Arsenal: Arteta opens up on tactical switch in defeat
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With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang recovering from malaria and Alexandre Lacazette out injured, Arsenal have a striker problem. Gunners boss Mikel Arteta selected Emile Smith-Rowe in a false nine position against Villarreal on Thursday, but the move failed to pay off.
The visitors had just two shots on target as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at the Estadio de la Cerámica, to leave Unai Emery’s men in the driving seat in the Europa League semi-final.
It is a problem that has plagued them all season, with Arteta’s side scoring the joint-lowest number of goals of all the teams currently in the top half of the Premier League.
That works out as 1.3 goals per game, a rate only marginally better than struggling Southampton, who are currently 15th.
That issue with scoring goals has prompted Arteta to push for the club to sign a new striker in the summer transfer window and allow Lacazette to depart.
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But instead of splashing out on a consistent goalscorer, who would likely cost a considerable fee, Arteta could have an in-house solution to that problem.
Nicolas Pepe scored the Gunners’ goal in their defeat to Villarreal, the latest contribution to what has been an impressive Europa League campaign for the Ivorian.
He has now been involved in more goals in the European competition than any other player, scoring six and notching four assists.
With Smith-Rowe struggling in the false nine position, it could be time for Arteta to play Pepe through the middle, as many expected he would against Emery’s side.
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Pepe is yet to play as a striker this season, though has played there three times since joining Arsenal from Lille.
He has an impressive record from those three games, scoring two goals, though his last appearance there came in October 2019.
Those three appearances brought the number of games he has played as a centre forward to 22, with Pepe scoring six times.
Though he has played well on the wing, Arteta possesses a number of options in that position, so it seems that it could be worth at least giving a chance to Pepe through the middle.
Smith-Rowe’s minimal impact on the game was something Arteta pinpointed as a key reason for his side’s poor first-half.
“One of the main reasons wasn’t that it was that after conceding the goal we disorganised ourselves in the high press,” he said.
“We were really stretched and we didn’t have the right spaces with the right people and then we were open.
“We didn’t give ourselves the chance even to get set in the final third to do what we wanted to do because we weren’t precise on the ball as well. So overall it was not the best.”
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