Having endured a difficult season so far, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back to his brilliant best during Arsenal’s 4-2 victory over Leeds United on Valentine’s Day.
The 31-year-old was restored to the starting lineup having been a substitute in the Gunners’ defeats at Wolves and Aston Villa. Aubameyang recently took some time out due to the ill health of his mother and having missed a few training sessions, he wasn’t fit enough to start in any of the aforementioned fixtures.
However, the Gabonese attacker looked as sharp as ever playing through the middle of Arsenal’s attack at the weekend. There has been much debate this season about whether or not the position to the left of the front three that Aubameyang has occupied so often under Mikel Arteta has seen his talent wasted.
Although he performed brilliantly as the centre forward on Sunday, the reality is that when he has played there previously this season he hasn’t been remotely inspiring. Up until yesterday’s game, he was three goals behind Alexandre Lacazette in terms of their Premier League returns, and Arteta’s decision to go with the Frenchman more frequently has been justified.
Arsenal’s number 14 was clearly afforded a licence to drift out onto either flank vs Leeds, almost Thierry Henry-style in order to escape the attention of the centre-backs, and did it to devastating effect.
His first goal was just trademark Aubameyang, and after converting a penalty won by Bukayo Saka, he popped up to the right of Leeds’ goal to head home a cross from Emile Smith Rowe and complete his first Premier League hat-trick.
The point is that although his position in the lead up to the fixture was portrayed as that of a central striker, his starting position more often than not was from the left flank. Often vacating the central space, it provided opportunities for the likes of Martin Odegaard, Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka to drift into those areas. And the fluidity with which Arsenal’s forward line interchanged positions made them impossible to live with in the first half.
When faced with an opponent such as Leeds who were always going to try push up the field and leave spaces in behind, the decision to go with Aubameyang made perfect sense. However, when faced with a low block, Lacazette’s ability to hold the ball up and play with his back to goal you could argue makes him the more sensible choice.
Arteta does have options up front, and that old saying ‘horses for courses’ comes to mind when the conversation comes up regarding who should occupy the central striking position.
One thing is for sure though, Arsenal have missed Aubameyang’s goals this season and if he can go on a run between now and the end of the season, it could see them improve on their current league position of 10th as well as increase their chances of Europa League success.