How will Arsenal cope with Alexandre Lacazette's absence vs Man United?
Twice this season, Arsene Wenger has chosen not to play his £53 million summer signing, Alexandre Lacazette, up front against big rivals.
On Saturday, Lacazette will again be absent against Manchester United -- just when it looked like he was ready to prove his worth against the top sides -- but it's not by choice. The groin injury the France striker picked up against Huddersfield Town in midweek has ruled him out of the key clash at the Emirates, leaving Wenger with a conundrum that, for once, is not by design.
While the Arsenal boss dropped the club's record signing at both Liverpool and Manchester City, there's little doubt he would have picked Lacazette for this game if he could, especially after the striker netted his seventh Premier League goal of the season just minutes into Wednesday's game. Five of those have come at the Emirates, tied for the most of any Premier League player at his home ground, according to Opta.
Lacazette also impressed in the 2-0 win over Tottenham, setting up a goal for Alexis Sanchez and playing a key part in the high press that unsettled Spurs throughout the game. His pace and movement -- not to mention his clinical finishing -- will be sorely missed against a Man United team that is expected to adopt Jose Mourinho's normal defence-minded tactics for big away games.
So how should Wenger deal with Lacazette's absence? Here's a look at the main options.
Play Danny Welbeck up front
This may be the likeliest option. Welbeck offers the same pace and movement as Lacazette, but without the deadly finishing. He also has a history of playing well against United, his former team, and combines well with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. Welbeck and Sanchez can even switch positions during the game, allowing the Chilean to play up front at times to increase pressure on the defence.
Play Olivier Giroud up front
Giroud made a strong argument for a starting role by netting twice against Huddersfield after coming on for Lacazette at half-time. He's a better finisher and target man than Welbeck, but is less mobile and hardly ever poses a threat to defenders outside the area. A Mourinho team is always well organised in their own box, and may have an easier time dealing with a Giroud-type of striker.
Play Alexis Sanchez up front
This didn't work that well against Man City, but Wenger could be tempted to give it another try. Playing Alex Iwobi, or even Jack Wilshere, as the second attacking midfielder next to Ozil, with Sanchez up front, would maximise the team's mobility and ability to press effectively without the ball.
Adding the extra midfielder would also bring a more defensive balance to the team that could help prevent United's dangerous counter-attacks -- the most likely threat from a Mourinho team in these types of games. And with Lacazette out, Sanchez is the best scoring threat Arsenal have -- not to mention the most unpredictable. It usually takes something special to break down Mourinho's parked bus and Sanchez is more than capable of providing it.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.