With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s arrival at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has gone from being heavily reliant on a star duo to having the luxury of a fearsome front four.
Now the question is how to make best use of all the attacking talent at his disposal.
By signing both Aubameyang and his former Dortmund teammate Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arsenal have managed to replace Alexis Sanchez with a duo that formed one of the deadliest partnerships in Europe during their last season together — when they scored a combined 62 goals in all competitions.
While Mkhitaryan has struggled for form lately, the sum of these two parts should leave Arsenal’s attack stronger than when Sanchez was in the team — but only if Wenger can figure out how to best fit both into the same side as Mesut Ozil and previous club record signing Alexandre Lacazette.
The problem for Wenger is that he now has two top class central strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette, and two top-class No. 10s in Ozil and Mkhitaryan.
That means two of them will have to be pushed into a position that may not be their preferred choice.
So what are the options? Here’s a look at how Wenger could get the best out of his players:
A front four
The obvious solution would be for Wenger to drop his back three formation for good, as it only leaves room for three attacking players. But reverting to his old 4-2-3-1 system would still force him to push either Aubameyang or Lacazette out wide.
Both are capable of playing as wingers, although Lacazette may be the more natural choice when it comes to taking up Sanchez’s old position on the flank. The Frenchman offers more of a threat from outside the box as he’s better at taking on defenders one-on-one and shooting from distance. The taller Aubameyang, meanwhile, offers a bigger target to pick out in the box and is arguably an even more lethal finisher from close range.
Mkhitaryan could then play on the opposite wing, with Ozil running the show from his preferred No. 10 position.
Mkhitaryan dropping deeper
There is a way to fit all four players into a back-three system as well, if Mkhitaryan drops deeper into one of the central midfield roles with Lacazette and Ozil playing behind Aubameyang up front. Wenger has already hinted that he’s entertaining such an idea, saying the Armenia international could be used as a box-to-box player. That, however, would only leave room for one of Granit Xhaka, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, which would open up a separate issue.
Two up top
A more radical solution would be for Arsenal to start playing with two strikers, having both Lacazette and Aubameyang up front.
That would be very un-Wenger-like, though, as the Arsenal boss has rejected the idea of trying such a system in the past with Olivier Giroud playing alongside either Sanchez or Lacazette. But Aubameyang has shown he can coexist with another central forward, playing alongside Robert Lewandowski at times during the 2013-14 season.
Of course, Wenger doesn’t have to cram all four into the team. While Aubameyang has been touted as a Sanchez replacement, there is a chance that Wenger has simply been underwhelmed with Lacazette’s contributions so far and wants a different option up front. Despite a promising start to the campaign, the former Lyon striker only has nine goals in 24 league matches — compared to 13 goals in 16 Bundesliga matches for Aubameyang. That’s not the type of return Arsenal had in mind when they paid £45 million for Lacazette this summer.
With Olivier Giroud likely to leave the club as a result of Aubameyang’s arrival, it could now be his fellow France striker’s turn to take on the role of super sub.
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.