of the newest debates among supporters involves a player who was the club’s record signing for all of a few months, Alexandre Lacazette, and whether or not there is still a place for him in the team following the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In this “A is better than B and that’s final” sort of social media climate we currently inhabit, two players who both prefer to play as a striker cannot coexist peacefully at a club that doesn’t use a 2 striker formation. Many are questioning whether or not the purchase of Aubameyang means the club has already given up on a player that is not even a full season removed from making the enormous jump from Ligue 1 to the Premier League. Despite this concern, the limited time we have been able to see the two on the pitch together, as well as their behaviour towards each other, has given hope of finding a way to fit both into the team.
When Arsenal made their substitutions on Sunday, putting out Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to play with Mesut Ozil and Aubameyang in the second half, fans got a brief glimpse of what to expect when Arsene Wenger fields his (arguably) strongest attacking XI. The Gabonese striker, despite his superior height and aerial ability, is shifted out wider to accommodate Lacazette in this situation, but he does not shift into a true in-cutting winger role. Instead, he plays a bit like Thierry Henry used to in Arsene’s lopsided 4-4-2 back in the Invincibles era, where he stays wide in large part to enable him to run long, angled runs in behind the defence, using his scorching pace to break free in on goal, as we saw on Sunday when Ozil put him through on goal and he had his attempt saved . While Lacazette plays more centrally, he does not drop as deep as Henry’s old partner Dennis Bergkamp did, in part because of the freedom and creativity of Ozil and Mkhitaryan behind the pair to do much of the creative work in the middle third.
As good as they looked together during the last 15 minutes of Sunday’s battle with Stoke, it is easy to get carried away over a few minutes of good football, especially against a side that should have been put away long before then, but something Aubameyang did at the very end of the match gave fans a small look inside the mind of their newest signing. After Lacazette was bowled over in the Stoke penalty area to earn the second Arsenal penalty of the second half, all eyes fell on Aubameyang, who was sitting on a brace in the dying minutes of the match. Having slotted the first penalty cooly past goalkeeper Jack Butland, it was expected that he would go for the hat trick, his first in an Arsenal shirt. Instead, he deferred to his new French teammate, who had just spent the last six weeks working as hard as he could to get back on the pitch to help the team following an arthroscopic procedure on his knee.
“Laca is back, and I know I scored twice, so I can let him shoot” Aubameyang said following the game, “It’s good for his confidence.”
For a player wearing the name of his deceased grandmother on the side of his head following her death last week, the gesture was an exceptionally warm one from the striker even though he played it down in a matter of fact way following the match. It shows a tremendous team spirit from the team’s record signing, who could have demanded he stay in the role that got him here in the first place. Not only are fans excited to see the two play a whole match together, but it seems as though the duo is too. Arsene Wenger has stated he is itching to play both on the same pitch at the same time, and he spoke a bit about Aubameyang’s history on the left flank at St Etienne and Borussia Dortmund. Pundits will continue to ask questions about their chemistry and play up their perceived rivalry (this is Arsenal after all), but for now, things are looking positive for the future of the Arsenal attack.
How to Diffuse a Controversy in 60 Seconds
Fans of all things controversy and Hector Bellerin’s detractors nearly got a juicy conspiracy to sink their teeth into this week after Mesut Ozil was caught on film giving his Spanish teammate a tongue lashing after the right-back played a careless pass nowhere near the creative talisman’s feet. It appeared as though Bellerin responded and was immediately rebuked by his more senior teammate, who then seemed to mime something about talking too much and then pointed toward the dressing room. Right on cue, the image flooded social media, with many laying into Bellerin for the pass and interpreting from Ozil’s reaction a much deeper issue between the two teammates. It rapidly looked like it would turn into back page gold for the local publications, but the players quickly quashed the story after the match.
Bellerin, who had obviously seen the trending video clip, posted a photo of himself in the dressing room, staring toward the door with a serious expression on his face and a joke in the caption describing the look as down to his German teammate entering the dressing room. Ozil’s own Twitter account fired back with a joke too, claiming the Spaniard only has eyes for his “precious” hair when in the dressing room. The light-hearted exchange and reciprocal “love you bro” was the perfect public response to a common occurrence on the pitch that just happened to be caught in vivid detail by cameras.
When it comes to rumours about players, especially ones that imply a lack of character on their part, fans tend to believe what they want to believe short of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. However, it gets into dangerous territory when fans start drawing conclusions about players based on their social media presence, sartorial elegance, or answers to posed questions in interviews with a view slanted by previous bias. We now are at a point where one of the most promising young players at the club, and one of the very best young right backs in the world, is drawing the ire and abuse of fans because he hasn’t progressed as fast as they would like or look the way they would prefer. However, as far as the two teammates go, it appears this incident is already well in the rearview mirror.