Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Rangers on Saturday.
The Gunners’ captain missed a plethora of golden opportunities during the pre-season fixture, but last season he couldn’t even take up goalscoring positions to get on the end of big chances.
In fact, Aubameyang scored 10 Premier League goals, but that was more or less what the underlying numbers expected him to score as he registered a mere 10.45 xG (expected goals) across 29 league games.
The Arsenal frontman had been renowned for his incredible penalty box movement during his time at Borussia Dortmund, as well as his early seasons with the Gunners, but that has changed since Mikel Arteta took over the managerial reigns at the Emirates Stadium.
It is easy to suggest that his movement has dropped off since he signed his new three-year reported £350,000 per week contract with the club last summer, but when you take a closer look at the underlying data it is easy to see what is actually happening.
Aubameyang was predominantly utilised as a centre-forward by former Arsenal bosses Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery, either as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation or alongside Alexandre Lacazette in a 3-5-2 system.
It was here that he got into the most goalscoring positions, averaging 0.78 xG (expected goals) per 90 minutes under Wenger and 0.77 xG per 90 in Emery’s only full season.
However, since Arteta arrived in December 2020 the prolific striker has typically been deployed as a left-winger, with Lacazette or even Eddie Nketiah preferred centrally due to their superior hold-up play.
The change in position has obviously had a huge impact on Aubameyang’s penalty box impact. In fact, the Gabon forward barely found himself in goalscoring positions last term and often was forced into taking speculative efforts from outside the box, something that isn’t one of his strengths.
The 32-year-old played 18 games as a striker last term across all competitions compared to 17 times as a winger and the differences in his offensive output are stark. When playing through the middle Aubameyang scored nine times, while he netted on just five occasions from the flank.
Furthermore, his underlying numbers are even more polarising, averaging 0.64xG per 90 minutes when played centrally compared to a mere 0.28xG per 90 when deployed on the wing.
While Arteta prefers his strikers to offer a lot in the build-up phase of play, the data shows how the Gunners can get the most out of their star man. The Spaniard can then offset his side’s ball retention issues by acquiring an additional creative midfielder in this summer’s transfer window.
The summer window is officially open, and it’s going to be tough to keep up with the comings and goings in and out of the Emirates.
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The likes of Leicester City’s James Maddison and Lyon’s Houssem Aouar have been linked with a move to north London, and Arteta could opt to play one of them as a wide playmaker to ease the creative burden for Hale End graduates Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
The Gunners would then have a fluid front four behind Aubameyang that not only hides his flaws in terms of hold-up play, but also creates overloads between the lines in an attempt to open up space for the veteran frontman to operate in.
Whatever the outcome of Arteta’s hunt for a creative playmaker will be, it is clear to see that deploying Aubameyang as a centre-forward next season is the best option for all parties involved.