Who Makes Up Arsenal's Best Wing Combination?
By Charlie Maywood
It is unquestionable that Mikel Arteta has a lot of attacking wealth at his disposal, particularly on the flanks with the likes of Saka, Pepe, Aubameyang, Martinelli, Willian and Nelson fighting for a starting place. So, in this article I’ll be trying to figure out who'd make up Arsenal's best wing combination.
Prior to the Gunners boxing day triumph over Chelsea, Arteta’s men looked void of any sort of spirit, creativity and ideas. However, the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe in the number 10 role has allowed for more balance across the midfield region and going forward, subsequently benefiting our wingers, allowing for far more chances to be created and most importantly more wins.
With Smith Rowe now cementing his place in the starting 11, it most definitely gives Arteta a selection headache as to who his first choice wingers should be.
I think that it is without question that 19 year old Bukayo Saka has been our best player in a dismal season. He is one of few players who can have their heads held high with just over half of the season played.
On numerous occasions he’s carried the side with his creativity, versatility and spirit earning himself 6 goals and 7 assists in all competitions this season, with notably 5 goals and 4 assists coming from his recently adopted right wing position.
Since starting on the right flank, Saka has given every reason for Arteta to keep him there and his performances in that role has most likely made him the first name on the team sheet, evident from Mikel giving the teenager the most minutes since playing there, and rightfully so. Well, it is pretty clear that Saka has made the right wing his own, therefore the question arises as to who the best option is to line up on the opposite flank.
One option Arteta has is the use of his skipper, Aubameyang, on the left. Aubameyang found plenty of success out on the left last season seeing him score 22 goals and just missing out on the golden boot to Jamie Vardy on the final day of the season.
However, there is a case to be made that last season was a bit of an anomaly for Auba with such a high conversion rate. Auba is a player who tends to thrive off an abundance of chances enabling to score so many goals (but miss a few too).
Nevertheless, the sole reason Arteta has to play Aubameyang in his less recognised role of left wing could be to allow for Lacazette to come into the squad. At the moment there is a serious case for this which has sparked controversy on social media as to why Laca isn’t getting the minutes his recent performances deserve.
Personally, I would like to see Lacazette re-introduced to the side, but Arteta is probably wary that Lacazette’s Arsenal career has seen many highs but also many low’s with the striker often going goalless for extended periods of time. Due to the Frenchman’s inconsistent form it is very likely we will see him leave this summer, meaning it wouldn’t make much sense playing Aubameyang on the left when Lacazette is most likely on his way out hindering the development of youngsters who could fill this role on the left. Furthermore, going forward I’d imagine Aubameyang will be Arteta’s sole striker hence the new 3 year deal in the summer.
Another option for Arteta is Brazillian youngster Gabriel Martinelli. The 19 year old who signed last summer has bags of potential as he displayed last season for Arsenal scoring 10 and assisting 4 in all competitions.
He made 14 appearances at left wing last season getting 5 goals and assists in the role, clearly displaying signs that he, and Arsenal, could find great success when he plays in that position. However, these impressive performances were halted due to a knee injury ruling him out for 6 months, which he has just returned from.
His first game back was against a strong City side in the Carabao Cup, in which he played left wing, got an assist and was Arsenal’s stand out performer in the 45 minutes he played. Since this display we haven’t seen much of the speedy youngster due to a couple of injuries and fears that if deployed too quickly it could cause him to be sidelined for longer which would be awful for his development.
Despite impressing on the left Martinelli has also performed exceptionally at centre-forward seeing him get 7 goals and an assist in just 9 appearances. He deserves some chances through the middle. I believe the youngster's exclusion from the starting 11 is entirely based on fear of injury and I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of him in the next few weeks and into the end of the season, whether that’s on the left or up top.
Option 3 is Nicolas Pepe. The Ivorian who arrived at the Arsenal last summer for a fee of £72m has certainly been underwhelming. Just as his time was appearing to be running out, Arteta gave him the chance to play out on the left against Southampton, a game in which he shone, grabbing a goal and helping the team to a vital victory.
This was a change from his regular position out on the right where he has played the majority of his football for Arsenal and Lille in France. A position in which he showed us glimmers of hope that he could succeed there, but ultimately not consistent enough.
There is certainly pressure on Pepe to perform when given the opportunity but he's done reasonably well lately, particularly out on the left where he got a run of games and impressed. The recent performances we’ve seen from the 25-year-old certainly tells me there is a player in there, and if Arteta can get the best out of him as he helped to do with the likes of Mharez, Sterling and Silva at City, then he could definitely be crucial to future success for the team.
Areta also experimented with the option of playing Emile Smith Rowe out on the left during our first leg tie against Benfica and it probably didn't work out as well as he hoped with our attack appearing unbalanced going forward and not much success coming down the left. In addition, the youngster would most likely be wasted out on the left as his primary position lies at the heart of our midfield, a position which has found us plenty of positives.
On the other hand, from an alternate perspective, ESR on the left vs Leeds did in fact have an impact due to the young Englishman’s great ball carrying skills against an open Leeds side. Mikel Arteta could potentially play Smith Rowe wide when Thomas Partey is unfit who like the Englishman, is a superb carrier of the ball. With Tierney coming back in the side it could be a good idea to use Smith Rowe on the left allowing him to drift out wide and cutting inside allowing tierney space to dominate the flank.
The last player to discuss is Reiss Nelson who appears to have no way into the Arsenal squad at the moment. Whilst he is a player I am fond of, I don’t see a future for him at Arsenal due to our seemingly long term plan of having Saka down the right and Martinelli and Pepe being ahead of him ability wise on the left.
Therefore a loan or potentially a transfer could be the right move for himself and the club. The same can be said for Willian who has failed to impress at Arsenal. However, Arsenal fans can have hope after he produced a fairly productive cameo against Olympiacos last night.
For now at least, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang playing centrally, our favoured wing combination should be Pepe and Saka.