On January 31st, 2018, Arsène Wenger made his final signing as the manager of Arsenal Football Club. Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was signed for a club record fee of £57.37 million, following the recent recruitment of his ex-teammate Henrikh Mkhitaryan just 9 days earlier. Although his goalscoring return over the past five years speaks for itself, some pundits and journalists were skeptical. He was leaving Borussia Dortmund on bad terms, with the reputation of being a problematic figure off the field. He also turned 29 in just five months. Due to this, if he took an extended period to adjust to life in England, Arsenal might only reap the benefits of his ability for a brief period. At this time, Alexis Sánchez had recently departed to rivals Manchester United, Theo Walcott had been shipped off to Everton and Summer signing Alexandre Lacazette was struggling for form – which we now know was due to an underlying injury. Due to the reasons outlined above, there was an immediate need for goals at the club. Mkhitaryan had the reputation for being a creative player, so the burden largely laid on Aubameyang. So now, as the season is almost at a close, how has the signing panned out after 16 months?
2017/18 Season – On The Pitch.
Unfortunately, the 2017/18 season was one to forget for almost everyone with a link to Arsenal Football Club. We finished outside the top four for the second consecutive year, departed ways with our manager of 22 years, Arsène Wenger, and were eliminated from the Europa League at the hands of Atlético Madrid at the semi-final stage. Very few of our players could finish the season feeling like they had performed to the best of their ability. However, Aubameyang was one of the few who could enter the Summer with his head held high. He was cup tied due to UEFA’s regulations, so he could only watch on as we fell short against Atléti. Nonetheless, he adjusted to life in the Premier League superbly. Even the best players sometimes take a month or so to adjust to the physicality of the division.
In spite of this, Aubameyang hit the ground running. It took him just 37 minutes to get on the scoresheet during his debut. He delicately chipped an onrushing Jordan Pickford to net our fourth goal in an emphatic victory over Everton at The Emirates Stadium. Before the season came to the close, he added another nine goals to his tally. He also claimed a further four assists during this period. He finished the campaign with a goal or assist every 76 minutes domestically. In comparison, Lacazetteaveraged one every 117 minutes. There were also only three fixtures in which he didn’t manage to either get on the scoresheet or set up a goal for a teammate. Overall, it was a very successful season for Aubameyang in terms of his performances.Despite not featuring until February, only 15 players finished the season with more goals than him.
2018/19 Season – On The Pitch.
As the season began, the squad was in transition, and the entire squad took a few games to transition to the needs of UnaiEmery. Aubameyang didn’t score in any of our opening three games. He first found the net in our away match to Cardiff City, and he hasn’t looked back since. He finished the season as the joint top scorer, alongside Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, with 22 goals. Between the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League, he's found the net on another nine occasions, taking his tally for the season to 31, not including any potential goal/goals in our upcoming Europa League final vs Chelsea. From a creative standpoint, he’s totaled 8 assists in all competitions so far this season, only Lacazette has managed a higher total from the Arsenal squad.
A lot has been said about his contribution in the big games. Although this is a slight concern, he has managed 5 G/A against the Premier League top six this season. As well as this, he scored a further 4 goals between both legs of our Europa League semi-final clash with Valencia CF. In defense of Aubameyang, we have been dominated in numerous big games this season. It’s unfair to criticise a striker because he fails to find the net in a game at The Etihad where we have ~40% of the possession, and no clear-cut chances supplied to the strikers. He can't do everything on his own, and some of his output is effected by the supply that he receives.
The only real negative about Aubameyang’s season has been the quantity of big chances that he has missed. This has been highlighted by some fans in recent weeks. Because we missed out on the top four by a single point, people are trying to single out a single missed chance as the moment that cost us top four. However, without Aubameyang, we wouldn’t have even been in contention. It is an issue which needs to be addressed, as he is fully aware, but to claim that he's the reason we haven't finished higher is ludicrous, especially given our woeful defensive record.
Attitude Off The Pitch.
Whilst at Dortmund, his ability on the field was rarely questioned, however his attitude was questionable at time, which was a concern for those at the club. He left on bad terms, and many so-called experts believed that his ‘bad boy’ attitude would have a detrimental effect to the already struggling Arsenal dressing room. However, they couldn’t have been further off with their predictions. Aubameyang took little to no time to establish himself as a well-liked member of our squad. He immediately replaced Santi Cazorla, who was facing a long-term spell on the sideline, in terms of having an infectious positive attitude which spread to the fans and players alike. The emerging bromance with his strike partner Alexandre Lacazettewas visible from the offset.
While many players who compete for a place in the same starting eleven see each other as rivals, both of the pair have consistently emphasized that they are friends, not rivals. Who scores doesn’t matter, what's important is that we score. Both have made this attitude incredibly clear, and backed it up by being selfless on the pitch. A prime example was in the game at home to Stoke City. Aubameyang opened the scoring in the 75th minute, before adding a second shortly after. In the 89th minute, we were awarded a penalty, and the Gabon international was presented with a golden chance to secure his first hattrick for the club. Despite this, he decided to pass the responsibility to Lacazette, who was just returning from an injury. The Frenchman was in dire need of a goal for his confidence, anddispatched the spot kick confidently. Since then, his form has improved significantly. Undeniably, Lacazette is a top player, and that is by far the most prominent reason for his rise in popularity. However, managing to score on his first game back may also have helped him mentally, for which Aubameyang in largely responsible.
He has also played numerous games on the left wing, in order to accommodate his partner up front. In interviews, Aubameyang admitted that his preferred position is through the middle, but that he is more than willing to play on the flank if the manager asks him to do so and it is beneficial to the team. This selfless attitude is almost a polar opposite of that which was presented to us by numerous journalists following his arrival.
Finally, he doesn’t seem to have an ego at all in the dressing room. When 19-year old Mattéo Guendouzi arrived from FC Lorient, he was quick to take him under his wing. Moving to a new country as a teenager could have been overwhelming for the Frenchman, especially because he had to adjust to the expectations of a big club and learn a new language. To have a player of Aubameyang’s calibre make such a visible effort to settle must have been more than Guendouzi was ever expecting, and undeniably contributed to his strong start to life in the Premier League. Similarly, Aubameyang has also been great at encouraging youngsters like Eddie Nketiah and Tyreece John-Jules when they train with the first team. To have a world class striker as a mentor can only benefit.
There are one or two faults to Aubameyang’s game, but they really are minor in comparison to the abundance that he adds to the side. Without him, we wouldn’t have been close to finishing within the top four, and our chances of reaching the Europa League final would have been reduced dramatically. My only major concern is that it’s disappointing that we didn’t sign him a few years earlier. He’s been fantastic thus far at Arsenal, and here's hoping that he can finish a top-class season by getting on the scoresheet and lifting the trophy in Baku!