It wasn’t always a straightforward fit but Unai Emery made it work and the pair struck 50 times in all competitions.
To his credit, Emery was able to utilise Aubameyang in a wide position without it having a negative impact on his output. In his first full season with the club, the former Borussia Dortmund star claimed the Golden Boot award.
The addition of Pépé is a statement. Not just that the Gunners can compete with the elite for the very best players across Europe but a statement of their intentions heading into the new season. Most expected Arsenal to sign a centre-back this summer with the defence being an area of weakness.
During the 2018/19 season, Emery’s men conceded 51 goals in the Premier League. For context, 13th-placed Newcastle United conceded fewer (48), while Wolves, Leicester City and Everton all managed to keep their goals against column under the half-century mark. In fact, of those in the top ten, only Manchester United (54) and West Ham United (55) conceded more goals.
However, with teams now commanding eye-watering fees for centre-backs, some might argue the best way to cover for a leaky backline is to simply score more goals. The arrivals of Pépé and Dani Ceballos certainly suggest this is the mindset adopted by those at the Emirates.
Arsenal were only out-scored by Manchester City and Liverpool last season. Their 73 goals in the Premier League saw them finish six clear of the fourth-most prolific team in the English top-flight, Spurs.
For a sustained title challenge, a club needs solid foundations and reliable defenders. Liverpool went from top-four hopefuls to rivalling a dominant Manchester City side for the Premier League after signing Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. It’s no coincidence. However, if you’re just looking to claim a Champions League place then perhaps attack is the best form of defence.
The minimum number of wins for a top-four place over recent seasons has been 23, Arsenal managed 21 last season. Adding to their firepower should help see that number swell and in Pépé they’ve signed a player who was involved in more than 30 Ligue 1 goals last season.
The Gunners have the potential to blow teams away.
Last term, they scored three or more in a match on nine occasions. You can expect that figure to hit double digits next season. They also managed to score four or more four times, too. Arsenal will score goals. Plenty of them. The issue, however, may be they burn too bright too quickly.
The Premier League is forever evolving. Teams tweak their tactics on an almost weekly basis and what works one month might not work the next. Emery could strike gold early on and find a way to get Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pépé firing. But such a top-heavy team won’t be able to sustain that sort of form for the entire season.
When Liverpool almost clinched the title during the 2013/14 campaign, Brendan Rodgers was lucky in the sense he didn’t work out his best system until January. They went on a 16-game unbeaten streak and won 11 on the bounce. Rodgers almost got away with having such an imbalanced side because of the timing of the system change. Eventually, it caught up with the Reds and needing to score three in a game became too much.
The timing aided their run. Post-Christmas teams are bedding in new signings, they’re in cup competitions and they’re battling for survival or European places. It’s during this time teams take fewer risks meaning it was easier for Liverpool to be Liverpool. During that 11-game winning streak, the Reds conceded 15 goals at a rate of 1.36 per 90. It just wasn’t sustainable and, eventually, Liverpool picked up just four points from their final three games of the season.
Timing is what is important in this scenario. Arsenal will fly out of the blocks. With the competition for a top-six place fiercer than ever, it’s unlike Emery will keep his £70million summer signing on the bench. It should, in theory, mean the Spanish tactician has a plan in place on how to get the best out of his attacking trio.
They’ll catch teams cold but how long will it be before they find a way to combat it and instead capitalise on Arsenal’s questionable defence?
The season will go one of two ways for the Gunners. They are either going to surprise everyone and their attack is going to fire in close to 100 goals, laying the foundations for a title challenge. Alternatively, they could start well but eventually get found out. Their porous defence could heap too much pressure on their attack and they’ll struggle during the second half of the season in their push for a top-four finish.
Emery’s challenge this year is to make sure his team doesn’t burn too bright too quickly. If he gets it right, it could be a memorable season for the Gunners. Get it wrong and the talented attack might not last beyond next summer.