Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s sub-standard form at times this season, you could argue, is one of the reasons Arsenal have struggled to score enough goals to challenge seriously for a UEFA Champions League place.
Having netted 22 times in each of his first two full seasons in the Premier League, Aubameyang has managed just five league goals so far with more than half of the season gone. The Gabonese forward signed a lucrative new contract with the club as recently as last September and some have questioned his desire to push on having landed a big-money contract that could keep him at the Emirates Stadium until he’s 34.
You could point to a number of reasons for the former Borussia Dortmund striker’s dip in form including the ill health of his mother which will no doubt have come as an unwelcomed distraction and even led to him taking some time out.
The team’s lack of creativity in general at times this season has certainly contributed, but the uncertainty around what his best position is and the way he is deployed in this current Arsenal system has been the biggest issue.
During his career, the 31-year-old has at times played from the left side and scored goals doing so, but does he offer enough in the build up to warrant being played in that position? It could be argued his desire to cut inside onto his stronger right foot not only provides him with opportunities to shoot at goal but his presence creates space in the wide areas for the left-back to bomb forward and create an overload.
The issue has been that at times this season, that role has seen him spend large periods on the periphery of games but when it comes to Aubameyang’s position, Mikel Arteta finds himself in between a rock and a hard place.
Having persuaded the player to commit his long-term future to the Gunners and taking into account the player’s undoubted importance in recent seasons, perhaps the boss feels a need to repay the loyalty his forward showed by staying put and as such, has shoehorned him into a position that doesn’t completely suit his profile.
As a centre-forward, for all his talents, Aubameyang doesn’t link up as well with those around him as Alexandre Lacazette who has been key this season. The Frenchman has already contributed eight league goals so far and has struck up a strong understanding with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe who were also key in Arsenal’s recent mini-revival.
Often Lacazette is required to play with his back to goal and lead the press from the front – two things the Arsenal captain isn’t necessarily renowned for. Although Aubameyang certainly carries more of a threat playing off of the last defender’s shoulder, more often than not, the Gunners are faced with trying to breach a low block.
Despite the captain’s far superior scoring record in recent seasons, it’s fair to assume concerns around his ability to impact on Arsenal’s build-up play have seen Lacazette preferred in the more central role. However, in doing so, is Arteta wasting a player who has statistically been the side’s most potent goal threat for the best part of three seasons now?
The statisticians out there will argue that Aubameyang has contributed sufficiently in terms of goals even when asked to start from the left of a front three, however, the balance of the attack, on the eye at least, doesn’t seem quite right.
Whilst other factors have no doubt contributed to the striker’s drop off in form, when trying to identify the main reason, it’s difficult to look beyond the fact he is seemingly being shoehorned into a position, in a system that doesn’t necessarily complement his somewhat limited skill set.