ARSENAL star Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play in any formation for Unai Emery.
That’s the verdict of Gunners fan and football writer James McNicholas, who believes the Armenian has been impressive in the second half of the campaign so far.
Arsenal missed a golden opportunity to claim a win over Tottenham at Wembley last Saturday.
After Harry Kane cancelled out Aaron Ramsey’s opener from the penalty spot, Unai Emery’s side were awarded one of their own when Davinson Sanchez felled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inside the box.
However, Aubameyang’s spot-kick was saved by Hugo Lloris and the chance to snatch a late win passed them by.
“I think almost any formation he picks he would have a place for Henrikh Mkhitaryan”
While the Gabon international fluffing his lines was gut-wrenching, though, McNicholas has singled Mkhitaryan out for praise.
“He has been good, hasn’t he? Since he come back from injury,” he told the Arseblog Arsecast podcast.
“He is someone who, there’s a lot of talk about Unai Emery likes to change his shape or play different formations, well I think almost any formation he picks he would have a place for Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
“Because he does the creative jobs but he is prepared to work back and for someone with that much flair and that much end product in the final third to actually be willing to do that, to protect an inexperienced full-back or whoever it might be, I think is unusual.
“I have actually criticised, not only Mkhitaryan, but I’ve also criticised the club’s decision to invest a salary that huge in that player.
“But I think that setting that aside, his contribution when he’s actually been on the pitch, certainly in the second half of the season, has been really good and I’m looking forward to seeing what he might be able to do now until the end of the season.”
Emery drew plenty of criticism prior to the game when it was announced Aubameyang would be starting on the bench.
Yet, McNicholas believes the Spaniard’s tactics and substitutions ‘paid dividends’ at Wembley.
“I think some of that pent-up anxiety that exists around games is kind of channeled into the responses to these team selections,” he said. “But this is a great example for me of why you have to sort of suck it [up] and see a little bit because I think, ultimately, Emery’s decisions kind of paid dividends, didn’t they?
“He left Aubameyang out, sure, but [Alexandre] Lacazette laid on the goal for Ramsey and we know that those two have generally combined well. There are complimentary characteristics in their play.
“He went with four at the back and I think defensively for the most part we were really, really good. Even [Shkodran] Mustafi for 89 of the 90 minutes was alright. I thought he was. I thought [Nacho] Monreal justified his selection.
“And also Emery, he picks a match-day squad for 90 minutes. And the changes he made, [Lucas] Torreira coming on at half-time, then Aubameyang coming on and then [Mesut] Ozil, I thought sort of strengthened us almost across the 90 minutes and made Tottenham’s task all the harder.
“I thought his substitutions were effective too and someone starting on the bench, from him I don’t think he views that as pejorative. It’s just game-to-game, I think these are the guys I’m gonna start with and these are the guys that are gonna come on.
“If you think about the questions that were being asked of him after the defeat at BATE and the way that he has managed the squad and managed the team through that period since then, I think he’s come through that test – and it was a very real test with very legitimate questions being asked – I think he’s come through it well.”