Arsenal: Stars’ similarity can either dazzle or dim

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on December 26, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on December 26, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

The biggest news in the world of Arsenal centres around the speculated arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The former Dortmund duo is similar to two of Arsenal’s current stars; their arrival could help or hurt the team dynamic.

All signs point to an imminent revolution at Arsenal football club. Alexis Sanchez is on his way to becoming the highest paid player in the Premier League and Manchester United’s new number 7. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is coming the other way. Pierre-Emerick Auabameyang will, reportedly, not be far behind.

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With Sanchez’s departing from North London, the Gunners had to make the best out of a bad situation. Were they panicking or were they working efficiently and effectively to right the recent wrongs that had dug them this ungodly hole in the first place?

In reality, this January transfer window is probably equal parts panic and shrewd business. Prior to the start of the season, Alexis could have been sold to Manchester City for £60 million, but poor planning resulted in the type of transfer mess that fans have come accustomed to.

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If, however, Aubameyang and  Mkhitaryan arrive, two of Sven Mislintat’s — it would be foolish to underestimate the influence that the new Head of Recruitment has had on the club’s recent business — best Dortmund success stories, then the German would have added a tinge of control to the panic. However, while these two players clearly add quality to the collective attack, they also have very similar qualities and age profiles to Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil.

Getting the best out of these four players could mean the difference between Arsenal obtaining Champions League football or not. Arsene Wenger will hope that Mkhitaryan and Aubemyang will be able to forge a similar partnership to the one that helped them set Germany alight. At the same time, Ozil and Lacazette are still working on their connection the pitch. A gorgeous flowing goal against Crystal Palace punctuated the snapping of Lacazette’s goal drought is evidence that the duo can elevate the team. But these moments have been fleeting and inconsistent.

Parallels between Mkhitaryan and Ozil are plain to see. Both players are incredible talents who rely on vision, intelligence and guile to control space and create scoring opportunities for their teammates. Mkhitaryan may have a slightly keener eye for goal but Ozil exists on a plane of skill clearly above the Armenian playmaker. That is not to say that Mkhitaryan is a bad player, as some may suggest. Simply that Ozil is a step above, which is the case with most attacking players in world football today. While Mkhitaryan hasn’t replicated his Dortmund form in Manchester, he is hardly the first attacking talent to be shunned by Jose Mourinho. Two of the most likely candidates for PFA Player of the Year are former Mourinho castaways, for example.

Yet, both playmakers have had questions about their defensive contribution and mindset. Ozil’s commitment to the club in terms of his body language and production on the pitch has quelled much of the talk about his application in big games, but to add another subtle playmaker into the mix may throw the team’s balance out of whack. The manager will have to construct a system where both players can blossom, and that could take some time. Patience will be important.

Fans have seen how absent of ideas Arsenal can be without Ozil. His class allows players like Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi to really shine. With Mkhitaryan joining the fray, the Gunners will have another playmaker who can take the pressure off of Ozil’s shoulders and make the game easier for the rest of the team. Wenger has a challenge ahead of him: formulating a solid platform for the two to create, finding a balance to the central axis of the team that could very easily slip one way or the other.

The arrival of Aubemyang is the most exciting and possibly the most disruptive of the two. While the deal for the Gabonese superstar is not yet officially done, most reports point towards the transfer going through. With the striker joining the Arsenal ranks, summer signing Lacazette will surely have his position altered.

Either the Frenchman will be relegated to the bench, shifted out wide, or placed in a strike partnership. Lacazette’s recent goal drought has been well documented but probably overblown. The new striker got off to a hot start in England, scoring regularly, especially at home. However, once the club went through a rough patch during the festive period, Lacazette’s form took the biggest hit. A poorly functioning Arsenal side was unable to create chances and the goals dried up.

With Aubemyang in the team, one of two things could happen in relation to Lacazette: Either he becomes an understudy, resigned to a reserve role very much like his compatriot had done with his arrival, or he finds a way to function with the reigning African Player of the Year, perhaps sacrificing his most ideal position as the lone, leading centre-forward.

If Wenger elects to revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation, Lacazette may be able to take up Alexis’ old position on the left wing. While he does not have the pace of Aubameyang, he does possess the close control and link-up ability to play deeper on the pitch. If he is given license to cut inside and get into the penalty box, Lacazette has the type of finishing to somewhat replicate the Chilean’s goal output. With  Aubameyang stretching defenses with his pace, Lacazette might actually find more space to cause problems.

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Arsenal is heading into a new chapter and with Ozil, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang. The North Londoners now have two subtle and crafty playmakers, as well as two strikers who rely on movement and service. It will be up to Wenger to cultivate and balance these weapons.