Unai Emery enjoying challenge of solving Arsenal's attacking puzzle

James Benge
Getty Images

Building a functioning attack out of Arsenal’s intriguing mismatch of forwards would be enough to give any manager sleepless nights. Luckily for the Gunners, Unai Emery is relishing the challenge of fitting his frontline together.

Arsenal’s strike force is blessed with exceptional talent but its makeup belies the cobbling together that passed for squad building in north London prior to Emery’s appointment.

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Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez moved on in January to be replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Both former Borussia Dortmund players have impressed since their arrival but neither Arsene Wenger nor Emery quite seem to have worked out how to integrate them with the options already in place at the Emirates.

Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are both £50million No.9s whose quality demands they be played through the middle whilst Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey all seem to covet the No.10 spot above all else, some more directly than others.

The sales of Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were the right move for club and player but, with Reiss Nelson out on loan at Hoffenheim, there is no-one in the squad who looks like he might bring pace and direct running to wide areas.

For the time being Emery is having to cope as best he can, meaning marquee names are having to put in a shift in unfamiliar roles.

With Lacazette and Ramsey playing central roles in the regular XI, Ozil and Aubameyang have been asked to fill in on the flanks. They have not disgraced themselves but nor does it feel like the head coach has yet found a system that makes his collection of attackers more than the sum of their parts.

“I enjoy it when we win,” he said. “I’m very happy to have these strikers.”


Prior to Thursday’s 4-2 win over Vorskla Poltava, Arsenal had had nine different scorers in their first five games but none of them had found the net more than once. Aubameyang ended that streak with a fine brace but more must come from him in the Premier League, where he has been notably wasteful.

“Aubameyang needs confidence and to continue to find his best performance,” Emery said. “I also have a lot of confidence in Lacazette and also maybe [Danny] Welbeck and [Eddie] Nketiah.

“They’re our strikers and I’m going to work with them and give them my confidence and the best possibilities in the attacking moment to score.”

If Emery is pleased at one end of the pitch he seemed noticeably less impressed with his side’s defensive display in their Europa League opener.

Arsenal had cruised into a 4-0 lead and, though there was little debutant Bernd Leno could do about either goal, and Emery was disappointed at the absence of “a mentality of not conceding easy chances”.

“I’m confident with our defensive players but also we’re working tactically to be more compact, not just the defenders but the whole team,” Emery said. “This process needs time but we need to improve.”


Emery named a notably strong side against Vorskla, starting Aubameyang and giving Ozil time off the bench, and has indicated he will not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by effectively running two separate teams for European and domestic competitions, as Wenger did for much of last season.

He said: “That’s not my first idea. I want to find the best performance each match. Every competition for us is very important.

"We need 20-22 players to find the best performances and we are going to think of the best team for each game, doing the right mix to give the players minutes and confidence."