After another disappointing result in the Premier League, Arsenal’s focus this week will turn to Thursday’s trip to face Molde in the Europa League. Despite Arsenal’s poor league form, the Gunners maintain a perfect record in the group stage. Last time out, in our home fixture against Molde, we got off to a shaky start before our quality eventually shined through and great games from Pepe and Willock led us to a 4-1 win.
For Arsenal it is a good chance to get back on the horse and experiment. We need to see a reaction from the result on the weekend, not just in terms of the result but in terms of the performance. In Europe so far is where Arsenal have been most creative this season, and many individuals will have a point to prove. For example, Joe Willock; he struggled against Leeds despite many fans demanding he gets a run of games in the Premier League. He needs to show that his last outing against Molde was no fluke, and that he could be the key to our creativity issues.
Now let’s talk about Nicolas Pepe. His antics against Leeds were shambolic and unacceptable. However, whilst I understand the Arsenal fans who would freeze him out the team for a couple of weeks to let him contemplate his mistake, this could be a good chance for him to react. The next few games are going to provide Arsenal with the final verdict on their record signing, I think. If he shows up against Molde, takes some responsibility and works his socks off for the team, he will show fans that he is worth backing. It is reminiscent of the Xhaka saga last year; the attitude towards Pepe has never been worse than it is now. Even fans that were crying out for him to start every game could never begin to justify his actions here. But it is all about how he reacts. If in his next game for Arsenal is one where he crumbles under this pressure and shows a submissive attitude towards what he owes the fans, then I have fears that his Arsenal career will be a downward spiral from his point. I’d want nothing more than to see Arteta back him and for the Ivorian to absolutely run the show on Thursday, and to build up his confidence and get fans back on his side. All this so he is ready to finally be the player we thought he could be in the Premier League. Naturally, this is a decision that only Arteta can make; Pepe should be knocking on his door and admitting to his error, being a man and begging to get back out there; that’s the attitude that will see him prevail in this make-or-break situation.
Of course, the Europa League is also a great chance for some youngster to get some minutes. And whilst I would still love to see Nketiah, Nelson, Willock and co. get a start, I think it’s time to play Aubameyang. As much as we can blame a lack of creativity for his lack of goals, we must also admit that he has been poor so far this season. I think he needs that confidence, so start him against Molde so he can captain that young bunch to positive win. More importantly, it might show us who needs to start alongside him in the league. We might see Nelson and Auba develop a brilliant link-up, for example. Like any player, he needs his confidence back and the Europa League is always a good way to do this.
With all that being said, here is how I’d line us up for this one: