This was not a pretty match. Arsenal struggled to create much in a physical, yellow card filled affair that was 7 minutes away (well, 14 with added time) from Huddersfield stealing a point at the Emirates. But a moment of brilliance from Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a stunning overhead finish from Lucas Torreira were enough to drag the Gunners to a 1-0 win.
Because of the injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, Unai Emery started all three defensive midfielders and did not have a natural, central, attacking midfielder on the pitch. Against teams like Huddersfield that are going to muck things up, clog the middle of the field, and defend with 9 and 10 men behind the ball, that type of player is exactly what a team needs to unlock a defense. Consequently, the first half played out exactly as you’d expect: there was nobody to link up play through the middle and what little attack there was came from long balls / wide areas.
Arsenal still have yet to lead at halftime. To be fair, Alexandre Lacazette had a goal called back when he was wrongly flagged for offside. He was in an offside position when the initial ball was played, but the defender deliberately kicked the ball in an attempt at a back pass, which should have negated the offside.
Given who was on the bench, Unai Emery brought the right people on at halftime, but I’m not sure he took the right people off. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi replaced Alexandre Lacazette and Stephan Lichtsteiner respectively. I think I would have left Lacazette on and taken off one of the defensive midfielders not named Lucas Torreira.
Neither of the halftime additions made much of a difference, and the match looked to be headed for a draw until the 83rd minute, when Lucas Torreira scored what could turn out to be Arsenal’s goal of the season. Matteo Guendouzi lofted a lovely ball to the back post that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang controlled acrobatically. He chipped the ball back across the face to a wide open Torreira who scored with a spectacular overhead volley.
There is a major issue coming out of today’s match: Arsenal are in a full-blown centerback crisis. Shkodran Mustafi left the game with an apparent hamstring injury. Sokratis picked up his fifth yellow card, meaning he will be suspended for the next Premier League match. The Gunners have no available, fully fit, first team centerbacks for next Sunday at Southampton.
The Gunners will likely be forced into starting Nacho Monreal, who looked fine filling in for Mustafi but hasn’t started since the beginning of October, and Laurent Koscielny, who has yet to play for the senior team since tearing his Achilles. Carl Jenkinson played centerback in the Europa League and is another option, but he hasn’t started a Premier League match for Arsenal since November 30th, 2016.
But before we start worrying about the centerback crisis, let’s take a minute to bask in 21 straight unbeaten. Feels good, doesn’t it? And if Chelsea don’t beat Manchester City, Arsenal will finish the weekend in the Top 4.
The Gunners are next in action at the Emirates on Thursday against Qarabag in the Europa League. They are away to Southampton on Sunday in the Premier League.