Former Arsenal ace Paul Merson has issued a warning to manager Mikel Arteta ahead of the Gunners’ UEFA Europa League quarter-final second-leg against Slavia Prague on Thursday evening, insisting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang must start.
The Gunners, who defeated Sheffield United 3-0 in the Premier League on Sunday evening, bringing an end to their four-game winless run, will travel to the Czech Republic looking to reach the semi-finals of the competition for the second time in three seasons.
The tie is evenly poised at 1-1 after last week’s first-leg at the Emirates Stadium, but Slavia, who netted an equaliser deep into stoppage time through right-back Tomas Holes, have an all important away goal to their name, meaning they only require a goalless draw to progress to the last-four.
Therefore, the pressure is on Arsenal to take the game to the Czech giants in the hope of turning the tie in their favour and securing a semi-final spot, which would see them face either Dinamo Zagreb or Villarreal.
But if Arsenal are to get the better of Slavia, who have defeated both Leicester City and Rangers on route to the last-eight, the Gunners will have to be at their very best, especially in the attacking department.
Aubameyang missed the win over the Blades on Sunday through illness but Arteta has admitted that he is hopeful he will return for the trip to Slavia. If deemed fit and available for selection, Merson is desperate to see him start the contest.
“Something is going on with Aubameyang – I do not know what it is,” Merson said. “Last Thursday was the biggest game Arsenal have played in for a long time. Their biggest earner and name was sitting on the bench.
“If I need to win a football match and I know I will get chances there – I need my best goalscorer on the pitch. If he does not bring anything else to the party, he will put the ball in the back of the net.
“He finds himself at the back post tapping them in and there is an art to that. So for me, he plays, as they have to win. You have to get your goalscorers on the pitch when you have to win.”
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Should Aubameyang win his fitness battle and be in a strong position to start the game, Merson is hoping to see the Gabon international start up front alongside Alexandre Lacazette, who scored twice on Sunday evening, opposed to the former Borussia Dortmund star replacing the Frenchman.
Merson added: “I have to play my star man. And I would play him up front alongside [Alexandre Lacazette] with three in attack with [Bukayo] Saka or Nicolas Pepe and say to them, ‘just get us a goal, we will defend’ and they will cause havoc.”
Aubameyang, although he has not been prolific as he was last season, has still played a key role in the Gunners’ search for goals this term, scoring 14 times in 33 appearances.