Benched for Arsenal’s biggest match of the season and still in single figures for league goals — this was not in the script when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed his bumper contract extension last summer.
The Gabonese frontman has struggled to hit the heights of previous campaigns this term and did not make the starting line-up for last week’s Europa League quarter-final clash with Slavia Prague, which ended 1-1.
As Mikel Arteta’s side prepare for the second leg against the Czechs tonight, we investigate how the Gunners can get more from their star striker.
Two into one doesn’t go
It is a reflection of Arsenal’s haphazard recruitment that they followed up the signing of Alexandre Lacazette in July 2017 by landing Aubameyang on the final day of January 2018.
The disastrous display against Liverpool earlier this month was proof the duo struggle to play in the same team, with Aubameyang looking ineffective on the left while Lacazette toiled through the middle.
With increased competition for the left-wing berth from Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli, it is clear Arsenal’s No14 needs to play up front — even if that means having to share striking duties with Lacazette.
Motivation in question?
Aubameyang’s drop in form after signing a three-year contract worth £55million has understandably raised a few eyebrows.
The forward, 31, was accused of looking disinterested by former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher last week.
The Sky Sports pundit said: “It’s the attitude and demeanour of Aubameyang during the course of this season which is most concerning.
“At times he has looked disinterested. Being benched for last night’s Europa League quarter-final was a clear signal of Arteta’s dissatisfaction with him.
“Aubameyang’s recent performance against West Ham, when he was subbed after 81 minutes, was one of the poorest I have seen in the Premier League this season.”
Aubameyang was dropped against Tottenham last month after arriving late for the match, adding to the sense that he has not been fully motivated in recent weeks.
But the striker’s performance off the bench against Slavia Prague tells a different story.
He looked raring to go, re-energising Arsenal’s attack in the final stages of the game before assisting Nicolas Pepe for his late strike.
Arteta’s decision to bench him for that game may have been just what was needed to refocus his skipper.
The blame game
For all the attention paid to strikers’ goal tallies, they can only finish the opportunities presented to them.
Arsenal have created 8.35 chances and 1.13 big chances per 90 minutes this season, which sees them rank 11th and 12th in the Premier League for those two metrics.
That simply is not good enough for a club with ambitions of breaking back into the top four.
Aubameyang has not been missing a huge volume of chances (failing to score just 0.27 big chances per game), so the onus is on his team-mates to create more for their talisman to convert.
Competition for places
Illness prevented Aubameyang from taking part in Arsenal’s 3-0 demolition of Championship-bound Sheffield United on Sunday, but he will have been watching on as Lacazette’s double saw the Gunners hardly miss him.
Aubameyang must now prove he is the main man in North London and nail down the central striker spot in Arteta’s starting XI.
There has never been a better chance for him to remind the Gunners boss of his worth than Arsenal’s must-win match in Prague tonight.