Football Features

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Arsenal’s “overlooked talisman” is leading by example

By Ben Green

Published: 14:45, 30 September 2019

Arsenal have long been accustomed to boasting some of world football’s finest forwards, and in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have another match-winning No.9 leading by example and scoring at an absurd rate.

The Gabon international may not yet hold a candle to Thierry Henry’s trophy cabinet or boast a ‘Playmaker of the season’ award a la Robin van Persie, but his exploits in the final third since joining the Gunners have gone a long way to remedying recent frustration in north London.

Sure, Arsenal may not be competing on four fronts like the halcyon days of Arsene Wenger’s early tenure, but if Unai Emery has serious aspirations of replicating that golden period and unsettling the Liverpool-Man City duopoly, then Aubameyang will the key.

The 2018/19 Golden Boot winner already has six goals to his name this term and has continued to dig Arsenal out of trouble on numerous occasions; on Monday night, he will look to lead the Gunners once more and add the scalp of Manchester United to his growing collection.

But just how important is Aubameyang to an Arsenal side yet to truly convince its fans that they have the capabilities of breaking the top two ceiling, and what threat does he pose for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford on Monday?

Goal-getter, match-winner

Throughout his career Aubameyang has been a competent scorer of goals, but it wasn’t until Jurgen Klopp reinvented the 30-year-old as an out-and-out centre forward that he truly started to flourish, converting the pace merchant from insatiable winger to lethal striker.

Since then, Aubameyang has taken his goalscoring game to stratospheric heights, and nowhere has this world class impact been felt more than at the Emirates.

Having traded Borussia Dortmund for Arsenal in January 2018, Aubameyang has gone on to amass a 48-goal haul, including 12 assists, while only Mohamed Salah has scored more Premier League goals (39) than Aubameyang (38) since his debut against Everton, just three days after signing.

Despite not having the quality of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino alongside him, Aubameyang has outgunned Salah – and every Premier League player for that matter – for total ‘big chances’ (56 to 53) since the aforementioned time frame, showing he possesses an innate ability to consistently get himself into dangerous areas of the pitch.

And that unerring propensity to pop up in the right place at the right time can be enhanced twofold when dissecting his goalscoring habits a little further. Since his debut, only Jamie Vardy (26.23%) has bettered his shot conversion rate (26.21%), while his 62.39% shooting accuracy sits above Salah (61.44%), Vardy (58.33%), Harry Kane (56.06%), Sadio Mane (52.59%) and Sergio Aguero (50.42%) – the only current Premier League striker who tops that is Roberto Firmino (65.17%).

But, even this does not paint the full picture of Aubameyang’s influence. In fact, it is not the prolific rate at which he finds the back of the net that most catches the eye, but rather the timing and significance of his goals.

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Since his debut in 2018, Aubameyang’s goals have led to the most points won by any player in the Premier League (31), beating the likes of Kane (25) and Salah (17), and truly highlighting just how invaluable the striker’s match-winning antics are to a side that have been in flux for a number of years now.

A talisman overlooked? 

One of the main talking points this term and a notable bone of contention among Gunners fans has been the uncertainty around the captain’s armband. Granit Xhaka, a polarising figure in the capital, recently won a player’s vote to take the mantle left by Laurent Koscielny.

Aubameyang has taken on the responsibility of vice-captain, but given the importance he has demonstrated for this Arsenal side since signing, coupled with Xhaka’s hot-headed nature and on-field inconsistencies, this may come as a blow to the 30-year-old.

Klopp recently lauded his former pupil as a player with “no real weaknesses”, and given that the Gunners would currently be circling the drain betwixt Newcastle and Watford in the relegation zone were it not for Aubameyang’s goals, Emery perhaps should have taken the responsibility himself and rewarded his talisman with the armband.

Xhaka’s appointment as permanent skipper has not come as a shock given he’s often taken on the role in previous outings, but Arsenal fans may have felt Aubameyang a worthier candidate for the job, particularly after Xhaka was jeered off the pitch by some supporters when substituted during his side’s dramatic win over Aston Villa earlier this season.

In times of crisis, leaders must demonstrate a calmness and show efficient decision-making skills, however, since Xhaka’s debut in the 2016/17 season, no player has conceded more penalties than him (5) or made more errors leading to goals (6), while only two players have picked up more yellow cards  in Jose Holebas (37) and Oriel Romeu (35) than the Swiss midfielder (28) – the case for Aubameyang grows stronger.

What Man Utd can expect

If Aubameyang is evoking fond memories of a time when Arsenal were dominant in the opposition penalty box, then the same certainly can’t be said of Man Utd, who are currently experiencing a crisis in the No. 9 department.

Monday night presents a massive test to see where both these clubs stand this season. A win for Arsenal would propel them to third in the table, while three points for Solskjaer would see the Red Devils leapfrog the visitors.

But it must be said that Arsenal look more in shape for this blockbuster bout, with Aubameyang currently firing on all cylinders and proving anything but a flat-track bully – in four matches against the Red Devils, he has two goals.

And as it stands, the 30-year-old currently boasts the best shot conversion rate of any striker to have played over five matches (46.15%) in 2019/20, while his six goals are just two shy of Man Utd’s total output this campaign.

Moreover, since the start of the Premier League era, Aubameyang also boasts the second-best minutes per goal ratio (a goal every 114 minutes), better than United greats such as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney, so Solskjaer will need to find a way of stifling the Gabon international.

Should the Norwegian put too much emphasis on suppressing Aubameyang, then that will allow space for Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos to wreak havoc, while not enough emphasis, and he will allow the penalty box assassin to thrive.

It also doesn’t bode well for Solskjaer that Kieran Tierney is back in the mix having overcome injury problems, but one thing is for certain, if the under-pressure tactician can find a way of preventing Aubameyang from finding the back of the net, he is all-but guaranteed to walk away with at least a point.