Henrikh Mkhitaryan has proved a frustrating player since moving to England two years ago.
The Armenian international showed flashes of his undoubted ability during his season and a half at Manchester United but was too often a peripheral figure for José Mourinho’s side.
He moved to Arsenal in January as part of the deal which saw Alexis Sánchez head to Old Trafford. The feeling was very much that he was the makeweight in the transfer – despite agent Mino Raiola insisting that wasn’t the case.
The 29-year-old playmaker again struggled to find consistency for Arsenal during the second half of the season but, perhaps, the best is yet to come.
With Unai Emery now at the helm, Mkhitaryan has a fresh start and there were signs, even in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Chelsea, which suggested he has a major role to play.
Mkhitaryan stars at Stamford Bridge
There were plenty of positives, from an attacking perspective, to take from Arsenal’s defeat at Stamford Bridge and Mkhitaryan was at the centre of many of their best moves.
The attacker gave his side hope by pulling a goal back in the first half after hitting a shot which goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga should have saved.
Mkhitaryan then turned provider as his cross from the right wing was turned in by Alex Iwobi.
The way in which the former Borussia Dortmund attacker marauded forward and created openings was very encouraging for Arsenal fans and suggests he is growing in confidence under Emery.
Mkhitaryan supplied an average of 0.45 assists per 90 in the second half of last season, far exceeding his expected assists score of 0.23 per 90.
With Emery handing him increased responsibility and placing his faith in him, the attacker can be expected to build on this and potentially increase the amount of goals he assists.
Can Mkhitaryan and Özil play together?
Emery has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation at the start of this season with Mesut Özil operating in a central attacking role and Mkhitaryan playing wider on the right.
Both players are creative outlets on the ball although they are not renowned for a willingness to track back and offer defensive qualities.
This has raised questions over whether the two players are both compatible in the same team or if one needs to be sacrificed for more solidity.
Emery certainly does not appear to have any concerns on this front as he has started the pair in both of their Premier League matches this season.
There is more scope for the duo to fit into the same team though because Arsenal have brought in holding midfielder Lucas Torreira this summer. Once he gets up to speed and into the first team, it should allow Özil and Mkhitaryan a greater freedom to attack.
Mkhitaryan can provide cutting edge
Mkhitaryan’s creativity on the ball and ability to cut open teams should prove a significant asset to Emery at Arsenal.
The attacking midfielder has provided three open play key passes per 90 minutes at the start of this season – ranking him sixth among Premier League attackers at this stage.
He has also provided one accurate pull-back per 90 – something Arsenal specialised in under Arsène Wenger – and his ability to get into wide areas before finding team-mates in the box is a useful asset.
Having had half a season to adjust to life at Arsenal, it is fair to expect Mkhitaryan to develop and improve over the course of this season.
The early evidence is encouraging even though the Gunners have been beaten twice – by champions Manchester City and the Blues.
What will Emery demand from the attacker?
Emery will know the importance of getting the most out of his attacking midfielders with Mkhitaryan yet to demonstrate a tireless work rate in the Premier League.
The midfielder was dispossessed 2.26 times per 90 last season for Arsenal and Emery will want to ensure he buys into his high pressing gameplan.
Above all, the Spaniard will be focused on extracting the most from Mkhitaryan in the final third as he is capable of offering a potent attacking threat. He showed us much in the first few games of last season Manchester United, briefly, kept pace with City.
If he can add regular goals to his game, allied to his ability to beat a man and set up chances, Arsenal will have a genuine asset on their hands – certainly not the makeweight some suggested.