Arsenal sneaked an away win at Huddersfield on Saturday to stay in contention for a Champions League spot as their beleaguered hosts slide towards the Championship.
In truth the Yorkshire side were unlucky to not come away with anything as Arsenal again laboured without key players. Illness meant top scorer Aubameyang was missing whilst Xhaka and Ramsey missed out through injury. The mention of illness obviously ruled out Mesut Ozil too who must be well positioned for a second career selling cough syrup and throat sweets given his propensity for sudden illness.
Huddersfield lined up in a 4-3-3 with Mooy, Puncheon and Diakhaby trying to supply goalless Kachunga upfront. Huddersfield also changed their goalkeeper as Ben Hamer played a league game for the first time since August with Lossl missing out through illness.
Arsenal were indebted to a quick start and opened the scoring after 16 minutes through a deflected Iwobi volley after a deep cross from Kolasinac. Arsenal doubled their lead on the stroke of half time when Mkhitaryan fed Maitland Niles who squared for Lacazette – easily the sharpest, most accomplished attacker on display on Saturday – to roll in from close range.
Bizarrely from there Arsenal seemed content with only a two-goal lead against the league’s bottom side and were happy to try and control the game and leave with the three points. Despite never looking that convincing Arsenal only conceded in injury time through Kolasinac, whose appealing for offside while scoring, again suggests that defending isn’t so much a second thought than a chore that needs doing whilst he wreaks havoc going forward. Chances for Bacuna and Depoitre came and went as Huddersfield remain marooned at the bottom and Arsenal recorded a first away win since November.
Huddersfield could regret their conservative approach
In a modern era where many clubs have ruined themselves spending obscene money on poor players, there is something to be admired about Huddersfield running their club properly and preparing for the Championship in advance. The only real shame in this is that Huddersfield seem a side a lot better than their position suggests. This was their 10th defeat by a one-goal margin and in this game, they had more possession, shots, passes and corners than their illustrious guests.
The late own goal was Huddersfield’s first goal in ten hours of play and extended the dubious record of Huddersfield strikers only having scored one goal between them all season.
This should be no surprise as Depoitre, Mounie and Kachunga only scored 14 between them last season so the evidence was there that an upgrade up front was needed. The Championship is an unforgiving league and bigger, richer teams than Huddersfield have gone down to not return. Given Huddersfield’s ability everywhere else bar forward positions, might they regret not gambling on a striker in either the summer or January windows? We will see on that one.
Are wing backs the way forward for Emery?
The scale of the rebuilding job at Arsenal is quickly becoming apparent as Emery battles poor decisions in the Wenger reign, a soft mentality, chaos in the boardroom and his own adaptation to the league.
The only tactical and personnel bright spot at the minute is the form of wing backs Kolasinac and Maitland Niles. Both set up a goal at the John Smith Stadium and have been in form in recent weeks in a 3-5-2 formation. Whilst neither are especially great defensively they more than make up for it with their energy, clever runs and delivery in the final third.
Emery is struggling with no Ramsey or Ozil and with Mkhitaryan back from injury but still a mercurial influence, it could be that Arsenal rely on their two wing backs for creativity and chance creation and based on the last few weeks, Kolasinac and Maitland Niles will revel in it.
Lacazette takes his chance as the main man
The Frenchman has often played second fiddle to Aubameyang this season and whilst the Gabon frontman often looks better with Lacazette playing, it is still Aubameyang who is viewed as the premium striker.
Lacazette showed on Saturday why Arsenal paid over £50 million for him and in the absence of Aubameyang, Lacazette played in the central role and his sharp runs and quick thinking were often too much for Huddersfield to deal with.
Whilst his finish was simple enough the movement and thinking beforehand were a great example of what Huddersfield lack up front. Lacazette is now on double figures in the league and with the Europa League back on the horizon, the Frenchman should get enough football to show he is more than Aubameyang’s wingman.
Mustafi an increasing liability
The German World Cup winner has been a weak link all season. In the early months, Holding and especially Sokratis were guiding Mustafi through games and papering over his cracks and Saturday was the turn of Koscielny. Koscielny looks to have put the injury woes behind him and put in another composed display and it’s a good job as Mustafi was all over the place with one first-half tackle in midfield particularly worrying.
If Emery really does only have £40 million to spend in the summer as reports suggest he would do worse than spending it all on a centre back to play with two of Holding, Sokratis and Koscielny and let the German leave the club.
Mustafi is only in the side on reputation as it stands but given how the club has been run it would be no surprise if his wages are a stumbling block in letting him go.
Diakhaby to be asset stripped?
If and when Huddersfield are to be relegated they are unlikely to be ransacked as relegated clubs often are. Billing and Mooy may find themselves with moves and it would also be no surprise to see winger Adama Diakhaby get a Premier League move.
The young Frenchman was a menace on Saturday and helped force the late own goal. He looks to have the pace, intelligence and technique to do a job at the top level and the fact he has only played 597 minutes seems a mystery given Huddersfield’s struggles this season. It would certainly be no surprise to see him in the Premier League again next year.