It is becoming an increasingly familiar tactical tweak from Mikel Arteta. Arsenal struggle for goals in the first half of a game so Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moves infield.
Bukayo Saka pushes up to operate in the vacant left wing role, Granit Xhaka shuffles across but Arsenal effectively operate with something like a lop-sided 3-2-1-4 in possession with a huge burden placed on Saka, who must hurry back whenever his opponents get the ball.
It rather feels like quite a lot of effort to go to when Arteta could simply start his talismanic striker and goalscorer supreme in his natural role. It is a position that he has not started in since the change of management, according to Wyscout tracking data he had played 122 minutes through the middle before today’s 1-0 win over West Ham United.
Wide on the left he has 709.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s minutes by position in the Premier League since Mikel Arteta’s appointment
On this occasion Arsenal got away with stationing Aubameyang wide on the left as two of the players who regularly start infield – Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette – combined for a winner even if it was one that came about through the captain’s marauding infield.
It was another game that saw Aubameyang move ever further infield in the pursuit of goals and opportunities. In the first half few came his way, the odd teasing cross to the back post that he couldn’t quite reach but not a single moment that would lead to him taking a shot on goal.
He only managed one of them, the drive that looped off Declan Rice and into Ozil’s path.
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The man tasked with playing at centre forward instead did not necessarily set the world alight. That in itself is something of a rarity for Eddie Nketiah at the moment and it is right that Arteta is giving him game time at the top level – his goals justify every opportunity he gets.
Issa Diop and Angelo Ogbonna would have been challenging opponents for anyone. Their robust defence continually forced Nketiah backwards and their reading of the game was sufficient to nullify any chances in behind.
When the ball did come to Nketiah it tended to bounce off him and back to West Ham. Aubameyang is little better as a hold-up player but he is less easily buffeted out of possession.
Arteta’s backing for Nketiah and Lacazette, both of whom earned praise in his post-match press conference, is admirable but this was a must-win match for Arsenal. It felt like the sort of game where you start by putting your best player in his best position and build from there.
Arteta would point to necessity as being the mother of this peculiar invention. When asked whether he viewed Aubameyang and Gabriel Martinelli as options through the middle he said: “They are but with the squad balance we have at the moment to play on that position on…