Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is living proof that a player doesn’t have to be winning league titles year after year to be considered world class.
It certainly helps, but whether you’re playing in a championship winning team or not has no bearing on an individual’s ability to make a difference, especially if they are the leading light and talisman at their club, as Aubameyang has been at Arsenal since the day he arrived.
Aubameyang has never played for what might be considered a truly elite club, of which there are precious few dotted around Europe’s top domestic leagues. But it has never stopped him scoring goals at a prolific rate for those he has played for.
In six seasons from 2014, when Robert Lewandowski left Borussia Dortmund and he could step out of the Pole’s shadow as leading marksman, until the end of 2019/20, he scored 195 club goals. That’s an average of more than 32 per season – and never fewer than 25 in a given campaign.
It is remarkable consistency, able to do it for a Dortmund team not at its former peak or future potential, and for an Arsenal squad knee-deep in a messy period of transition.
For comparison’s sake, Harry Kane burst onto the scene for Tottenham in 2014 and scored 183 goals over the same period. Meanwhile, Karim Benzema, recently dubbed France’s greatest ever striker by Zinedine Zidane, got 138 for Real Madrid over those six seasons.
Aubameyang scored those goals and maintained that level even while switching leagues in a January window, joining Arsenal from Dortmund in 2018. That is nothing to be sniffed at when it is notoriously difficult to settle in a new country, especially mid-season.
Some players might drown under the pressure of being their club’s only hope, but Aubameyang was the reason that 2019/20 wasn’t Arsenal’s worst ever Premier League and finished it with a major trophy in the form of the FA Cup. The likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United were objectively better teams, but none had a talisman quite as decisive as Aubameyang.
Without him, Arsenal wouldn’t have fared as well as they ultimately did, while they wouldn’t stand a chance looking forward into even more challenging times. The Gunners are in a tailspin, but when you have a world class goalscorer, anything is possible.
Dortmund experienced a similar boost in 2016/17 when they finished third in the Bundesliga, but Aubameyang scored not far short of 50% their league goals.
Aubameyang scored 10 goals straight off the bat for Arsenal in his first half season there, making him the club’s second leading scorer despite only playing 14 games. He got 31 in all competitions in 2018/19, firing the Gunners to a Europa League final thanks to tie-winning performances against Rennes and Valencia, while 22 in the Premier League secured him a share of the Golden Boot with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, the leading men from title-chasing Liverpool.
Aubameyang was named Arsenal captain midway through 2019/20 season and his goals were absolutely crucial. In all the Premier League games he scored, the Gunners only lost once, proving how valuable he was and how he was effectively carrying an entire club on his back.
At one stage, Arsenal slipped into the bottom half of the Premier League table, but it was Aubameyang who was virtually single-handedly keeping them alive. In the latter stages of the FA Cup, he was the difference against Manchester City and Chelsea.
A sorry Arsenal had lost 3-0 home and away to Manchester City in the Premier League and had taken only a point from both their encounters with Chelsea. An Aubameyang double at Wembley dumped City out of the cup at the semi-final, while he scored another two in the final against Chelsea.
Fittingly, it was he as captain who got to lift the trophy, although you should definitely judge him on his goalscoring and leading rather than his ability to hold a trophy aloft, dropping the famous cup on the Wembley turf before he could thrust it above his head in celebration.
For Arsenal, the prospect of losing Aubameyang because his contract was fast expiring was inconceivable. With no deal in place, he was at risk of leaving as a free agent in 2021, prompting the Gunners to make him not only the highest paid player in their history, but the Premier League’s top earner as well on a new £375,000 per week deal.
“Auba has actually no real weaknesses apart from his fashion style,” joked Jurgen Klopp in 2019, having previously seen first hand the player’s transformation into an elite forward at Dortmund.
“He developed incredibly and became a goal machine and I have to say his finishing is incredible. Combine that with the speed and it is really interesting.”
In 2019/20, Aubameyang’s Premier League goals directly contributed to 20 points for Arsenal. No other player in the whole division won more points with their goals, showing just how lost the Gunners would be without him and how he has now become their only hope.