Concerns over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s (£11.1m) rotation threat for Blank Gameweek 27 were allayed by the nature of Arsenal’s Europa League victory on Thursday night.
The Gunners were comfortable 3-0 winners against BATE Borisov at the Emirates Stadium ahead of Southampton’s visit to north London on Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, progression to the Europa League last 16 for Chelsea did little to ease the relationship between Maurizio Sarri and the fans.
Some young players made a case for inclusion in the Premier League side while the Blues’ Italian boss experimented with benching Jorginho (£4.7m).
How the two sides got on in their European ties is the focus of this latest Scout Notes article.
Arsenal 3-0 BATE Borisov
Goals: Shkodran Mustafi (£5.4m), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (£5.1m)
Own goals: Zakhar Volkov
Assists: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.1m), Granit Xhaka x2 (£5.2m)
Aubameyang was Arsenal’s strongest goal threat in their routine win over BATE Borisov on Thursday night as he finished the Europa League match with more shots than any other player. In fact, his six efforts on goal was more than the entire of Arsenal’s Belarussian opposition. It was his cross that forced defender Zakhar Volkov to turn the ball into his own net in the fourth minute.
The Gabonese international was forced into a 90-minute outing after Alexandre Lacazette (£9.6m) was sent off in the first leg of the last 32. That had Aubameyang owners worried that a tough second leg would lead to him being fatigued enough to miss out on Southampton’s visit to the Emirates on Sunday.
However, the nature of the game was comfortable for Arsenal. They put on an energetic display in the opening exchanges and raced into a deserved 2-0 lead after 39 minutes. Across the whole match, they managed 22 shots, 15 in the box and eight on target.
“But we also had to take precaution because if they scored they can be back in the match. Our message was if we score, carry on. If we scored two, carry on. Carry on and carry on. We needed two, three or four goals for more precaution in the 90 minutes.” – Unai Emery
That domination will have helped Aubameyang earn something of an ‘effective rest’, where he played the majority of a game but did not need to exert himself to get the result. He seems in a strong position to continue featuring from the beginning in the Premier League, as he played the entirety of the festive programme.
That said, Aubameyang owners should not be too worried if he does not start against Southampton as Emery is fond of making half-time substitutions. The Spaniard has made more than any other Premier League manager this season, often to good effect. In fact, as of last night’s European win, Arsenal substitutes have scored more goals in all competitions than any other top-flight side this season (13). So if Aubameyang does start on the bench in Blank Gameweek 27, he still has a good chance of coming on and getting points. Indeed, his last Premier League benching was away at Fulham in Gameweek 9, in which he came on and scored a brace.
Mesut Özil (£7.9m) earned praise for his performance, lining up in a number 10 role in a 4-2-3-1 formation. No midfielder in the match bettered his passing accuracy of 89%, and there have already been calls for the German to be involved more often in the first team.
“Well. I said to him carry on, be available like today, like the last two weeks for continuing training and to continue helping us. Today I am happy, it was like what we want from him. If he is available like the last two weeks, we are going to play a lot of matches. Maybe sometimes we need him to start, maybe he can be on the bench because we have other players to help us. But his experience like today is good. His quality and capacity and skills in the combinations with some players is good, like Matteo (Guendouzi), with Mkhi(taryan), with (Alex) Iwobi. We need every player and today we played Mesut. It was important and positive.” – Unai Emery
Alex Iwobi (£5.4m) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£6.7m) were handed the wider berths in attacking midfield and also impressed against BATE with three efforts on goal each. The former has been statistically Arsenal’s best midfielder in FPL over the last four Gameweeks and nearly put them 1-0 up early-on with a header.
Also matching those two midfielders for shots on goal was Granit Xhaka (£5.2m), who also emerged with two assists. Despite Arsenal’s dominance in open play, two of their goals came from set pieces, taken by Xhaka. While it was an impressive performance from him, expecting him to follow such a performance up in the Premier League might be a stretch. His pair of assists on Thursday night was the first time he managed that many in a
Emery continues to be impressed by the development being made by young deep midfielder Matteo Guendouzi (£4.4m), although still wants more from him.
“His development is like we want. He has a big ambition, big quality. Sometimes we need more quality with him and sometimes we need for him to be more stronger in midfield. But his development with us is very important and he’s playing with big consistency and I think he is improving a lot. His quality is very impressive for us.” – Unai Emery
Finally, there were further developments in Arsenal’s ongoing troubles with defensive injuries this season. Laurent Koscielny (£5.4m) was forced off as a precaution in the second half, although Emery sounded initially positive. That allowed Sokratis Papastathopoulos (£5.1m) to come on and get the final goal of the game.
“I think it’s (a) precaution. We are going to wait until tomorrow. I hope he is OK for Sunday or the next week. It’s muscular. He started to feel not good. I think it’s not bad, it’s only (a) precaution because there was the possibility if he carried on it can be worse.” – Unai Emery
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Monreal, Koscielny (Sokratis 56′), Mustafi, Lichtsteiner; Xhaka, Guendouzi (Torreira 64′); Iwobi, Özil, Mkhitaryan (Suárez 78′); Aubameyang.
