Just before Arteta resumed at the Emirates, one could have made a list of challenges that any newly-hired coach would have had to face:
• A pathetic, crumbling defence.
• An imbalanced, low-intelligence midfield.
And a lesser heralded issue:
• A rusty and uninspiring attack.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham have all scored at least 7 more goals this season despite having a less exciting frontal attack on paper. It did not help that Unai Emery didn’t field an unchanged XI once over two matches throughout this season; it did not help that the best playmaker on the team was often left out of the starting eleven; it did not help that Nicolas Pépé was inconsistent; it did not help that Lacazette got a month’s injury layoff; and it certainly did not help that Arsenal’s first choice fullbacks were not always available, but there is no excuse, no good explanation for Arsenal scoring only one more goal than the likes of Aston Villa.
Our defense has not just been horrible — the front line has been woeful, too. Alexandre Lacazette, the second most expensive striker in the league, simply does not score away from home. Nicolas Pepe has managed a measly 3 goals so far. And it is damning that none of the next highest goalscorers in the team after Aubameyang are on more than 5 goals.
Mikel Arteta has improved things since his appointment. Everything and everyone simply looks better. The defence don’t look so nervous anymore. The midfield has regained competency and a semblance of control. But the attack has only received a marginal improvement. That’s not to say Arteta’s Arsenal are not creating chances — far from it. It’s just that out of the many chances created so far, only Aubameyang has been able to regularly dispatch them into the net, scoring half of all 6 goals of the Arteta tenure.
At Selhurst Park, the talismanic forward did what he does best on a football pitch: put one past the goalkeeper. Then he mistimed a challenge and got sent off for it. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, the striker who is responsible for half of Arsenal’s goals in the Premier League this season, will miss three consecutive game, including the away fixture at Stamford Bridge. There is your challenge.
With Aubameyang gone, either one of Nelson, Martinelli or Bukayo Saka will join the lineup against Sheffield United next weekend with Martinelli looking very likely, given his little gametime and goalscoring record. In any case, all eyes will deservedly be on the more senior players, especially Lacazette, Pepe and Mesut Ozil to rise up to the challenge and come up with the goods.
As Arteta emphasized in his presser on Arsenal.com, “Players have to step up. You know, when one of your big players is not there, they have to take responsibility… It’s time to talk on the pitch, not outside. You come on there, you make the impact that he made and you assure me that you are as good as him or even better. You have the chance.”
A challenge is a chance, too.