It seems a bit strange to say after last season, but Mikel Arteta has a choice to make over whether to start Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this weekend.
After his recent absence from the team for personal reasons, Aubameyang returned to the bench and to the pitch against Wolves on Tuesday.
The circumstances were far from ideal, with Arsenal going down to nine men 10 minutes after the striker’s introduction, but it raises the possibility he could make the starting lineup away to Aston Villa on Saturday.
Yet he might may well miss out anyway. Alexandre Lacazette is sure to start up front, with Bukayo Saka out on the right. But the two of them have been working well with Nicolas Pepe recently, who scored Arsenal’s only goal on Tuesday.
Mikel Arteta says he’ll make the choice based on form, rather than reputation.
“At the end of the day, we have to play the players who are in the best form and everybody has to earn the right to play and participate in the games,” Arteta said.
“That’s what everybody’s doing, pushing each other to raise the level. You can see that the level has been raised because everybody is playing at their best. There’s still room for improvement so everybody has to keep pushing.”
Arteta added that Aubameyang is available after “10 days of not doing much”. They’ll assess his readiness in training ahead of the match on Saturday. The manager went on to highlight Pepe’s hard work as the reason he’s in the team right now.
“Even when we made decisions not to play him, he kept working hard,” Arteta continued. “He has improved in a lot of areas and has been much more consistent for 90 minutes.
“He’s a threat at the moment because he’s been scoring goals, he’s been assisting players, he’s been a real threat. He needs to continue doing that.”
Personally, I think the availability of Kieran Tierney will play a part in the decision. Cedric Soares is working well with Pepe, likely in part because of his preference for his right foot versus Pepe’s desire to play on his left.
The opposite is true with Tierney and Aubameyang. If Tierney is ready to start, it probably improves the Gabon international’s chances. If not, perhaps Pepe is the safer call for now.