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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

In absence of Lacazette and Aubameyang, Arsenal forced to depend on collective

It is a sign of the turnover at the Emirates Stadium that while Arsenal scored 14 goals in the Europa League group stages, those responsible for just five remain on their books.

Alexandre Lacazette has been laid low by injury and a lack of goals in recent times. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Alexandre Lacazette has been laid low by injury and a lack of goals in recent times. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

It is a particularly Arsenalish predicament. They have spent £113 million (Dh575.2m) on strikers in the last two transfer windows. They are without the two most expensive signings in their history in the one competition that really matters now.

A supposed area of strength has been transformed into a weakness.

They resume their Europa League campaign against Ostersund on Thursday night with Danny Welbeck almost certainly leading the line. The Englishman has not started any of their last five games. He has scored just two goals in five months. He has not struck in Europe since 2014. But he will be the spearhead.

Apart from the youngsters Chuba Akpom and Eddie Nketiah, there is no one else. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the £60m man, is fit but unavailable. Alexandre Lacazette, the £53m forward, is eligible but injured, an arthroscopy on his left knee ruling him out for six weeks.

“It's a massive blow for us and we have to find a solution and nobody could predict that,” Arsene Wenger told BeIn Sports. And yet there was a perverse predictability to it all. He had had three other potential striking options but Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott were all sold in January, the latter pair helping fund the club-record buy of Aubameyang.

To compound matters, the newcomer is cup-tied from a competition that he has not played in this season. But because Borussia Dortmund dropped into the Europa League and he represented them in the Uefa Champions League, he cannot play. All of which renders it likelier he will appear in next season’s Europa League.

Because Arsenal languish in sixth. If they are to qualify for the Champions League, it will probably be via Europe, not England. If the scenario highlights the injuries and ill-fortune that have been Arsenal’s constant companions in recent years, they are also an indictment of confused thinking.

Frugal for so long, Arsenal expanded their financial horizons to buy Lacazette. His spell as a first choice lasted six months, in which time Wenger still benched him for the trips to Liverpool and Manchester City, before Aubameyang arrived in an upgrade also designed to restore morale after Sanchez’s departure.

Lacazette’s misses as a replacement in Saturday’s North London derby defeat took his recent return to one goal in 13 games, something Wenger then explained by a loss of confidence after the arrival of a rival and is now attributing to his knee problem. Whichever, Wenger said: “Lacazette is down.”

He languishes in limbo.

When he is fit again, and assuming Arsenal have not exited Europe by then, he will be in a paradoxical position. He has been diminished in importance, yet is more significant in what has now become the crucial competition. He was spared the Europa League in autumn because he was in Wenger’s strongest side.

Now he is not, but just when he was pencilled to join the pivotal players being parachuted into Thursday games, he was sidelined. "Football does unpredictable things and it's always a good opportunity for someone to step in and do well,” Wenger added.

Yet it all leaves him reliant on the often fragile fitness of Welbeck and, given his tendency to be less than prolific, on the supporting cast to deliver goals.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, third from left, is fit but unavailable for Arsenal's next game. Peter Cziborra / Reuters
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, third from left, is fit but unavailable for Arsenal's next game. Peter Cziborra / Reuters

At least Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is available, scored five times in the knockout stages for Manchester United last season. Aaron Ramsey, who delivered a hat-trick against Everton and then missed the North London derby with a groin problem, is not a long-term absentee.

And yet, for various reasons, Arsenal are stripped of the services of a host of potential scorers, weakened at a point where their domestic decline leaves them needing to show more strength in continental competition.

It is a sign of the turnover at the Emirates Stadium that while Arsenal scored 14 goals in the Europa League group stages, those responsible for just five remain on their books. Walcott and Giroud struck three times apiece, Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy once each and BATE Borisov’s Dzyanis Palyakow donated an own goal.

Three of the other five goals came from defenders. Arsenal may require that collective commitment again to compensate for striking deficiencies.

If not against Ostersund’s outsiders, then certainly when they encounter pedigree opponents.