In Focus: Aubameyang looks lost as Arteta's wingman
By Will Evans
29 October 2020, 10:26
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal reign is at a crossroads with another high-earning superstar failing to deliver — and it is not Mesut Ozil.
After an encouraging start to the season, the FA Cup holders have been blighted by creativity and conversion issues.
Defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester have left the Gunners languishing 11th in the table and hopes of breaking back into the Premier League's top four are already beginning to fade.
But could restoring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (pictured above) to a central role be the answer to Arsenal’s goalscoring problems?
Aubameyang, 31, has netted just once in six league appearances this season but was on target as Arsenal opened their Europa League campaign with a 2-1 win at Rapid Wien last week.
And tonight's home game with Dundalk could be the perfect opportunity for the Gunners skipper to revert from the wing to a central berth.
Arsenal have conceded just 1.17 goals per 90 minutes, which is only bettered by surprise package Aston Villa (one).
But their average of 1.33 goals scored per match is the eighth lowest in the top flight.
Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Leicester highlighted their deficiencies. Arsenal’s expected goals total was just 0.74 and they failed to convert from 10 chances and 12 shots.
A long-running problem
The club’s issues in the final third are not surprising.
Arteta, 38, was in the market for a forward-thinking midfielder in the summer but the Gunners were not able to complete a deal for Lyon’s Houssem Aouar.
Arsenal's total of 56 goals last season was lower than every team that finished in the top six and it was always going to be a challenge to improve on that number without significant reinforcements.
With new signings not an option until the January transfer window, Arteta must make the most of the options available to him.
The most obvious solution would be to switch Aubameyang from the left wing to his favoured position as a central striker.
If Arteta continues to operate with a front three, doing so would free up the left-wing slot for Bukayo Saka when he returns from an injury picked up against Leicester.
Aubameyang toiling on the left
Aubameyang's expected goals ratio currently stands at a staggeringly low 0.07 per 90 minutes.
Compare that to his record of 0.47 per 90 minutes last season and you can see just how dramatic the forward’s loss of form has been.
Since signing a three-year contract extension amid much fanfare on September 15, he has just that solitary goal against Rapid Wien to show for his efforts.
Aubameyang is a sublime finisher but is only taking 1.33 shots per 90 minutes this term, compared with an average of 2.66 last season.
He is also averaging just 2.67 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes.
An unlikely move
All the evidence suggests Arteta will keep Aubameyang on the left, having scarcely used him as an out-and-out striker since taking over last December.
The Spaniard prefers a forward who brings others into the game, often has his back to goal and can drop deep. That is not Aubameyang’s forte but it suits Alexandre Lacazette.
Arteta would also point to Aubameyang's 22 league goals last season as evidence that the team’s talisman does his best work on the left.
While that is a valid point, getting the 2018-19 Premier League Golden Boot winner in goalscoring positions more frequently must be the priority — and chances are more likely to come through the middle.