Why has Pierre Emerick Aubameyang struggled this season?
In a season when Arsenal have looked blunt going forward, Aubameyang has still ended up scoring 10 goals in the league, while boasting 19 goal involvements in 38 appearances in all competitions.
That’s 0.5 goals/assists per match for the Gabon international. Although it’s decent return, judging by his previous tallies in France, Germany and then England, it is nowhere close to Aubameyang’s own standards.
In 2019/20, he had an impressive 32 goal involvements in 44 appearances. In the previous four seasons the 31-year-old’s number were at an astonishing 39, 38, 45 and 51.
So why has the man behind the huge smile and shiny cars looked out of his depths this season?
That can be down to three Ps: Personnel, Position and Pandemic.
Personnel: Imagine a doctor going in the operation theater to operate a person’s heart. If he doesn’t have the proper tools to do it, the surgeon won’t be able to do the operation effectively. We can run parallels to that with Arsenal.
The team started the 2020/21 campaign without any recognized central attacking midfielder. While Mesut Ozil was frozen out “due to footballing reasons,” the club failed to land their most coveted target in Houssem Aouar.
That dearly cost Arsenal in the final-third, as Mikel Arteta looked at his players while scratching his head.
After the first international break, Mikel Arteta switched Arsenal’s default formation from 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1. It might have been naïve to alter the formation mid-season, when Arsenal did not have the right personnel for the job.
Alexander Lacazette, Joe Willock and summer recruit Willian were all used as a number 10. But they all failed to make an impact behind the striker. That resulted in Arsenal going five matches without a win after a draw against Leeds United on 22nd November 2020.
That put the Gunners around the relegation zone and Arteta in scrutiny.
It wasn’t until the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe from the academy that the Red and White looked a different proposition.
It is widely known among the fans that Arsenal would be sitting at third position in the league, if the campaign started at the time when Smith Rowe was added to the ranks.
Smith Rowe’s involvement thus helped Aubameyang.
Position: Mikel Arteta has used Aubameyang as a left winger for majority of his time at the Emirates Stadium.
Although the star striker’s preferred position is center-forward, playing on the wing is hardly something new and shiny for the Gabonese.
His career at former club Borussia Dortmund started as a winger, to accommodate a more orthodox number nine in Robert Lewandowski. Aubameyang finds himself in a similar position at Arsenal, with Lacazette being preferred as a focal point due to his hold-up and link-up ability.
But with Aubameyang turning 32 in less than a month, it would not be wise to continue playing him as a winger. Players are not wine. They don’t keep improving after reaching their 30s.
Pandemic: Aubameyang has a jovial personality and enjoys being an extrovert.
— AUBA⚡️ (@Auba) February 15, 2021
He is one of the most liked persons in the dressing room. The star striker likes interaction with friends, family and also fans.
In an interview with Sky Sports, the striker admitted that he struggled a lot at the initial months of the 2020/21 campaign due to no fans.
We have already seen that supporters coming back to the stadium has dramatically improved the performances of the home team.
Brighton and Hove Albion defeated champions Manchester City after going two down. Leicester City won their first-ever FA Cup.
More recently, Arsenal struggled in the second half against Crystal Palace, who were playing in front of their fans. While the team looked sharper in the final day win against Brighton and Hove Albion.
A lack of pre-season and condensed fixture list might have certainly played a part. But it is not feasible for the club to imagine both Lacazette and Aubameyang in the same team, firing and causing havoc.
It might have been a case in the past, but it does not look like a case for the future.