As the two main strikers – and arguably two best players – for north London’s fiercest rivals, comparisons are always going to be made between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane.
Since the former joined Arsenal in January 2018 both have had huge influences on their respective teams, carrying them through some of their most disappointing periods at times.
This season, though, the England captain has pulled clear of his counterpart at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road, outscoring him by 18 goals and adding assists to his game to leave him not just as the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner but as its Playmaker of the Season as well.
But look a little deeper into the two players’ seasons and the disparity is not quite as stark as it seems.
Criticism of Aubameyang this season has centered largely around his supposed decline in terms of output on the pitch.
“Aubameyang is past his best,” said Jamie Redknapp to Sky Sports after Arsenal’s defeat to Manchester City in February.
“He’s going to have moments; he’s going to get hat-tricks. But when I watch him sometimes, it’s like he’s lost his superpower.”
Plenty of factors can legitimately be put forward to explain his downturn in front of goal (Aubameyang has scored just 10 goals in the Premier League this season as opposed to 22 last campaign).
The Gabon international has had to contend with disciplinary issues, the illness of his mother and malaria as off the field obstacles to achieving his best.
However, in terms of matters on it, Arsenal’s playing style has perhaps been the biggest barrier to goalscoring form that he has had to overcome.
In terms of xG, the 31-year-old has only finished the season with 0.45 fewer Premier League goals than he should have done (10 goals vs 10.45 expected goals as per understat).
Kane meanwhile has ended with a tally only 0.83 above what his should be (22 vs 21.17).
This suggests that both strikers were around as deadly as you would expect them to be this campaign, but that Spurs have created far more chances for Kane than Arsenal have for Aubameyang.
Of course, xG isn’t everything and the sight test would seem to dictate that the Gunners captain has been far less lethal than the England one.
But expand that argument to shots on target and you’ll see that both are around as accurate in their efforts on goal as each other (39.3% accuracy for Aubameyang and 39.4% for Kane). The Tottenham forward though has taken close to triple the number of shots of his north London rival (132 to Aubameyang’s 56).
While the fact that the Gabon international has spent parts of the season playing on the wings as opposed to starting as a traditional number nine may go some way to explaining this, the trends do suggest that Arsenal are creating far fewer opportunities for their forward.
So how do the Gunners fix this?
Well in many ways Mikel Arteta has already begun to find solutions to this problem.
In the period after the opening day of the Premier League season, Aubameyang went on a goal-scoring drought by his standard. A player who had never gone more than four games without netting in an Arsenal shirt managed just two goals in 12 appearances – one of which was a penalty in the win at Old Trafford.
In that time the lack of a replacement for the creativity of Mesut Ozil – not that exiling him from the squad was necessarily the wrong choice – cost Arsenal dear. Their captain and star striker’s xG was just 0.28 (as per Wyscout) and only Burnley, West Brom and Sheffield United had scored fewer in the Premier League by the time Christmas came around.
After the festive period, though, things began to improve dramatically. The introduction of Emile Smith Rowe and the loan signing of Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid saw the Gunners begin to create opportunities in far greater numbers.
After Boxing Day, Aubameyang’s xG nearly doubled to 0.55 and his record of 10 goals in 19 starts is not actually as bad as the narrative around him would seem to suggest.
To imply that those two were the only creative outlets in the entire squad would be harsh on someone such as Bukayo Saka, who registered 10 assists in all competitions this season. But the correlation between the upturn in chance creation and the integration of Smith Rowe and Odegaard into the side cannot be ignored.
As the season came to a close last weekend, Arteta promised that before going to spend some time on holiday with his family and dogs that he and his coaching staff would undergo a period of deep reflection and self-criticism to work out what went wrong this season.
Arsenal’s aim was to finish in the top four this campaign but, unlike in years gone by, it was not the defence that proved to be their downfall. In fact only Manchester City and Chelsea conceded fewer then Gunners in the Premier League.
Instead, their main issue was at the other end of the pitch where they managed just the joint ninth-highest goal scoring tally in the division, despite having a striker who was close to being as clinical as the league’s best.
It is clear that as they approach the summer transfer market, ensuring they are able to have at least the post-Christmas levels of creativity in their squad will be vital if they want to find themselves higher up the table.
Smith Rowe will be staying and talks are already underway to try and get him to commit his future to the club by signing a contract extension.
But asking a 20-year-old, who has never played a full season of senior football, to carry the entire creative burden of a team who has ambitions on Champions League football despite his troublesome injury record is too big a task.
He will need back up in the shape of a player similar to Odegaard to be brought in this summer.
Do you want all the latest news from around Arsenal Football Club straight to your email inbox?
Of course you do.
By signing up for our Arsenal newsletter, you will receive a twice-daily email, focused on all the latest news from the Emirates Stadium.
And, not only that, but you will get exclusive content from our club writers Chris Wheatley and Kaya Kaynak before anyone else.
You won’t miss a thing when it comes to the Gunners.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds.
Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article – or any article on the Arsenal section of football.london in fact – labelled ‘Get the biggest daily stories by email’ and click ‘Subscribe’.
Alternatively, you can click here and tick the Arsenal box to subscribe for our Gunners newsletter.
If you decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails, simply follow the unsubscribe link in one of the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to.
Emi Buendia is another play who the club like and with his chance creation record in both the Championship and Premier League, the Argentinian would be a shrewd piece of business.
Regardless of who the Gunners do end up going for, bringing in someone who can help get Aubameyang scoring more often next season should be Edu‘s biggest priority this summer.