Unai Emery Tells Arsenal Strikers to 'Accept the Decision' About Squad Rotation

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2019

Arsenal's Spanish head coach Unai Emery gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium in London, on March 2, 2019. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /         (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Arsenal strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette had better get used to squad rotation, according to head coach Unai Emery.

The Spaniard described how he intends to continue swapping around his star strikers during the remainder of the season after Saturday's 1-1 draw away to north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

Lacazette started the match but was substituted for club-record signing Aubameyang 11 minutes into the second half. Emery addressed Lacazette's reaction to the change and offered a warning to both strikers, per Jonathan Liew of The Independent: "They need to accept the decision. Because I am finding the best decision for the team, and we are playing a lot of matches. For example, this match, it is not possible to play both."

The idea the Gunners can't get both of their big-money strikers on the pitch at once is likely a source of frustration for many fans. The are both prolific and have made no secret about how much they enjoy playing together.

Lacazette made way for Aubameyang during the second half vs. Spurs.
Lacazette made way for Aubameyang during the second half vs. Spurs.Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Yet there is some logic to Emery's approach, even if his decisions aren't always popular. Former Arsenal centre-back Martin Keown was particularly scathing about the choice to leave Aubameyang on the bench at Wembley Stadium.

Speaking on BT Sport (h/t Lewis Winter of the Daily Express), Keown expressed his disappointment and surprise: "Aubameyang, he's scored 29 goals in 50 games. That's more than (Thierry) Henry could manage, that's how good this player is. Would you have Henry sitting on the bench in a north London derby? No you wouldn't."

Keown appeared to be vindicated when Lacazette missed two glorious chances to score before being hauled off. However, the Frenchman had made valuable contributions despite his profligacy, most notably the assist for Aaron Ramsey's first-half goal.

Lacazette's nicely weighted pass spoke to the main difference between Arsenal's two marquee forwards, per Sam Dean of the Daily Telegraph:

Sam Dean @SamJDean

Good day today to see the differences in what Aubameyang and Lacazette bring to the #AFC team. Aubameyang scores the two chances that Lacazette misses. But Ramsey doesn't score his goal if Aubameyang starts instead of Lacazette.

Aubameyang is usually the superior finisher, but he wasted his own glorious chance to score when his tame penalty was easily saved by Hugo Lloris in injury time. While the 29-year-old fluffed his lines, Emery refused to assign blame to the man who has 19 goals in all competitions so far this season: "I don't want frustration after one mistake or one action."

Emery is trying to use the best attributes of his two strikers in the right moments:

James Benge @jamesbenge

Here's why you start Lacazette over Aubameyang on a day like today. Always tracking & harrying the defence and midfielders, offering an extra man when pressure's on and an outball that doesn't involve hoofing it long. Sure we'll see Aubameyang in the second for pace on counter. https://t.co/744BVrXtCS

Lacazette's more intense work rate, as well as his ability to play with his back to goal, make him ideal for more physically demanding away games. The No. 9 is key to Emery's attempts to build a team with more industry and endeavour, one defensively stronger against top opposition.

Those attempts haven't worked so far, with Arsenal yet to keep a clean sheet away from home in the league on Emery's watch. Harry Kane's 74th-minute penalty kept that dire run going, but it's easy to see Emery is emphasising shape and energy as the keys to keeping clean sheets, and playing two strikers makes that approach more difficult.

Despite potentially being considered a negative tactic, Emery's caution could ultimately make Arsenal tougher to beat in the bigger games, even if Lacazette and Aubameyang are left frustrated by rotation.

Arsenal should rotate their star strikers with UEFA Europa League duty in mind.
Arsenal should rotate their star strikers with UEFA Europa League duty in mind.TF-Images/Getty Images

Emery is also often forced into rotation by Arsenal's ongoing participation in the UEFA Europa League. The Gunners travel to Rennes on Thursday for the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Aubameyang is likely to start with Lacazette banned for three European matches after being sent off in the first leg of the round of 32 against BATE Borisov. Danny Welbeck's absence for the remainder of the season to injury means Emery has to tread carefully with his two senior strikers.

Winning the Europa Leaguea competition Emery won three times with Sevillacould be Arsenal's best route back to the UEFA Champions League, with Chelsea and Manchester United also pushing for a top-four finish.

Keeping two goalscorers as accomplished as Aubameyang and Lacazette fresh can be Arsenal's X-factor in Europe's second-tier tournament.