Arsenal’s win over Huddersfield on Saturday was not pretty, but it was enough to ensure the Gunners kept up pressure in the chase for the top four. Now, with the next Premier League game not for two weeks and the club out of the FA Cup, the club must turn their attention to the Europa League.
The clubs next two fixtures will be early kick offs in the Europa League (17:55 UK Time) against BATE Borisov, starting with the away leg this Thursday. Although there was an initial improvement in away form when Unai Emery arrived, this has not lasted with the club struggling to perform on the road of late. It will be key that the Gunners gain a positive result to take back to the Emirates, but who will be key to the clubs success in this tournament?
Swiss international Granit Xhaka (£1.84) has been absent in the last couple of league games and subsequently the team has seriously lacked control in the game. He has some weaknesses, but his value to the team, in my opinion, far outweighs these. Xhaka will be a vital part of helping the team establish dominance over their opponents from deep in this competition. If you remember back to last season, Xhaka was exceptional in both legs against AC Milan at doing just this.
Arsenal’s defence hasn’t looked good all season but it has certainly performed better when Sokratis (£0.94) has been in the team. Look at the FA Cup game where Arsenal were dominating until the Greek defender limped off injured, then it all fell apart. For the Europa League Arsenal need to ensure they have a strong backline and for me that should include Laurent Koscielny (£1.43) alongside Sokratis as the first choice defensive pairing.
Lots will talk about Lacazette and Aubameyang as Arsenal’s biggest attacking threats and quite rightly, but with Mesut Ozil (£2.80) out of favour, Alex Iwobi (£1.46) will need to continue his improvement this season and take his game to the next level to help deliver silverware for the club. Without Iwobi and other attacking midfielders Lacazette (£3.12) and Aubameyang (£4.73) will not receive the service they need to score the vital goals. Iwobi must ensure his end product is perfected to help the team be as efficient as possible in attack. The Nigerian’s pace, braveness and unpredictability give him great qualities to make the difference in knockout matches.
Following four points from two tricky looking fixtures, Arsenal are within touching distance of the top four and showing real improvements under new boss Unai Emery.
North London is red again.
What a performance it was in Emery’s first North London derby at the weekend. The intensity and passion shown from the players was something the fans have been waiting for years to re-emerge. It was a derby to remember for both the neutral and of course Arsenal fans, with high quality football and emotion on show throughout.
Strength in depth was on display in this game as was Emery’s ability to be bold and make two half-time changes. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi were hooked for Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey, with the substitutes having a significant impact on the result of the game. We also saw a shift to a 3-4-1-2 formation, allowing Aubameyang and Lacazette to combine in attack, with lethal consequences. Arsenal haven’t been prolific in the transfer market in recent years, but Aubameyang and Lacazette were hefty purchases at £50million each and so far they are proving that the investment was worthwhile.
Whilst both have good goal returns, their ability to make the difference in the big games was doubted before this fixture and it was great to see them at their best when it mattered.
20 unbeaten despite Old Trafford and Mourinho.
Arsenal fans feared the unbeaten run would come to an end when the team travelled to Old Trafford, so often a terrible venue for the club. Despite this, and the presence of Jose Mourinho, the Gunners remained unbeaten, taking the run to 20.
Arsenal will be upset that they didn’t take all three points after leading twice and conceding two avoidable goals. The decisions were also leaning in the favour of United, most crucially for Anthony Martial’s equaliser, with Ander Herrera offside in the build-up.
The young duo of Lucas Torreira (22) and Matteo Guendouzi (19) were mightily impressive in the heart of midfield, not intimidated at all by the environment or opposition.
Whilst there were many positives, the same weaknesses were clear. The defence was again the issue for Arsenal, conceding four goals in the last two outings. Rob Holding’s injury may force the club into the market, but even when fit, it’s clear that a world class defender needs to be added to the squad to take the team to the next level.
Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan again struggled, highlighting the clubs lack of end product and quality in wide areas, whilst Aubameyang did not look comfortable on the left after Alexandre Lacazette was introduced.
There’s plenty of positives for Arsenal to take from recent performances and the marked improvements in big games is certainly great to see as a fan.
Emery already eyeing summer changes to the squad.
We might not yet be one year into Unai Emery’s spell at Arsenal, but already we are seeing some long-term clues as to how the Spaniard may be looking to shape his squad next summer. These clues may be worth considering for Football Index traders with long-term strategies as Emery looks to bring players in that align with his style of play.
The club appear to have confirmed that Danny Welbeck will not be offered a new deal upon conclusion of his current contract, which ends at the end of the season. His latest injury is the third long-term setback the Englishman has encountered since joining the Gunners, it is a sad way for his time at the club to come to an end, but a sensible decision from the club, led by the head rather than the heart.
His departure opens the door for a wide forward to join. The most heavily linked in this position to date is Lille’s Nicolas Pepe. The 23-year-old predominantly plays as a right winger and has scored 10 and assisted 5 in 16 appearances so far this season. His final ball is a particular strength, with his ability to pick a pass and find the back of the net his best attributes. This is something Arsenal’s current wide players (Mkhitaryan and Iwobi) often lack.
