Ahead of Thursday night’s must-win clash at Salvia Prague, Mikel Arteta has a big decision to make: does he start Aubameyang or Lacazette?
Despite numerous attempts over the course of this season, it has become abundantly clear that the pair shouldn’t play together. That’s not to say they can’t – because we have won plenty of games in which both have started – rather that they shouldn’t.
Teams rarely, if ever, line up with two players up top these days and Arteta hasn’t shown any inclination for doing so in his time at Arsenal. That means, in order to accommodate our two strikers in the same starting XI, Aubameyang has to move to the left wing.
And while the Gabonese has scored plenty of goals from that position, the defensive burden placed on him is one that he would obviously prefer not to have. After all, if you have a £50million striker in your side, you want his energy squarely on scoring goals and not covering the left-back.
Given that Lacazette, however willing, isn’t mobile enough to play out wide himself, it only really leaves room for one of them – and that’s where the difficulty lies.
While fielding your captain and best player is the most obvious solution, we can’t ignore the fact that Lacazette is our leading scoring this season and a man in decent form. In his last five outings, the Frenchman has four goals and picked up two man-of-the-match performances in matches against Sheffield United and West Ham.
There’s no better way of keeping your place than scoring goals and nobody can argue he hasn’t done that. Although the jury is still out for some, I would also argue that Lacazette is better placed to link with the likes of Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka – youngsters who have helped turn our season around since the start of the year.
That said, Auba remains our captain and the leading goal-scorer at the club. He remains a deadly finisher and one of Europe’s leading marksmen. He is capable of the sublime and capable of dragging this team through matches with his goals in a way that Lacazette arguably is not. He isn’t enjoying a good season by any stretch of the imagination but he is a talisman, he is a focal point, and we will need him if we want to win the Europa League this season.
Having been in and out of the side over the past five matches are so, it could also be argued that he will be fresher and better able to run beyond the high-line we know Slavia will play.
For my own part, I would probably opt for Aubameyang to start on Thursday (on the proviso that he has fully recovered from his bout of flu). We will need to be full of energy, running, and attacking intent if we are to come away from Prague with the result we need and that means fielding the likes of Saka and Martinelli in support of Aubameyang who, we hope will be making the sort of runs that will give the hosts nightmares.
On the strength of performances and form alone, it is unfair to drop Lacazette but, on this occasion, I think there is too much at stake not to field the best possible team available to us. If things go against us – and that is an ever-present threat with this Arsenal side – we don’t want to feel like we left anything out there and I’d much rather we were bringing Laca on with 20 minutes to go than Aubameyang.
Ultimately, though, the decision is Arteta’s and the man he trusts to get the job done on Thursday will tell us a great deal about how he views the game and how we wants the side to play.