Would Arsenal's attacking ensemble do well in the UEFA Champions League?
A hypothetical assessment of how Arsenal's attack would fair in the Champions League.
The Premier League is the dominant force in Europe once again, or so it would seem. Juventus were yet to concede in 2018 before the arrival of Tottenham on Tuesday, who held the Italian giants 2-2, whilst both Manchester City and Liverpool blew away FC Basel and FC Porto respectively in their last sixteen ties this week.
England is the only nation to have five sides in the knockout phases of the UEFA Champions League and the first three to have played look well-poised to advance to the last eight.
Following on from such impressive displays, Arsenal continued the winning trend with a comfortable and routine 3-0 win away to Swedish minnows Östersunds FK in the UEFA Europa League. A debate has since been sparked about how far the Gunners can go in Europe's subsidiary competition.
With their Premier League counterparts performing so well so far, one cannot help but wonder how well Arsenal would be doing if they too were in the Champions League this season.
This is a debate fuelled further by the fact the Gunners probably have the strongest attacking contingent we've seen at the Emirates in recent years. So, how would Arsenal's attacking ensemble perform in the Champions League?
In the latter stages of the competition especially, clubs playing in the Champions League will tend to set-up with more conservative formations and in the modern game, it's rare to see any side play with two strikers alongside one another.
As far as Arsenal are concerned, if they were to play in the Champions League, it is unlikely that Wenger would opt to play both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette together and the former would more than likely get the nod.
This means that the front three would likely be the Gabonese dynamo Aubameyang through the centre, supported by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil on the flanks. Within this attacking contingent, there is exceptional pace, movement, intelligence and flair and few defences across the continent wouldn't quiver in their boots at the prospect of facing them.
Naturally, there is a significant divide in terms of quality in the Champions League, even when it comes to the knockout phase.
Therefore, when hypothetically dissecting how well Arsenal's attacking ensemble would perform in Europe's elite competition, it has to be considered that they could just as easily be facing Real Madrid as they could Shakhtar Donetsk (still a very respectable club, but they're not Real Madrid, are they?).
Although playing styles vary, Arsenal and Liverpool are both predominantly attacking outfits and have interchangeable front-lines, so assessing Porto's demolition by Liverpool could be key in determining how well the Gunners themselves would fair.
In the Porto game, Liverpool carved out chance after chance through quick one-twos and using the flanks to stretch their opponent's defence. Couple this approach with the individual electric display of Sadio Mané in particular, and resounding victory is practically guaranteed.
The Premier League operates at a much higher intensity and pace than say that of the Portuguese top flight and Arsenal are very much the epitome of this pace and energy in the way they play.
Therefore, if the opposition is used to slower build-up play and slightly more methodical attacking than the blistering pace of the Premier League, they would likely come unstuck against Arsenal.
With the exception of bigger sides such as Real Marid, Juventus and Barcelona, Arsenal can top pretty much any side when it comes to pace and movement in the final third and therefore, it is likely they too would be capable of demolishing a side like FC Porto, but would perhaps struggle against a Real Madrid.
To put it simply, yes, Arsenal's attacking ensemble would perform well in the Champions League, but how well?
With the worst defence in the top seven of the Premier League this season (36 goals conceded), it is a well-known fact that Arsenal's strengths lay in attack so if the front-line would not perform well then they'd be pretty useless.
Arsenal's dynamic front-three would likely be more successful than the North London side's recent attacks on the basis of experience. All three of Özil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang have played at the top level in the latter stages of the competition and have therefore come up against some of the sturdiest defences on the continent; this factor cannot be underestimated.
Olivier Giroud, Arsenal's former key frontman, had cultivated little experience of the European stage at former club Montpellier, whilst Danny Welbeck seldom got given the chance to savour Champions League football regularly at Manchester United.
Consequently, before the arrivals of Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, Arsenal's attack was lacking experience of top-level football.
Tied into this aspect of experience is the notion that Arsenal's current ensemble is better psychologically geared towards performing well in the Champions League. Everything about Aubameyang's style, for example, is positive; he is direct, quick, runs at defences and is not afraid to take on that ambitious chance.
Comparatively, Arsenal's attacks in past years have often been reluctant to take on such chances themselves and were guilty of over-delegating (*cough* Walcott *cough*).
On paper, the list of names is one of the strongest possible- Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Özil, Lacazette, Welbeck, even Alex Iwobi. The versatility is still at a decent level too, with Welbeck the more physical option and perhaps able to occupy the target man role if needed, whilst Aubameyang and Lacazette are evidently players to latch onto those through balls and long passes.
Overall, it's an attacking ensemble which, on its day, could break down any defence in Europe.
There's no question that they could be successful, but obviously, building from the back is key in bigger games and Arsenal's back-line and defensive midfield is comparatively weak and thus, the service to these frontmen would be minimised. These are the departments which would ultimately decide just how well Arsenal's attack, and by extension, the team as a whole would fair in the Champions League.