Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal drought distracts from larger problems at Arsenal

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In Arsenal’s last five Premier League games, star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has only mustered five shots. At this moment in time, the target he’s most affiliated with is undoubtedly the one on his back.

A 1-0 defeat to Leicester City on Sunday night marked the first time the Gabon international failed to score in five consecutive games since 2014 when he suffered a similar barren run at Borussia Dortmund.

Fans, pundits and an army of Twitter trolls have been quick to take aim at the sharpshooter who’s drought in the league has extended to 483 minutes of regulation time. That is to be expected when you sign a new contract that reportedly commands over £350,000-per-week in wages.

A bumper deal of that magnitude automatically makes you scapegoat-in-chief should you not live up to near impossible expectations. Just ask Mesut Ozil who’s currently enduring one of football’s iciest freeze-outs at the north London club.

The fact that Aubameyang’s last league goal came just a few days before penning an extension isn’t great for optics and is doing him no favours. Former Tottenham and England striker Darren Bent was one of many to take a cynical view.

“Before he signed his contract, he was absolutely everywhere – running back, tracking back, putting tackles in, breaking forward,” he said on talkSPORT.

“There was a real hunger and intensity to his game. At the minute, you can see there’s been a massive drop-off. When you focus so much on getting a new deal like Aubameyang did, you’ll run that extra yard and make that extra effort.”

There’s no denying the 31-year-old has been poor in recent games, but that is true of Arsenal as a whole in the final third.

The Gunners have scored just five times in their last five matches in England’s top flight. This season, they rank 17th in the league for shots per game [8.8] and key passes per game [6.7].

Mikel Arteta’s system has facilitated Arsenal’s progress in a number of departments, most notably in terms of their shape, ability to play out from the back and high-pressing game.

However, its lack of flexibility and variation has hampered their creativity in the final third. That drawback is further compounded by the deployment of two holding midfielders in the double pivot with Granit Xhaka and new signing Thomas Partey partnering up against Leicester.

A 3-4-3 appears to be Arteta’s favoured system but its functionality at Arsenal is at an awkward juncture. It’s evolved to a point that makes for a sturdy structure but has lost the element of unpredictability. Simultaneously, it hasn’t progressed enough for new patterns to develop organically or for players to improvise effectively within it.

Arsenal are largely reliant on cross-field balls or lobbed passes down the flanks followed by deliveries into the box. Their passing game is crying out for a creative spark. Arteta’s deduction that Dani Ceballos isn’t a number 10 suggests that he would consider playing one given the opportunity. If only Arsenal had an established World Cup-winning playmaker in their ranks who could seize control in the final third…

It’s no surprise that Aubameyang’s goalless run in the league is being blown out of proportion to the point that it’s bordering on being a crisis for the striker who netted against Rapid Wien in the Europa League just three days prior to Leicester’s visit. There are larger problems at Arsenal though.

Aubameyang’s critics can continue taking shots at Arsenal’s skipper. Ironically, they too are missing the target.

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