Chelsea 3-0 Malmö FF
Goals: Olivier Giroud (£7.7m), Ross Barkley (£5.1m), Callum Hudson-Odoi (£4.2m)
Assists: Willian x2 (£7.2m), Emerson (£5.2m)
Callum Hudson-Odoi (£4.2m) was the Europa League star once again for Chelsea as they beat Malmö FF 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. He was the bright spark for the Blues, exciting the fans even in a dull first half with his skill and trickery. His late goal was deserved after a decent performance and he now has three strikes and three assists in his last six starts for Chelsea in all competitions.
The announcement of his name in the starting XI caused a great cheer from the Chelsea fans before kick-off and many are hoping that his string of consistent performances will afford him more starts in the first team, with the League Cup final and a tough Premier League midweek visit of Spurs midweek.
As was hoped at the start of the season, having a £4.2m midfielder starting regularly for a side like Chelsea in a very advanced position is the stuff of FPL dreams. However, Sarri has, once again, poured cold water on any suggestions that Hudson-Odoi will be a Fantasy asset any time soon, insisting that he is playing more than enough football for someone his age.
“You must understand in the same position we have Pedro, Willian, Hazard, it’s not easy for a young player to play with consistency with these team-mates. I want to remember you that Callum played 14 matches, there isn’t in England another player with 14 matches in the first team. I think we are using him in the right way. The 20 matches in this season will become 30 in the next, then 40 in two years. I think also that the club must decide because if I am the club and want Callum on the pitch with consistency, I must sell another winger or the manager is in trouble.” – Maurizio Sarri
Interestingly, the local press have actually picked fault with Sarri’s comments on Hudson-Odoi’s game-time. They were able to point to two young English players who have been afforded more game-time than the Chelsea man this season. Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon (£6.0m), the same age as Hudson-Odoi, has played 26 matches in all competitions this season, while Manchester City’s 18-year-old Phil Foden (£4.5m) has played in 20.
There was much made ahead of kick-off of the fact that Jorginho, much maligned in recent weeks, was named on the bench. Matteo Kovačić (£5.7m) filled in for the Italian but he himself was put under severe pressure early in the second half. Thay in and of itself does not bode well for Chelsea if even Swedish opposition Malmö were able to figure out the current issues with ‘Sarri-ball’.
Chelsea struggled in particular in the first 30 minutes before finding some rhythm. They dominated possession but produced little, the services of goalkeeper Johan Dahlin not particularly required in the first 45 minutes. In the end, the score-line flattered Chelsea a little. Sarri tried to draw a connection between this and Jorginho’s absence, explaining it as a reason for their disjointedness in the first half. Bad news for anyone hoping the midfielder’s benching was a sign that Sarri might be prepared to change his thinking on Chelsea’s current set-up. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was certainly not improved by the result as there were boos from the home support when Jorginho was introduced for Barkley in the 76th minute
“I think in the first 30 minutes we understood why Jorginho is very important for our team. We were in trouble to exit from our half on pressing and with Jorginho it’s easier. I hope that our fans will be able to understand that he is very important.” – Maurizio Sarri
Willian (£7.2m) was a standout player for Chelsea as he grabbed two assists against Malmö. If he can carry that form into the Premier League, having created a high number of chances this season, and start regularly, he could be considered for Chelsea’s involvement in the upcoming Blank Gameweeks.
Aside from that, it was largely the younger players who impressed for Chelsea on Thursday night. Emerson (£5.2m) came in for Marcos Alonso (£6.5m) and won the free-kick that Ross Barkley (£5.1m) converted.
“I think that Hudson-Odoi played very well, but I think also Christensen & Emerson played very well, so I am very happy with these three players. I think that they are ready to play with consistency.” – Maurizio Sarri
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£5.2m) continues to overcome some issues he has had with his back, playing the last 15 minutes against Malmö.
“We had a lot of problems with Loftus-Cheek in the last few months. He started training only two days ago after a long period of big problems with his back. I think that he can improve a lot, also Callum of course because he is 18 so he can improve a lot.” – Maurizio Sarri
Meanwhile, Sarri admitted that he is still trying to work out where to play Ethan Ampadu (£4.4m). Even since his days at Exeter City, the youngster has been capable of playing a number of positions in defence and midfield. Priced at £4.4m and often involved in the cup competitions, he is definitely one to watch for the future.
“We needed to find the right position on the pitch for Ampadu. We are trying him as a midfielder, centre back, full back, but we need to have a clear idea because from now until the end of the season we must decide, otherwise for him it’s difficult to improve.” – Maurizio Sarri
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Caballero; Emerson, Christensen, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta (Ampadu 79′); Barkley (Jorginho 76′), Kovačić, Kanté (Loftus-Cheek 76′); Willian, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi.
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