Arsenal FC

Arsenal are more balanced without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang & must stop shoehorning him into the side

By Harry Symeou
Apr 2, 2021, 3:35 PM GMT+1
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped by Mikel Arteta ahead of the recent north London derby for disciplinary reasons
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped by Mikel Arteta ahead of the recent north London derby for disciplinary reasons | Julian Finney/Getty Images
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As recently as last September, the Arsenal fanbase were jumping for joy following the news Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had committed his future to the north London club.

Having almost single-handedly led the Gunners to FA Cup glory last season, it was imperative Arsenal made a statement by keeping hold of their talismanic striker. Aubameyang was due to enter into the final year of his contract and not for the first time, the club ran the risk of losing one of their top stars for nothing.

At the time, the contract said to be worth a total of £55m seemed a good bit of business. But after the last seven months, did Arsenal make a mistake?

Having seen what he was capable of at close quarters, perhaps Mikel Arteta panicked. The Spaniard has done a good job for the most part since taking over at the Emirates Stadium but having urged the club to break the bank to keep his captain, he has been guilty of shoehorning him into a system he simply doesn't fit.

Since arriving from Borussia Dortmund for just shy of £60m, Aubameyang has undoubtedly been Arsenal's most potent goal threat. But this season, the goals have dried up. He's got just nine in the Premier League so far and while that's by no means disastrous, he will be judged against the high standards he has set previously.

The fact Aubameyang, a player renowned for his ability to score goals and not his contributions in the build-up phase, has frequently been deployed wide - a position in which he looks like a square peg in a round hole - indicates that Arteta isn't convinced by his all-round centre-forward play.

Vladimir Coufal, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang struggled when playing from the flank vs West Ham in the team's last Premier League outing | Pool/Getty Images

Aubameyang's clearly had issues off the field this season and was afforded some time off to be by his mother's side when she was unwell. It's impossible to know how much of an impact that has had on his displays, but this runs deeper than just his output. Too often games have passed him by, but when he was scoring more frequently that was easily swept under the carpet.

Arteta's switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation on Boxing Day has seen the Gunners improve in the second half of the season, but it has highlighted more than ever that the team are more balanced without the 31-year-old.

His pace means he is better equipped to run in behind defences than Alexandre Lacazette but with most sides Arsenal face opting to apply a low block, that threat is often nullified. In the Frenchman, Arteta has somebody far more comfortable in receiving the ball with his back to goal. He brings out the best in those playing around him and applies the aggressive press in a way Aubameyang doesn't seem willing.

For the way the Gunners are wishing to play, neither Lacazette or Aubameyang are perfect, but the former clearly ticks more boxes, and the fact most of Arsenal's impressive performances this season have come with him leading the line evidences that.

The point is not that Aubameyang is a sub-standard striker or that he is in decline. It is simply that, having finally found an identity under Arteta, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify playing him out of position just to fit him into the side.

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