The Aubameyang Problem- As I finally sit to write this article, Arsenal have now lost their third consecutive match at home, having scored one goal in these three matches which were off a set piece from their defender, Gabriel. With just 13 points from 10 matches, the situation is now eerily getting like last year when Arsenal reluctantly had to sack Emery in a bid to stop the rut. Arteta does stand in a corner now having sidelined some of the fan-base with his decision to not register Ozil, a mythical figure whose focus is now completely on fighting social media battles as he heads into the sunset of his career. Arsenal hoping to rejuvenate their squad, are taking practical decisions, the biggest and most expensive of them all was retaining their club captain- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Aubameyang after having a whirlwind season in 19-20 season having scored 22 goals (20 Non-Penalty), had 93 shots, 42 on target with a shooting accuracy of 45%. This despite missing 10 Big Chances across the season. The FA Cup victories showed we had learnt to use Aubameyang in a different way, one that made defenders wary of danger down that channel. His Henry-Esque finish in Community Shield match against Liverpool made expectations only grow higher. A quick comparison though on the above numbers against Salah who last year played in a similar zone-like Auba will show you something worrying.
The Stats Of Aubameyang In Comparison With Some Of The Best In The League
Salah last year scored 19 Goals with three penalties, however, he had 132 Shots attempted, 59 of which were on target again with an accuracy of 45%. This despite the fact Aubameyang played two matches more, he had attempted clearly around 40 shots less. This underlines Arsenal of last season where we were lacklustre for most even when we played in a 4-2-3-1 with Ozil as no. 10.
When Aubameyang finally signed the much-debated deal at the start of this season though, it was a huge symbol of intent from Arsenal. Our fan base was happy because the message passed across by Aubameyang during his interview with Wright was hugely symbolic and all the things we wanted to hear- A NEW LEGACY. We finally had a captain who wanted to stay. This alongside subsequent addition of Thomas Partey really hyped things up for the coming season.
The Endless Expectations Of The Fans From Aubameyang And Co.
Expectations were high from Auba and his squad. Arsenal, however, has not been able to convert the optimism into results and after a tricky run of fixtures with decent results except the Liverpool and Manchester City matches, sudden losses against Leicester, Villa & now Wolves have been a testament to the same.
After United Euphoria, suddenly losing Partey in the middle has been huge blow because we have lost the only player who beats the press via dribble and tries to set it up for his forwards. This was a huge area of improvement as a two-man midfield was falling short repeatedly in creating chances for the forwards last season and the start of this one.
Stubborn teams had found a way to keep duo of Ceballos & Xhaka shut down, Partey was expected to be the third wheel of a new three-man midfield. As we relook at Aubameyang’s numbers, it will be easy to see what has been missing from Arsenal so far.
In order to look a bit deeper at Aubameyang numbers, we compared him to some of the prolific LF/LWs. Also, we added some of the CFs in the league in the mix too.
When compared with LFs in the league, Aubameyang apart from the lowest assists has the lowest Goal Attempts (GA), GA in Box. He has the joint lowest Shots on Target, received the fewest Big Chances and has high Minutes/Attempt. When we bring the CFs into the picture, the picture gets darker for sure.
For Context, Aubameyang has attempted less than half shots in the box than Bamford, Salah, Dominic Calvert-Lewin (DCL) and almost Kane. If you look at his shots on target, the picture improves a bit. Aubameyang is better there but still is way behind strikers like DCL, Bamford, Kane and Salah. Let us not forget, however, some players have missed matches or have played one game less than Aubameyang.
Before I move on to discuss the positioning for Auba, I think a key metric that we see is Big Chances Received. This is the sum of BC Scored & Missed. Aubameyang has received only 1/4th of the average Big Chances Received by other players in comparison. While the metrics for CFs is obviously higher, Werner and Salah remain significantly higher in this metric as well. Only Jack Grealish is the player closer to Aubameyang having received five Big Chances, having created seven for others though.
As we look at the two formations used so far, I have taken the Leeds and the Manchester United match for reference points. Prior to Partey coming in, Arsenal played a pure 3-4-3. That was with a two-man middle which obviously made things difficult from a creativity point of view when facing a deep block.
With Partey, we transitioned to a hybrid 3-4-3/4-3-3 model with Tierney shifting ahead as LB. Saka tucking in as extra midfielder or playing away as LW. Aubameyang moving central as we form a 2-3-5 in an attack similar to City. Unfortunately, Tierney loses his attacking intent and crossing ability because of staying deeper. Arsenal so far have been poor in crosses. Hence, even Laca/Auba combo could not create something from chances.
Surprisingly, Saka finds himself better positions and has had 1-2 free headers which he missed. A shift to 4-2-3-1 has now shown why this was not Arteta’s first preference as a) we miss Partey’s physical presence b) Most of our players cannot deal with a decent press.
Xhaka, Ceballos, Tierney when attacking, all pass the ball back. This is when there is a slight danger of a press towards them. This means Aubameyang is left wanting the ball. The Gabon international gets it only via crosses. Unfortunately for him, while crosses have improved, he is the only recipient in the box in 4-2-3-1. Hence making it easier for 2 defenders to cover it.
Where Should He Exactly Play?
Now the whole idea comes down to one question, where do you play Aubameyang? How do you get best out of a player who seems to be an only plausible source of goal for this team? If we look at pure numbers which could reflect into a goal (Xg), Aubameyang’s non-penalty xG this season:
Fulham – 0.31
West Ham – 0.04
Liverpool – 0.00
Sheffield Utd – 0.05
Man City – 0.00
Leicester – 0.12
Man Utd – 0.06
Aston Villa – 0.00
Leeds – 0.23
Wolves – 0.43
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The only positive thing for Aubameyang is 50% of his Xg this season somehow seems to have come from the last two matches alone. This shows, moving Aubameyang centrally has helped Arsenal a bit. That is, as he is slightly getting improved chances from the wingers. It might just happen that he finishes one of them.
However, these are still half chances we have not been able to provide Aubameyang with any clear cut chances of scoring a goal so far and he is still alone for a large number of crosses that we are attempting every match from Saka, Tierney and Willian. The pace of the game was something that always helped Auba when he moved in from the left, now he is struggling to create that advantage wrt defenders and constantly losing his duels.
What Happens When Aubameyang Plays Centrally?
Aubameyang’s days centrally looks numbered unless Arsenal can create other ways to feed him than crosses. The idea for Arsenal has to be able to utilize his pace. That way they can bring him into space where he can run at defenders. Taking away his main strength so far, we need to provide alternatives or hope one of the central strikers (Laca, Eddie or a resurgent Martinelli) provides alternatives soon. This is a conundrum that Arsenal has only a few games to solve. Aubameyang seems to be getting more and more frustrated as each game passes by.
“Can he be the talisman again?” is the big question on everyone’s minds and I guess, we will know the answer soon.
P.S.- The article was compiled by the writer prior to the game against Spurs. Hence, those details have not been included in it!!