There are some bandwagons that are delightfully alluring to jump on.
What’s floating around at the moment is a Mesut Ozil-tinged narrative which suggests that now Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has got his flashy new contract, all interest in on-field performance and team development has gone out of the window.
Eight goals in their six 2020/21 Premier League matches have played their part in securing Arsenal just nine points. Sure, there were defeats away at Liverpool and Manchester City, but there is the caveat that they played a desperately poor Fulham side on the opening day and got three goals in that game.
Creative paucity and bluntness in attack have been front and centre of their struggles, an issue which is counterbalanced by them boasting the best defensive record in the league bar Aston Villa.
Failure to strike a balance in that sense has resulted in a blend of deserved and unjust criticism, much of which has been directed Aubameyang’s way. An opportunistic swipe to bemoan a player raking in considerable wages is not one to be missed out on, it seems. Is it actually his fault, though?
Statistically speaking, it doesn’t play in his favour. As per Opta, Aubameyang’s shots this season total 0.43 xG in 540 minutes – the same tally Gareth Bale managed in 18 minutes against West Ham on his Premier League return. Not great.
Drawing a blank in the 1-0 home loss to Leicester in the most recent match week, Aubameyang has broken a personal record of his: going five consecutive league matches without a goal for club. Lord have mercy. Five? He must be struggling.
When any player of his calibre endures a dry patch such figures will always be highlighted, having set such high standards – top scorer at the club in the past two seasons with an overall total of 73 goals in 116 games – of his own. Mohamed Salah has sillily been the victim of similar, self-inflicted reproval.
It’s important to outline where he and Arsenal are. As the captain and leader of the club, the onus is on him to set an example. Being the face of the team, any instructions from the manager won’t be absorbed by the squad unless he too shows a willingness to abide by the methods.
Mikel Arteta came to Arsenal beginning with a 4-2-3-1 set-up. He had key creator Ozil in the hole, Aubameyang out on the left, and the structure and diversity in forward phases had the Gabon striker regularly finding the net.
Yet, goals were just as frequent at the other end, so Arteta saw fit to solve that. As his predecessor Unai Emery had failed to address, the new Spaniard made Arsenal a tougher side to beat, employed three central defenders and meticulously coached them on defensive shape. They shipped fewer goals as a result, beat teams far better than them, and won the FA Cup.
A summer of transfer business has been and gone, with fresh faces acquired – albeit not all those desired – and he’s embarking on another transition. From an attacking side to a mid-table-esque counter-attacking team and now back into an offensive outfit who operate in a 4-3-3, there will naturally be teething issues.
There will also, inevitably, be sacrifices to made. Aubameyang has been one such sufferer.
It’s nothing to do with him playing on the left, either. The outcries for him to return to a central role aren’t without some basis, but he has scored the vast majority of his goals coming in from the left flank in this newfound niche he’s discovered in north London. It is not working now, however. Nor is it on the right, which doesn’t work at all.
Without a central figure in the team, Arsenal are flooding wide areas with countless bodies looking for overloads, relying on opposition errors and lapses in concentration to provide an avenue at goal.
Reasons why nothing is clicking at the moment can’t be outlined quite so simply though, as the route of the issue is buried deep inside a tactical transition Arteta himself is yet to crack; an increasingly disconcerting trend which is leaving Arsenal at a precariously impotent attacking disposition.
As they mould their way back into a more familiar Arsenal outlook, the key to their attacking prowess has yet to be unearthed. Aubameyang is playing his part in it, but it’s to his detriment. Tasked with playing neat linking play on the touchline, his skill set is vast, but such neat technical traits aren’t his forte. Yet he’s doing it for the team, as he’s the most disciplined forward at the club.
One need only look at his goal in the Europa League against Rapid Vienna as evidence that his interest hasn’t dropped or he’s deteriorating in anyway, as he bamboozled central defenders the moment he came on and picked up a neat spot in the box to tap home the winner.
Arsenal averaging 8.8 shots per game this season – by contrast it was 15.6 in Arsene Wenger’s final season – does not fall on the shoulders of Aubameyang. It’s a deep-rooted tactical issue that is being tinkered with.
This is despite the narrative claiming he doesn’t want to shoot, that he’d rather avoid central areas entirely and hug the touchline all game. It’s not the case. How can someone be blamed for not scoring if they aren’t even getting the chance to shoot?
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