Gunner Thoughts

Oh Captain! My Captain!

A look at Captain Aubameyang. Could Arsenal be getting more from him or does he produce what he is producing from anywhere? Succeed or lose him

While I would love to write a blog that paints for you a world in which Aubameyang is leading Lacazette, Matteo Guendouzi, Martinelli, Bernd Leno and others to discover themselves and grow together through a mysterious poetry reading club that meets in a secret location on the London Colney grounds, hidden away from Arteta amongst the trees or how the words of Walt Whitman are what has inspired this 3 game winning streak, I very sadly don’t believe such a group exists nor that that is the case.

However, after yesterday’s game versus Everton, the success that he has had even when the team was struggling to find its footing, and the continued increase in attention he will receive about this future plans – I think it is time we take a look at Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Aubameyang is in his second full season with Arsenal after coming in January of the 17/18 season from Borussia Dortmund. He is Arsenal’s second highest paid player (behind Ozil) on £200K a week, Arsenal’s leading goalscorer, and, after Xhaka’s situation earlier this year, captaining the team too.

On Sunday, Arsenal beat Everton at the Emirates 3-2, in what is arguably Arteta’s best win as a manager, and who was at the core of that success? Man of the Match winner, Aubameyang. With 2 goals, including the game winner, 2 fouls won, the most tackles by a player (3), 6 duels won, 1 clearance, 1 interception, and 5 recoveries – Aubameyang did it all for the Gunners.

It was something Arsenal fans have seen all year and other teams are taking notice. After the match Arteta said:

 “The [clubs who want him] are completely right because he is a superb player. He completely deserves to be liked by all the other teams. Hopefully we can convince him that this is the right place for him and that he has a future here.”

A less than convincing quotes that fans may be a little distressed to hear, but from a coach that admitted he wasn’t always sure if Aubameyang was the type of player he wanted in his side, it’s great to hear.

“I had two questions [about Auba’s attitude to defending]. One was whether he wanted to do it, or could he not do it physically? So once I found out that physically he could do it, it was about convincing him to do it and that he can do it every three days. He’s showing that.”

In a year where Arsenal have struggled to defend, struggled to score, and struggled to get results – Aubameyang has been a beacon of light. And yet, even with the performances he is putting out, the stats he has, and the attention he is getting; many will question if we could be getting more from him. When he scores, the cracks are covered and all is well, but when he struggles to get involved from the wing, you have to wonder if Arteta is making the right choice. Have Arsenal exiled him to the wing and put a cap on the what he can create or is he in the right spot given the roles and responsibilities expected of the central striker in an Arteta attack?

Auba on the Attack

Throughout his career Aubameyang has been a prolific scorer. A combination of pace to get in behind and into dangerous areas and the technical skills to make difficult finishes look easy has allowed him to terrorize defenses across the world.

This year has been no different for Aubameyang. With 17 goals in the Premier League, 16 from open play, in 25 appearances – he is averaging 0.68 goals per game, a goal every 123 minutes, and tied with Jamie Vardy for the Golden Boot. His 17 goals make up 43.5% of Arsenal’s 39 total goals and in the 8 games he has played under Arteta he has an impressive 6 goals (0.75 gpg). These numbers are what spark the arguments. “Any goal scorer with these kinds of numbers should be put into positions closer to goal, not dragged at out wide.”

The argument makes sense, but let’s play devil’s advocate and look at why Aubameyang is actually in the perfect spot. We know Arteta’s offense likes to create five lanes of attack. The left wing tucks in more central so the left back can overlap, Ozil often shifts wide right to create an overload while the right winger gives width closer to the touchline, and that central striker is being asked to come a little deeper to occupy that space vacated by Ozil or the #10 role. In this setup, the goal is to create an opening for Aubameyang to get across his defender, walk the backline and find space in behind. We saw it, sort of, against Everton for his first goal and we saw a clearer version of it against Crystal Palace. By tucking inside it not only allows Saka to be dangerous but it allows Aubameyang to be a focal point of the attack.

The argument would be that by bringing him central you would have to change the attack and its aims or ask Aubameyang to play the same role we are seeing Lacazette and Nketiah play which at times takes them away from the goal – the reverse of why people would want Aubameyang central.

To add to this argument, Aubameyang is no less effective this year than he has ever been. In fact, he is scoring at a higher goals per game rate with almost the same shot accuracy as previous years – 42%. In his career at Arsenal, he has 49 goals in 74 appearances, a 0.66 gpg, with 43% shot accuracy.

With this understanding, it comes down to how Arteta wants to cater to Aubameyang to put him in a role that will continue to unlock him and create openings, combined with who else he wants in the front line to cover all the other work needed. Could we be getting more from Aubameyang or is he the type of player who works the amount of shots he works consistently, regardless of where you put him, and scores what he scores?

It goes without saying, that every action has a cost. If you put him center, you open a space for Martinelli or Saka on the left, but you remove some of the things Nketiah and Lacazette offer, which may be fine. If you keep him on the left, Arteta will need to fill the center with people producing goals, assists, and creating chances. The reason this is so important is because getting this right could be the difference between keeping Aubameyang and being in the Champions League or being forced to sell in the summer. Aubameyang has already suggested he is unwilling to work out a new contract until he sees the results of this season suggesting that he will want to be on a team that is playing in the Champions League with the remaining years of his career.

Leading, Defending, and Doing it All

The brilliance of Aubameyang’s year doesn’t stop at goals. Fans are noticing the defensive work he is putting in game after game, box-to-box and Arteta is as well.

“I’m so happy with Auba because he is scoring very important goals for us, but as well as a captain he’s giving a great example to everyone else. That a player of his calibre is able to work the way that he is working defensively… because of the demands of the matchday are big, and he is willing and he is happily doing it and I think we should pay regards to him.”

Against Everton, Aubameyang had the most tackles in the game with 3, won 6 duels, had a clearance, an interception, and 5 recoveries. It wasn’t just this game though. On the season, Aubameyang has 24 tackles, 17 blocked shots, 11 interceptions, and 9 clearances suggesting he is succeeding on both ends of the ball. A task that you would expect from your team leader, but not one that everyone gets from their main goalscorer.

In a team filled with up and down performances, he has been the brightest spot of consistency in the team. He has been a leader when some questioned the decision to make him a captain and stories suggested players had worries about it, and has had a role in helping our younger players find success.

Arteta continued, talking about Aubameyang’s mindset surrounding his time at Arsenal.

“I think it’s been tough for a player like him, because there’s been a lot of disappointment in the last few months or years because he has big expectations and he wants to play for the biggest clubs in the biggest tournaments. He wants to be up there with the best players in the world, and we have to try and support him and give him everything as a club, so that he really feels fulfilled here.”

With question marks around his future at Arsenal, now is the time Arsenal will need to step up and help themselves out if they intend keep him. Continuing to get results is crucial and it may come down to Arteta tapping into the best combination up front to get the job done. The debate around Aubameyang on the left or in the center will continue and with Kieran Tierney mending, we may see Saka on the left soon to push Aubameyang into the center. Will it work or cause problems? We will wait and see.

O Captain! my Captain!.

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