Despite his recent upturn in form, it seems Emery and the club are still not keen to hand Aaron Ramsey a new contract, so the Welshman is also set to part ways in the summer. It will be interesting to see how he is replaced, with Sevilla’s Ever Banega heavily linked. Emery is a known admirer of the Argentinean midfielder who consistently scores highly on match day rankings on the Index – certainly one to watch as the transfer period approaches. There’s also some question marks over Mesut Ozil’s future under Emery, so could Banega be the new conductor at the Emirates?
Stephan Lichtsteiner was the first signing under Emery, but set to turn 35 in January, he only signed a one-year deal at the club and so far there is no indication that this will be extended. This could see the club dip into the market for an alternative to Hector Bellerin on the right hand side. Monaco’s Djibril Sidibé has been regularly linked in the past and the French clubs poor start to the season may see the player push for a move in the Gunners come calling again.
Nacho Monreal’s contract is also set to expire in the summer. Emery may wish keep Monreal as a versatile defensive option, especially with the Spaniard’s ability to play as a central defender in a back five. If not, it could open the door to a new left back arriving, with the Gunners still unconvincing in that position.
Petr Cech is another who may be let go in the summer with his deal expiring and Bernd Leno now taking the number one spot. The Gunners would benefit with keeping Cech’s experience on and off the field at the club, but the 36-year-old may be looking for regular minutes considering his age. Should Cech be allowed to leave, it may present a chance for Emiliano Martinez or Matt Macey to move up the pecking order – saving the club some money to invest in other areas.
No matter how Arsenal perform this season, you can expect Emery to make some significant changes to his squad in the summer now that he has had some time to work with the current crop.
Reiss Nelson has exploded onto the scene this season following a string of brilliant performances for Hoffenheim. This has seen his price sky rocket on the Index – so traders
will be wondering, who could be the next Arsenal player to rise like Nelson when exposed to more regular first team football.
You’ve probably already heard about Smith-Rowe, he’s moved into the first team picture
since Unai Emery took over, and has looked impressive in his brief game time during Europa League games this season. With Aaron Ramsey set to leave the club either in January or at the end of the season, Smith-Rowe will probably have more opportunities to grab the attention of Emery, the fans and the media. Still just 18, the sky is the limit for Emile and he will certainly take inspiration from Nelson’s recent form.
Aged just 19, Nketiah is a young English forward with a huge amount of potential.
Unfortunately, he has had to compete with Lacazette, Aubameyang and Welbeck so far this season. Welbeck’s injury may present opportunity for Nketiah, especially in the final Europa League group games. If he can get on the scoresheet when given the opportunity, expect hype to follow.
Maitland-Niles is an interesting one. Aged 21, injuries have perhaps restricted his progress so far, but there is clearly a lot of talent there. Now back fit, a few good performances over the festive period could see his price move significantly, especially if he starts to get mentioned in the national team picture. It’ll be interesting to see where Emery deploys the Englishman. He’s very versatile, able to play as a full back, winger or central midfielder. One to watch.
He’s not English so won’t get the same media attention, but there’s still plenty of room for
growth in Alex Iwobi’s price in my opinion. Now a regular for club and country, the 22-year-old currently costs less than £2. If he can develop his end product then Iwobi’s price could seriously sky rocket. Emery is clearly a fan of Iwobi and there’s been a marked improvement in his performance since the Spaniard took charge. With a new contract signed in the summer, Iwobi will have the time and space to continue to make steps forward.
Arsenal made it 10 wins on the bounce with an impressive display against Leicester City on Monday night. The Gunners scored a few brilliant goals, with German outcast Mesut Ozil at the heart of all three.
With a goal, an assist and a pre-assist to his name, captain on the night, Ozil ran the show and picked up Match Day Dividends for the day on the Index. He also posted two impressive Media scores on Monday and Tuesday, only pipped by Cristiano Ronaldo on both occasions.
Ozil has already scored four goals for Arsenal this season and appears to be rising to the challenge posed to him by Unai Emery to take his game to the next level. Monday night showed he also has much-needed leadership qualities to help take the club forward.
He wasn’t the only one to impress on Monday though – Alex Iwobi delivered another imposing performance. Iwobi is particularly useful in transitioning midfield to attack and has gone from strength to strength this season, clearly thriving under the new manager.
He still looks great value on the Index at £2.05 when you compare him to other young players who start regularly for clubs of a similar size. If the 22-year-old can add more goals to his game then you can expect his price to rise a lot over the next 12 months.
There are no signs of the Gunners running out of steam any time soon either, with performances getting better by the week, and Emery carefully tweaking his team every game to ensure freshness is maintained.
One player who has been on fire and will be fresh for the game against Sporting Lisbon tonight is Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese international has been on the bench for Arsenal’s last two games, but still scored four goals. Considering he should be fresh, you would expect him to start and probably score in Lisbon.
Arsenal defensive situation presents another opportunity in the market. Laurent Koscielny is nearing a return from injury and will surely feature regularly when fully fit. Sokratis is also currently injured, but picked up a Treble Match Day win in his last Europa League outing. Young Rob Holding has impressed in his absence, so who will eventually be Emery’s preferred back four? Will Skhodran Mustafi drop out? It’s certainly one to watch for Arsenal fans and traders