Understanding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Underwhelming Season and What Lies Ahead
After an underwhelming season following the much-anticipated renewal of his contract, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has faced large amounts of criticism over the course of the campaign. Fans have spoken out over a supposed ‘lack of effort’ from the 31-year-old, as well as his inability to combine and link play as well as striking counterpart Alexandre Lacazette.
It is undeniable that Aubameyang’s standards have fallen from the incredible performance levels he has shown at Arsenal and throughout his career, but to discuss what the future holds for the player, we must first seek to understand the true reasons for his poor 2020/21 season. Firstly, allow me to state that I simply do not believe that Aubameyang’s fall off is what we see from any player as they enter the latter stages of their career. The jump from the Aubameyang that carried Arsenal to our FA Cup triumph at the end of the 2019/20 season to the Aubameyang we saw at the start and throughout the season which just ended is simply too much of a divide to have been a natural decrease.
Usually, a player declines over several seasons, as their physicality and attributes fade away. Therefore, we are led to believe there is more to consider.
One agenda being promoted by a small demographic of fans is that our current situation with Aubameyang is comparable to the one we had with Mesut Ozil in seasons gone by. Effectively, they are suggesting that Aubameyang got his new contract, and now is claiming his big wage without having to work too hard. Again, I cannot agree.
Prior to signing his new deal, there was several months of delay. It seemed that before signing, Aubameyang wanted assurances over the club’s future; he wanted to know the club were looking to improve going forward, and that they were going to make ambitious signings to do so.
If he was concerned about the future of the club, why would he have mentally switched off to just take his wage? It makes no cohesive sense. After all, upon signing he emphatically stated, "I believe in Arsenal. We can achieve big things together. We have something exciting here and I believe the best is to come for Arsenal."
Aubameyang has always struck me as the kind of player that thrives off the love of the fans, and a man who genuinely enjoys playing elite football. I do not think it would be in his nature to let the fans down due to a lack of effort, especially given the intimate bond he has spent the past few seasons developing with the fans.
Furthermore, off the pitch, this has been a difficult season for Aubameyang. At the beginning of 2021, it became apparent that the player’s mother was quite ill, and while she has thankfully recovered now, we cannot underestimate the mental effect this has on a player, who missed several games due to this.
Circumstances only got worse for the club captain, who was diagnosed with Malaria shortly after returning from international duty. He missed another chunk of games and felt the harsh side-effects of his virus - namely a severe loss of weight and fitness.
Towards the end of the season, he was back and playing - but it was clear to see he was not 100% fit. A culmination of a poor three months of performances to start the season, followed by various personal complications, led Aubameyang’s season to be rather underwhelming given the high expectations of the fans. There's also a case to suggest Aubameyang wasn't entirely culpable for his poor season. He has never been a player with the capacity to drop deeper and adopt a play-making centre-forward role.
Throughout his career, it has become blatantly obvious that he is a poacher; get him chances in and around the area and he will finish them. This is exactly what happened in the previous seasons of Aubameyang’s time at Arsenal, and at great effect too. He scored 10 goals in his first 13 Premier League games after joining the club in the January of 2018 and went on to score a golden boot-winning 22 goals in the following season.
Even in an underperforming Arsenal 19/20 side he managed 29 goals in all competitions. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s impressive record of goals makes me think that it is at least partially the fault of the team for his lack of output this season.
The fact of the matter is that this season, Arsenal have been creativity lacking. Understandable, really, when we played without an attacking midfielder until Boxing Day. In previous years, some of Aubameyang’s lack of general play involvement has been glossed over due to his deadly finishing, and this was not the case this year.
A lack of service has highlighted some of the flaws in the Gabonese striker’s game. It is clear to me that if you want Aubameyang to be in your team and scoring goals, the way you get the very best out of him is through surrounding him with technicians who will create chances. This was epitomised by Arsenal's impressive victory over Leeds in February. A team around Aubameyang containing Smith Rowe, Saka, Odegaard and Ceballos allowed the striker to flourish - scoring a hattrick in the 4-2 win. With the player tied down to an expensive contract as well as a player possessing the captaincy, it seems almost implausible that Aubameyang will be leaving Arsenal this summer. Therefore, it is the job of the not only the striker, but also Mikel Arteta and the club to ensure another poor season does not follow for Aubameyang.
With Alex Lacazette potentially on the way out and with no advanced links to potential signings up top, it is looking like Aubameyang will be the first-choice striker going into the new campaign. In consequence, the pressure is on for him to deliver the bulk of Arsenal’s goals.
It is also highly likely that the club will bring in a central creative midfielder, which could help Aubameyang greatly. Someone occupying a central position and creating chances alongisde technical wingers will significantly increase the big chances the captain will have, and I have no doubt he will be back to his goalscoring tendencies. Essentially, I think we have no choice but to stand with Aubameyang - and desperately hope that he can get back in the goals. Or, it will be time for the likes of Martinelli, Balogun, or a new signing to take over the striking birth at Arsenal.
With the resources we have, let’s hope the club puts us in the best possible position ahead of the new season to give Aubameyang as great a fighting chance as he can to rediscover his goalscoring ways. One poor season does not undo the many years of clinical striking he displayed before. He can turn this around.