Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winner in Vienna on Thursday night was his first goal for Arsenal since the opening day of the Premier League season.
The critics were circling, as were suggestions that the Gabon international had eased off after being handed a new contract, which had been confirmed just a few days after the win at Fulham.
“It’s not the fact he hasn’t scored a goal; it’s the performances,” former Tottenham and England striker Darren Bent told talkSPORT. “Before he signed his contract, he was absolutely everywhere – running back, tracking back, putting tackles in, breaking forward. There was a real hunger and intensity to his game.
“At the minute, you can see there’s been a massive drop-off. When you focus so much on getting a new deal like Aubameyang did, you’ll run that extra yard and make that extra effort.
“When he sits down now and analyses his performances before and after the contract, he’ll see that there’s been a massive change.”
The criticism clearly got to Aubameyang, who took to social media with a post telling people to keep on talking, while posting a picture of himself on an exercise bike.
However, despite the barren run, he will have never doubted himself. He would have known the next goal was just around the corner, and it duly arrived in Austria, where he was on hand to turn home Hector Bellerin’s cross in the 2-1 win over Europa League rivals Rapid Vienna.
“The expectations for him are that he has to score a goal every game. This is because he’s such a big player, because of what he has done in the past,” Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said when asked about the criticism of his captain.
“So, we are here to help him with that, and we will support him when difficult times come around him.”
While criticism comes with the territory of being a top-level player, having your professionalism called into question is another matter altogether – which is why the Bent criticism felt well over the top.
A look at Aubameyang’s statistics during his mini-drought showed there was no “massive drop-off” in terms of effort.
Against Fulham, before the striker signed his new contract, he ran a distance of 9.78 kilometres. In the games that followed the renewal – against West Ham, Liverpool, Sheffield United and Manchester City– he covered even more ground, clocking more than 10km in each outing.
He also produced more sprints than any Arsenal player in the games against Manchester City (23), Liverpool (22) and West Ham (31).
So, it wasn’t Aubameyang’s work ethic that was the problem; it was the lack of chances. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you are not being given good service, it is very difficult to score.
Aubameyang has had just six shots in the opening five Premier League games– that puts him 45th in the rankings. Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah sit top, with 25 shots apiece. That tells you where the real issue lies.
Neal Maupay at Brighton has had three times as many efforts on goal this season as Aubameyang, while the likes of Michail Antonio (17), Tomas Soucek (14) and Leandro Trossard (13) are all way ahead of the Arsenal captain – who didn’t even register a single shot in the games against Liverpool or Manchester City.
“He needs to get more goalscoring opportunities,” admitted Arteta ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Leicester City at Emirates Stadium. “He needs to get the ball more around the box, in order to do what he is able to do.
“But Thursday night was promising, I said to him before, go out and win us the game, and he did it.”
Arsenal’s struggles in the final third have been well documented, of course, with a lack of creativity from midfield an obvious but very difficult problem to solve.
Arteta has done a lot to improve things defensively, with the summer additions of Gabriel and Thomas Partey undoubtedly making an Arsenal a stronger and more solid unit. However, a lack of incision in the final third remains an issue, with the banishment of chief playmaker Mesut Ozil hardly helping matters.
Tellingly, Aubameyang, the man expected to score the goals, has created six chances for Arteta’s side this season– only Willian (seven) has created more.
But that’s still way behind the Premier League stars who are leading the charts in terms of chances created, such as Son Heung-Min (16), Mohamed Salah (15), James Rodriguez (15) and Kevin De Bruyne (14).
So, it’s no surprise to see that Arsenal have mustered just 41 efforts in goal this season in the league, meaning they only rank above West Brom (40) and Crystal Palace (32).
It’s clear that Aubameyang needs better service and it has to be noted that he has not been playing as the central striker either. He has started every game this season on the left side of the front three.
Against Manchester City last weekend, Arteta opted to deploy William as a false nine, with Arsenal’s top scorer for each of the past two seasons pushed out wide.
The tactic didn’t work and it’s one that Arteta is unlikely to try again. But against Leicester on Sunday, the likelihood is that Aubameyangwill once again be out on the left, with either Eddie Nketiah or Alexandre Lacazette in the central role.
Aubameyang’s continued use on the wing is the source of much frustration for some Arsenal fans, who want to see their best finisher in the middle – and performances such as the one at the Etihad Stadium last weekend will continue tolead to questions about whether he is being misused.
“That’s always going to happen,” accepted Arteta. “The moment he does not score, he needs to play as a nine.
“But if you play him as a nine, people will ask ‘Why don’t you keep him on the left because he has been so successful on the left?’ It’s going to happen, I know.”
As Arteta points out, Aubameyang has been successful on the left– the goals he scored last season proved that– but his strike-rate has dropped slightly since the Spaniard replaced Unai Emery as manager.
Under Emery, when Aubameyang started the majority of games in a central role, he averaged more goals per game (0.69) than he does under Arteta (0.55). He also averaged more shots per 90 minutes – both inside and outside of the box – and also more touches in the box.
However, Arsenal have become a far more structured and disciplined side since Arteta arrived, something that was sorely needed. The basketball-type games that we witnessed on a regular basis under Emery are now, happily, a thing of the past.
Arteta knew that he had to tighten things up to make Arsenal competitive again, which he has done in an impressively short period of time. It was a shift in mindset that inspired his team to anunlikelysuccess in the FA Cup last season.
Returning Arsenal to former glories is not a short-term project, either; it’s not something that can happen overnight. Arteta has made his side more difficult to beat during his first year in charge and that has had an impact further up the pitch.
But in Aubameyang, he has a striker who will always scores goals if he is given the opportunities. He demonstrated that once again in Vienna and it would be no surprise to see him get back on track in the Premier League against Leicester.
Source : goal.com