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No Aubameyang, Ramsey or Ozil - but Arsenal find a way to win to end away-day blues

20:21 EAT 09/02/2019
Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal
The Gunners remain in the top-four hunt thanks to their first away win since November although they had to do it without a trio of big names

Arsenal fans feared the worst when the team bus disgorged their players outside the John Smith’s Stadium and there was no sign of Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Mesut Ozil.

Away form has been so bad under Unai Emery in recent weeks that the Gunners could have done with any extra boost available to them even against the worst team in the league.

Alas, this game came too early for both Ramsey and Xhaka – who are suffering with knee and groin injuries, respectively – while Aubameyang and Ozil were ruled out through illness.

The latter has started only 13 of Arsenal’s 26 league games this season, a surprisingly low number considering the investment in the German's contract last year.

Furthermore, he has been involved in no game where Arsenal have switched to a back three/back five formation, other than a 20-minute spell as a substitute at Southampton.

Here, Emery again went with his three-man backline, which has been a feature of their play in other way fixtures such as at Bournemouth, Manchester United, Southampton and West Ham, as well as against Huddersfield back in December when they claimed all three points.

The last time Arsenal had won away was down in Bournemouth and results since then have been mixed. However, Emery clearly sees merit in this system and persists with it.

The major plus point in a formation like this is the space it leaves for the wing backs to counter. While Hector Bellerin is injured, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is more than capable of deputising on the right. The homegrown prospect has been struggling with injuries of his own but was back in the line-up here and was accomplished.

On the other side was Sead Kolasinac, who provided the first goal for Alex Iwobi.

The Nigerian featured in a two-man supply line to Alexandre Lacazette alongside the returning Henrikh Mkhitaryan, fit again after a foot injury.

And those two, as well as Maitland-Niles, combined to create the second. Lacazette’s movement got him enough space inside the area and allowed him to find his 10th Premier League goal of the season.

There were to be moments of frustration for Emery, who at times was visibly angry at the choices his players were making in the final third. However, the goals came at good times – right at the start and right at the end of the first half, and that should please the Spaniard.

He won’t have been happy with the amount of the ball that Huddersfield enjoyed and indeed for the second half his side were second best. The Terriers look a very different team under Jan Siewert than under David Wagner, trying to have more possession than the opposition and press high.

It meant Arsenal were under pressure for spells in the game, with Huddersfield having more shots and more territory than might be expected against a top-six team. By the end they had more passes than Arsenal, more territory and more shots at goal.

Bernd Leno was assured when he needed to be until injury time when Adama Diakhaby prodded home and ended Arsenal hopes of a first away clean sheet of the season.

There was also some decent and brave defending in the piece from the maligned Shkodran Mustafi and returning captain Laurent Koscielny.

Luckily for Arsenal, there is a lack of composure in that Huddersfield attack and a more confident team in front of goal would probably have taken something from the game.

This is a team that have now managed only six goals at home in the league all season, and taken only five points in front of their own fans.

Still, the win means that an Arsenal side who have been in uneven form are still very much in the mix for the top four. They have gone fifth with this win and will stay there at least until Chelsea’s challenge at Manchester City on Sunday.

An away game against the champions was a bridge too far for Emery and Arsenal last week; a defeat which left fans jaded and wondering about the direction the club was going.

Huddersfield are the other end of the Premier League spectrum and more important challenges are to come for Arsenal. What will not please the manager or the fans is the inability to kill the game off.

However, given they were shorn of key players through injury and illness, and weighed down by a pretty poor recent away record, Arsenal will nonetheless happily accept the boost, especially with winnable home games against Southampton and Bournemouth on the horizon.

They were good without being great; functional without being flowing. But at this stage of the season and fit players in short supply, they’ll take whatever they can get.