With 7 games to go in the league and a crucial second leg against Slavia Prague, Mikel Arteta has plenty of decisions to make.
Get them right and he could finish the season a hero. A Europa League success to go with last years FA Cup. A top 7 finish.
However if he makes the wrong decisions, we got out tonight and finish 10th or worse, he might not survive the summer.
These decisions could be career defining for Arteta. So what are they?
Who plays right back?
We discussed on Monday as to who should play right back for The Arsenal.
It feels like Hector Bellerin’s Arsenal career is coming to an end. But is he still the best right back of himself, Cedric Soares and Calum Chambers?
Cedric might be required at left back to cover Kieran Tierney’s absence (see point 2). So it could be a straight choice between Bellerin and Chambers.
Both have their obvious strengths and weakness, and in recent weeks we have seen Arteta rotate depending on the opponent.
Does he continue to his rotation policy? Does he go with Chambers who has looked good in recent games? Or does he return to Bellerin?
And who plays left back?
Kieran Tierney has been fantastic this season. But his career at both Arsenal and Celtic has been stop start with a couple of long term injuries and a few short term.
I was always a risk letting Sead Kolasinac leave, taking into account Tierney’s injury history. And it is a risk that has failed to pay off.
A move for 31-year-old Ryan Betrand in the summer would not surprise.
The Englishman is left footed, attack minded and experienced.
Some might question his age, but he has played 28 of Southampton’s 31 Premier League games this season and he would prove a good option whilst the coaches continue to develop Joel Lopez (this is a blog for another day).
In the short term, does Arteta stick with Granit Xhaka at left back?
The Swiss midfielder did the job against Sheffield United, but the Blades were blunt. They did not challenge him.
Xhaka at left back will only end one way. Him pulling back a rapid winger and getting himself sent off.
Like Xhaka, Cedric has played OK at left back and was clearly Arteta’s back up plan when letting Kolasinac go. But his error against Slavia Prague cost the team the game – although there were 2 plays after his error where we could have stopped a goal.
His lack of left foot is a concern. However it is something that can be worked on by ensuring that the guy ahead of him is left footed.
The last choice is playing Bukayo Saka. But moving our most creative player to left back is solving one problem and creating another.
So Xhaka or Cedric? That is what Arteta has to decide.
Stick with Nicolas Pepe?
Nicolas Pepe is one of the most frustrating players I have seen in an Arsenal shirt.
He is strong, quick and technically sound, but does not seem to put it all together enough.
The Ivorian plays n the fringes of games. Exploding occasionally with quality that annoys your further.
He relies on space to play into, to run into, to cut back into. And this is why he perhaps does not suit a big team.
Pepe would do well at a side that does not dominate play. That sits deep and then looks for him over the top on a counter attack. He would do well at someone likes Wolves or Leicester City.
But at Arsenal when we are looking to play in the opponents third of the pitch he struggles. He loses the ball too easily in tight situations.
What other options does Arteta have?
Saka is clearly superior and starts no matter what.
That leaves Willian, Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and Pepe “on the other side” to Saka.
It would all depend on who Arteta goes with at left back.
If it is Cedric, it must be Pepe who can then provide the natural width. If it is Xhaka or Saka, then Willian could come in.
The game is all about partnerships, and starting Pepe could depend on who is playing behind him.
Trying to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the same team has proved troublesome.
Both Unai Emery and Arteta struggled to come up with a system that suits both.
The closest we have got is by going 343.
It free’d Aubameyang up from any defensive and creative responsibilities allowing him to find and exploit the space as a wide forward. The formation led us to FA Cup victory last year, but has since been binned.
In a 4231 he is expected to contribute more to cover his full back and be a creator as well as a goal scorer. It is a role which does not suit him.
It has to be either Lacazette or Aubameyang down the middle. Not one wide of the other or one a little deeper.
Lacazette perhaps suits us more.
The Frenchman is better with his back to goal and his touch brings others into play more. His link up play with Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard leads to chances created.
Meanwhile Aubameyang likes to play look forwards, not back.
He is great playing off the shoulder of the last man. Not getting involved in the link up play.
In a side that contained the creativity of Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, Aubameyang would be devastating. But with Arsenal short on quality creativity, Aubameyang quickly becomes starved of the ball.
In the short term, Lacazette is the better option. However he has just one year left on his contract.
Unless Arsenal can shift Aubameyang this summer – which is unlikely – then Lacazette will be sold. That will leave Aubameyang as our first choice striker backed up by Gabriel Martinelli and Folrian Balogun.
So does Arteta go with Lacazette in the short term and risk alienating Aubameyang for the long term? Or does he stick Aubameyang in whilst he continues to tweak the team to get the best out of him?
Arteta has 4 key decisions to make.
If I were manager (and I know I am not), I would go:
Chambers at right back
Cedric left back
Pepe left wing
I expect him to start martinelli. Then when things seems to be going well again, he will start benching him favour of williams.