Arsene Wenger says the instinctive understanding between old friends Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan can transform Arsenal‘s turbulent season.
Aubameyang marked his Arsenal debut with a goal in Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Everton, while Mkhitaryan provided three assists in his first start for the Gunners.
The swaggering show from the former Borussia Dortmund team-mates was a much-needed boost for Arsenal boss Wenger after a difficult January that saw Alexis Sanchez force through a move to Manchester United, while the north Londoners struggled on the pitch.
Gabon striker Aubameyang joined from Dortmund on deadline day for a club record £56 million, reuniting with Armenia midfielder Mkhitaryan, who arrived earlier in the window from United in a swap deal for Sanchez.
While Aaron Ramsey scored his first career hat-trick against Everton, it was the promising partnership between Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan that stole the show.
“Overall, the two players integrated well into our game and they looked as if they had played for us forever,” said Wenger.
“They have similar qualities to what our game is about. Technically, they are good. They are quick and overall it was a first convincing performance.”
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 4, 2018
Aubameyang was a constant menace with his pace and energy and, while his goal was fortunate given he was offside when he ran onto Mkhitaryan’s pass, there was enough quality on display to suggest he may keep the misfiring Alexandre Lacazette on the bench for the foreseeable future.
“The quality of his movement and finishing was excellent. He gives problems to defenders with his movement, he is always looking to go into spaces that are difficult to cover,” Wenger said.
“When he gets ahead it is hard to catch him. When we understand him better we can make more of that.
“He is not at his best physically and still has some work to do on that, but the price is reasonable I think, overall for that quality of striker in today’s market.”
Mkhitaryan struggled to make an impact at United, but he looked revitalised at the Emirates Stadium, linking with Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil to devastating effect as Arsenal tore Everton to pieces with four goals in the first half.
“He is a good link player and he works very hard as well,” Wenger said.
“Overall, I think he looked well-accepted by the rest of the team and was understanding very well how we want to play. I can say is that it was a convincing debut.”
Wenger also reserved praise for Ramsey as the Wales midfielder finally took his manager’s advice to stay cool in front of goal.
“I felt always – when I watched the games after on the video – you think always that he is there in a good position in the box and I felt always that he had between 10 and 15 goals at least in his locker,” Wenger said.
“He didn’t do it until now because I think he rushed, sometimes, with his finishing. He looks much calmer.”
Everton boss Sam Allardyce was furious with his side’s display as they tarnished his 500th match as a Premier League manager.
“I’m angry because accepting an instruction is the players’ responsibility at this level of football,” he said.
“We tried to give those instructions. There was a very good performance by Swansea on Tuesday against Arsenal and we based our plan on that.
“We set out to play like that, unfortunately Swansea played at the top of their game and we played at the bottom.
“That is why we were tumbling goals left, right and centre with our pathetic performance. None of it was any good. All the team played crap.”
— Everton (@Everton) February 3, 2018
Chelsea boss Conte won the league title and took the Blues to the FA Cup final during his first year in English football.
This season has so far proved more difficult, though, and rumours persist about the Italian leaving Stamford Bridge.
Conte has regularly expressed his desire to remain in London for at least the remaining 18 months of his contract and thinks journalists are singling him out by repeatedly asking about his future.
“I don’t understand why other coaches are not under pressure after a defeat in the way that you (the media) are doing with me,” said Conte, who was this week linked with a return to managing the Italian national side.
“But I repeat, this is not problem because I don’t read (newspapers), I don’t go online.
“As you know very well, I don’t have a relationship here with a journalist.
“I want to see if there is one to tell the opposite (that he is not about to leave).”
Conte’s Blues are currently 18 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City and fighting for a top-four finish in order to qualify for the Champions League.
While he was lifting the title last May, his rivals at England’s other so-called top-six clubs were left with plenty to improve on.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, whose team are on course to take Chelsea’s crown, and Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho saw their sides finish well off the pace in their first seasons at their respective clubs.
Liverpool have entertained under Jurgen Klopp but he has not managed to add to their trophy cabinet since taking over in October 2015, while Mauricio Pochettino continues to receive plaudits at Tottenham despite failing to end a 10-year wait for silverware.
When it was suggested that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – who has enjoyed FA Cup success in three of the past four seasons but not won the league since 2004 – has faced plenty of recent criticism, Conte replied: “Yes but after 20 years, not after one year and a half.
“Me after one year, and then after we won the league because don’t forget that last season we won the league as underdogs.”
Conte takes his side to Watford on Monday evening, looking to bounce from the 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Bournemouth on Wednesday.
Asked what he would like to do when he eventually does leave Chelsea, he said: “Now my ambition is to have another season in England and to respect my contract. This is my decision.
“Then we will see what happens and anything can happen.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
We assess the impact of the Premier League‘s debutants in the first fixtures since the end of the January transfer window – as well as one departed player.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
The £56million striker made a goalscoring start with a lovely chip over Jordan Pickford, albeit having been offside when the ball was played through, though he was overshadowed by fellow newcomer Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s three-assist home debut and Aaron Ramsey’s hat-trick in the 5-1 rout of Everton.
Eliaquim Mangala (Everton)
On the other side of the coin was the Toffees’ on-loan Manchester City defender, who looked lost and displayed the form which made him a big-money flop at the Etihad Stadium. A deflection on Ramsey’s second goal put the seal on an evening to forget.
Badou Ndiaye, Kostas Stafylidis (Stoke)
Senegal midfielder Ndiaye, a £14million capture from Galatasaray, was the main bright spot in defeat to Bournemouth. He produced a pinpoint cross to set up Xherdan Shaqiri’s fifth-minute opener as well as showing his aggressive streak with a cynical tackle to prevent Bournemouth breaking, which brought a deserved booking.
Greek defender Stafylidis, on loan from German club Augsburg, replaced his fellow new boy with 19 minutes remaining but had little time to make an impact.
Jordan Hugill (West Ham)
Came on with 11 minutes remaining and his team 3-1 down to Brighton. Went alongside Javier Hernandez in attack but barely got a touch of the ball.
Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig)
The Everton forward’s loan move was questioned by manager Sam Allardyce but he announced his arrival in the Bundesliga in style with a late winner against Borussia Monchengladbach barely 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Provided by Press Association Sport