Arsenal’s current season could be considered a tumultuous one as they not only witnessed the dismissal of Unai Emery after one of their worst top-flight starts to a campaign but they also find themselves at ninth place in the Premier League five months after Mikel Arteta’s appointment as their new manager.
The London giants’ hopes of automatically qualifying for the Champions League through the Europa League also appear to be over as they were eliminated from the second-tier European competition back in February.
Furthermore, the Gunners’ odds of finishing in the Premier League top four look far from promising as the top three teams look immoveable at this point in the season. This means the club will have several competitors- including Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers- for a single Champions League spot.
Unless Mikel Arteta’s men command a massive turnaround in form and results, they may be looking at yet another season in the Europa League, with there being a real possibility that they could miss out on European football altogether for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign.
Having said that, we will now take a look at two sets of Arsenal players who have affected the club’s season in the best and worst ways respectively.
Hit: Bukayo Saka
Few Premier League youngsters have earned as many plaudits as Bukayo Saka this season as the Hale End graduate has been a revelation since breaking into the first team at the Emirates.
The 18-year-old, who is naturally a winger, has been deployed as an auxiliary left-back under Mikel Arteta in the absence of injured duo Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac. He has since taken to his new but unpreferred role with ease, as his combination of speed, technique and pin-point distribution have proven to be incredibly dangerous for opponents on both ends of the pitch.
The young Englishman became the first teenager to reach double figures for assists in a single campaign with Arsenal since Cesc Fàbregas in the 2006-07 season, having provided 10 assists in all competitions for the club this term.
Saka, who also has three goals to his name this term, is as impressive at defence despite playing in an unfavoured position, putting in calculated tackles and efficiently breaking up opposition counter-attacks when he gets caught on the wrong side of the ball.
It is no wonder, then, that Arsenal are desperately trying to curtail the growing interest in Saka by prioritising a contract extension for the teenager, whose current deal with the club is set to expire in 2021.
Flop: Nicolas Pepe
Nicolas Pepe has been on the receiving end of scathing criticism after a disappointing start to life in the Premier League.
While the winger’s performances have not been as disastrous as the media and supporters have made them out to be, he has not shown enough consistency or brilliance that could justify his staggering £72 million price tag.
The Ivory Coast international has registered 6 goals and 8 assists in all competitions for Arsenal this season, which is not a horrendous statistic especially when one has to adjust to a new league and three different coaches in a single campaign.
However, his tally for Lille last season- 23 goals and 12 assists- is a clear indication that the man has more to offer and that Mikel Arteta was right to demand consistency out of him.
The 24-year-old undoubtedly possesses immense technical ability and has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the campaign. However, these moments have been few and far between, which makes him less reliable in a team that is in dire need of dependable figures.
An acclimation period is, of course, a routine phenomenon when it comes to players who make a switch to a completely different league but it is time for Pepe to prove his doubters wrong as he has all the qualities to be a hit in the Premier League.
Hit: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s value to the Arsenal squad is irrefutable as the striker continues to be the difference-maker for the club this season.
Fresh off a Premier League Golden Boot win last year, the Gabon international remains one of the most prolific strikers in the English top flight, contributing 42.5% of the Gunners’ total goal tally in the present campaign.
He is the second-highest scorer in the league this term, with 17 goals and 1 assist to his name.
In what is now a widely-circulated statistic, Arsenal would have 16 fewer points if their captain’s goals were removed, which means they would be staring relegation in the face in the absence of his exploits this season.
Aubameyang’s adaptability and versatility allow him to be deployed as either a winger or a striker, thereby increasing his side’s overall goal threat. His blistering pace, intelligent movement and efficiency in the final third make him one of the best finishers in Europe, and Arsenal are certainly aware of the fact as they are currently sweating over his contract situation at the Emirates.
Flop: David Luiz
Unai Emery brought David Luiz from Chelsea with the hopes of providing his shambolic defence with an experienced leader but the transfer has largely proven to be a failure as the centre-back has struggled to make any significant impact on the team.
The 33-year-old has been negligent, ill-disciplined and rash in his performances and began making costly errors from the very beginning of his stint with Arsenal. He is often slow to react to the opposition’s attacks and does not seem assured enough in a two-man defensive pairing.
The Brazil international, however, appears to have rediscovered some of his form upon the appointment of Mikel Arteta, with the Spaniard harnessing the defender’s ball-playing ability and improving his possession effectively.
Having said that, the former Chelsea man, who has 2 goals and 1 assist to his name this season, has simply not been the man Arsenal needed at the centre of their defence. His defensive work does not fit a player of his experience and his improvements in the last few months have provided neither a winning mentality or a fighting spirit to the team.
Hit: Bernd Leno
Bernd Leno’s influence in the Arsenal set-up cannot be overshadowed by the number of goals they have conceded this season.
The Gunners possess one of the shakiest defences in the Premier League, filled with makeshift full-backs and error-prone centre-backs, and if it wasn’t for their goalkeepers’ heroics between the sticks, they would have conceded way more than their current tally (36).
The Germany international has maintained 7 clean sheets in the Premier League and has made 104 saves, which is the second-best record in the English top flight, with only Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka having made more saves than him this season.
Leno has been a steady figure in a defensive line that is constantly changing and has routinely saved Arsenal from losing points in the present campaign. While the 28-year-old shot-stopper certainly has flaws in his distribution and command of the penalty area, his decisiveness and supreme reflexes this season make him a deserved recipient of the respect of the Gunners faithful.
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