Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Wolves conjured up as many positives as it did negatives. 46 of the best minutes of football with Nicolas Pepe scoring a worldie and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returning from compassionate leave was met with red card ruin and three points dropped.
Heading into Saturday’s Premier League showdown with Aston Villa, the goalkeeper situation is distressing. It appears the frail Runar Alex Runarsson is set for his full Premier League debut with Bernd Leno suspended and Mat Ryan crocked.
Add to that the growing concerns over Kieran Tierney’s perennial niggles and the situation isn’t as rosy as it was seconds before half-time at Molineux.
Amid all the fitness headaches there is a welcome head throb facing Arteta, the like of which hasn’t been one for the manager to ponder over this season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back and available, thus his usual slot on the left-wing is a given, right? Right?
Nicolas Pepe has to start for Arsenal over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang against Aston Villa
The notion that the captain shouldn’t be chosen when fit has been dabbled with on occasion this season. Just as he grappled with bluntness of his own, so too did the rest. Piecing together a plan to make Arsenal more threatening in the final third coughed up a variety of personnel changes, many of which didn’t involve Nicolas Pepe.
Oh how times change.
Three Premier League matches on the spin and the closest Arsenal have come to seeing 2018/19 Pepe is staring right at them.
Consistency has been the buzzword attributed to Pepe since the moment he walked through the Emirates doors – one week he’s electric and three days later his fuse has gone. Southampton away was as good as fans have seen from the Ivorian this season, but learning from previous mistakes, any hype was reserved for the following fixture.
Manchester United came to north London and Pepe’s strength on the counter was evident. His movement on and off the ball improved vastly and two efforts at goal flew just wide of the post. Criticism for those misses was slightly reserved as he usually can’t even get into the positions to fire the trigger. Once again, progress.
Then comes the Wolves clash. Nelson Semedo was at sixes and sevens trying to keep up with his aggressive running. Most notably, his combination play was exemplary. A standout weakness in to his game that has been meticulously fine-tuned.
There is little doubt he would’ve seen the game out were it not for the dismissals, and even up until that point, he maintained a high level of performance.
Now rests a decision to be made for Saturday. A simple one.