After mid-week penalty heartbreak at Anfield, Arsenal will be seeking to bounce back strongly against Wolverhampton Wanderers when the sides match up on Saturday afternoon. The two are currently separated by seven places and four points in the Premier League, yet Wolves have a reputation for troubling the “top-six” sides. In this article, I look at three huge decisions that manager Unai Emery will have to make before the encounter at the Emirates.
The problem of Granit Xhaka
Arsenal’s captain is in a perilous position. Having been booed off the pitch against Crystal Palace, leading to a public row with his own fans, he has now been offered full counselling. Equally, the Swiss International has taken to social media to publish an explanation of events, asking the supporters to help ‘move forward positively together’.
The real questions, of course, remain if he will retain the captaincy, and in the more near-future, whether he will start against Wolves. Emery has great faith in Xhaka, yet for the sake of his own seemingly-fragile mental health, it may be wise to rest him for Saturday’s fixture. The captaincy is a trickier prospect- stripping him of it would likely signify a fundamental break of trust, as well as further problematise the situation. The onus is surely on the fans to back their players, and it should be especially the case if said player is the club captain. Xhaka may have his critics on the pitch, but off it, he is just as human as the next man and should be treated as such. For man-management sakes, I would leave him out of the squad for the game at the Emirates.
World-Cup winner Mesut Ozil has been effectively ostracized by Unai Emery so far this season, yet he was handed a chance to impress against Liverpool. In typical Mesut Ozil fashion, he duly delivered, finding himself involved in two of the five goals the Gunners netted. One of these, gaining the ball high up the pitch before feeding Bukayo Saka, demonstrated his ability to play in Emery’s theoretically favoured high press.
Ozil, however, is far more than just a squad player. The no.10 oozes class with every touch, and his backheel to free Ainsley Maitland-Niles was nothing short of sublime. Yet for a man with only three senior appearances to his name so far this season, he was inexplicably substituted after just sixty-five minutes. This hugely stunted Arsenal’s creative output, as they scored just one more goal and allowed Liverpool to mount a comeback.
The only sane explanation for the German’s substitution is that he is to play some part in Saturday’s game. It is clear how desperately his contribution is needed, as Arsenal look lethargic and lacking edge in the Premier League. Given the previous between player and manager, however, such a thought process may remain fantastical.
Where does Lacazette fit in?
When Arsenal revealed that Alexandre Lacazette was injured for the entirety of October, fans were unsure how to react, expecting a decrease in our attacking output. In fact, the emergence of Bukayo Saka on the left-hand side has not only been a revelation in its own right but has also allowed Aubameyang to return to his more natural central position.
Saka’s performances, notably against Eintracht Frankfurt, have made him much more difficult to drop than could have possibly been forecast. This leaves Lacazette’s starting berth in doubt, as playing a natural winger on the left-hand side has arguably left the side with greater balance. That being said, Lacazette won last season’s player of the season, and surely has to be re-integrated into the side once again. Whether Wolves will be the correct game for this, however, is a decision which rests with the manager.
Emery once again has a midfield headache going into Saturday’s game. Thanks to the varying performances of his favoured (and less so favoured) players. It will be telling to see how the Spaniard decides to deal with this situation- giving in to Ozil may be the lesser of two evils in this situation, but it is whether he is too stubborn to do so- all previous evidence points to the fact that he is.