The Big Match

Dortmund a factor in Gunners' chances

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring the team's fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Everton on Feb 3, 2018.
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring the team's fourth goal during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Everton on Feb 3, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Aubameyang's pedigree and his partnership with Mkhitaryan can spell trouble for Spurs

Derbies tend to be a tale of two clubs. This also involves a third, an unlikely participant in a local rivalry hundreds of miles away.

When Arsenal beat Tottenham 2-0 in November, that represented the old Arsenal; it was arguably Alexis Sanchez's last outstanding performance in a Gunners shirt.

This is the new Arsenal, one shaped by Borussia Dortmund.

Spurs overcame the Bundesliga side twice in this season's Champions League. Rewind two seasons, however, and they were destroyed 5-1 on aggregate by Dortmund in the Europa League.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored four of those goals. Now he has been reunited with the key component in his supply line, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Between them, they scored 62 goals in their last season together in Germany.

Their first outing together in an Arsenal shirt produced one Aubameyang goal, three Mkhitaryan assists, an Aaron Ramsey hat-trick and a 5-1 demolition of Everton. Something similarly catalytic and emphatic may be required in a reunion if Arsenal are to secure a top-four finish.

If the January signings are mood changers, they can also alter Arsenal's style of play. Aubameyang brings more raw speed to the attack than anyone since Thierry Henry, barring Theo Walcott's outings as a striker. Tottenham often adopt a high defensive line but that will bring particular risks today .

Aubameyang's pace has the by-product of opening up more space behind him for attacking midfielders; Mesut Ozil and Mkhitaryan relished it last week.

It was notable that Arsene Wenger started the Armenian in his Dortmund role on the right - no wonder, as he recorded an improbable 32 assists in his last season in Germany - but it was significant how he roamed infield.

Much like Aubameyang, he could be a newcomer who revives an old strategy: Wenger used to often field two No. 10s but with one, such as Robert Pires or Santi Cazorla, nominally in a wider role.

If Ramsey, as a fine finisher, becomes the third member of a triumvirate charged with ensuring Sanchez is not missed, Wenger may want to field a third central midfielder or an extra centre-back to allow him licence to roam. Because while Arsenal's attack looks awesome, defensive issues remain.

The lack of a world-class defensive midfielder could be costly against Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. So, too, a frailty on their travels. Arsenal have lost leads in their last two away games, defeats at Bournemouth and Swansea.

Fresh from taking four points off Manchester United and Liverpool, Tottenham are re-establishing a reputation as big-game hunters. Arsenal, on the other hand, have only a solitary point from their last seven visits to top-six rivals.

Perhaps Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan will make offence Arsenal's best form of defence.

With their top-four hopes fading, they need a change of personnel to bring a shift in fortunes.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2018, with the headline 'Dortmund a factor in Gunners' chances'. Print Edition | Subscribe