Arsene Wenger, at his peak, was a meticulous team-builder, carefully constructing sides with a top player in every position, each one chosen to get the most out of his teammates, every man crucial to the boss’s holistic vision. But when he takes his Arsenal team to Wembley on Saturday it will be with a rather different approach: hoping that his two big new signings, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, continue to settle as well as they did last Saturday.
Their double-debut against Everton at the Emirates was a joyous demonstration of why not every team needs years of construction. Some combinations just work. Mkhitaryan ran the game, even outshining Mesut Ozil, and Aubameyang terrorised Everton with his pace and scored an exemplary goal.
Aresnal will face Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, a team that has been going under their own gradual growth under Mauricio Pochettino. Their team has been together, overperforming for years now. If derbies came down to coordination and synergy then it would be another home win for Tottenham tomorrow. But Wenger hopes that his own clever jumble of players will pay off on the pitch.
“First of all, we choose players who can have the qualities to integrate into our game,” Wenger explained at his press conference on Thursday, when asked how he could speed up the gelling process. He pointed to the fact that he has always see Mkhitaryan as an ‘Arsenal player’, because he tried to sign him from Borussia Dortmund in 2016, before he went to Manchester United instead.
“Mkhitaryan was supposed to join us two years ago, because I had identified him to have the qualities to play for us. Aubameyang is a tremendous quality of reception up front, and quality of pace. It is a bit what we need, as well. Their natural qualities suit well what we need.”
Mkhitaryan’s 18 months of Premier League experience made him an easier fit into the team but there were more question marks over Aubameyang. However Wenger has been delighted with his attitude and application so far, and expects him to recover from illness to be sharper tomorrow than he was last Saturday.
Aubameyang is very different from the poacher Alexandre Lacazette and now-departed target man Olivier Giroud but his pace in behind has reminded Wenger of another Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. “Like Thierry Henry, with his quality of runs,” Wegner said. “But it’s a bit too early to compare him to the best player ever who played here. He has played one game. But it’s a good example to follow.
“His finish was brilliant. His finishing is good. You don’t score by coincidence for so many years, if you score many goals. Even in five-a-side he’s able to score goals, so when they guys can repeat that at the top level. It means they have that quality. Running wise, he’s a good example to follow. But Thierry came a bit more to the ball as well, participated more in the game.”