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Arsenal talking points: Empty seats at the Emirates as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores twice
Last Updated: 01/04/18 5:08pm
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as Arsenal claimed a late 3-0 win over Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium, but what were the talking points from the game?
Aubameyang broke the deadlock from the penalty spot in the 75th minute, adding his second before substitute Alexandre Lacazette notched the third with another penalty.
From the empty seats at the Emirates to Lacazette's timely return from injury, here are five Arsenal talking points from the game…
Empty seats at the Emirates
Arsenal came into this game on the back of their first run of three consecutive wins since September, but any hope that the mini upturn in form might generate some enthusiasm among match-going fans quickly disappeared. Once again, there were swathes of empty seats around the Emirates Stadium as many season-ticket holders opted to stay away.
For 75 minutes, their decision was justified. The late flurry of goals provided some welcome cheer for those who did show up, but the sight of so many empty seats at what should be a crucial point in the season was a reminder of all that's gone wrong for Arsenal this season. They are unlikely to have gone unnoticed by owner Stan Kroenke, either.
Focus on Europa
Arsenal's team selection confirmed that Wenger is prioritising the Europa League. With Thursday's quarter-final first leg against CSKA Moscow in mind, the Frenchman made seven changes from Arsenal's 3-0 win over Watford three weeks ago, with Laurent Koscielny, Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan among those rested and Petr Cech left out as a precaution.
The line-up had an unfamiliar feel and it showed out on the pitch. Arsenal were booed off after a disjointed first-half performance in which simple passes repeatedly went astray, but the introductions of Xhaka, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan turned the game in their favour eventually. Wenger will hope they can carry that momentum into Europe.
Aubameyang has arrived into difficult circumstances following his club-record move from Borussia Dortmund in January, but on an individual level, it has been a quietly encouraging start. The Gabon international, unfortunately cup-tied for the Europa League, has now scored five goals in his first six Premier League appearances.
He kept his nerve with the penalty despite missing his last effort against Manchester City, and he showed his predatory finishing ability with his second, dispatching a first-time finish into the bottom corner following Mesut Ozil's corner. He also showed his versatility, starting up front but moving to the left to accommodate Lacazette in the closing stages. All in all, it was an encouraging display.
Wilshere wears the armband
Jack Wilshere is involved in a contract stand-off with Arsenal as he enters the final few months of his current deal, but with Koscielny rested, he was handed the captain's armband against Stoke. With Ozil deployed in a wide position and Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny at the base of midfield, he was even given his favoured No 10 role.
Late Arsenal blast crushes Stoke
Late goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette left Stoke deep in the relegation mire.
Was this Wenger's way of showing him he is still valued? Wilshere's fitness is said to remain a concern to England boss Gareth Southgate, but the midfielder has become an important figure for his club in the second half of this season. Wenger's latest show of faith comes after he started both legs of Arsenal's Europa League tie with AC Milan.
Could an improved contract offer be on the agenda?
With Aubameyang unavailable in the Europa League and Danny Welbeck appearing to struggle with an injury against Stoke, Lacazette's return was timely for Wenger. The striker had not featured since February having undergone knee surgery, but he impressed following his introduction from the bench and marked his comeback with a coolly-taken penalty.
"I think for me he changed the game," said Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry afterwards. "When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang went on the left and Lacazette came on as a No 9, he started to make runs that a No 9 should make. Making runs in behind, running the line, being available - as we saw with the penalty - and he does come and play with Mesut Ozil with that penalty."
He may just have played his way into Wenger's team to face CSKA on Thursday.
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