It’s safe to say that it has not been a great start to 2020/21 for Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The 31-year-old striker missed out on a second successive Premier League golden boot by a single goal last season, after scoring 22 times for the Gunners. However, so far this season he has scored just two goals in 10 matches, with just one of those coming from open play.
Coming into the all-important north London derby this weekend, the Gabonese striker has scored just one goal in his last nine league appearances – his worst run in league competition since also scoring once in a nine-game period for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga between October and December 2014. A goalscoring drought is one thing, but a goalscoring drought on which a striker’s opportunities have also fallen off raises larger concerns. Both are true in this case.
So, what has gone wrong for Aubameyang and why have the goals dried up?
The obvious reason is how he’s been deployed by manager Mikel Arteta, with much of his playing time coming on the left side rather than the central striker berth that’s made him such a feared player in the Premier League.
His positional shift has meant a lack of goalscoring opportunities, which has seen Aubameyang have lower quality open play chances in the competition this season than Patrick Bamford has been afforded in two single match performances in 2020/21 for Leeds United.
Compared to the six forwards that have scored five or more non-penalty goals in the Premier League this season, Aubameyang’s xG numbers are measly.
He’s averaged goalscoring chances in open play worth just 0.14 per 90 in his 10 appearances this season, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin averaging nearly five times this amount for Everton.
These numbers were boosted by his performance in Sunday’s 2-1 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Arteta finally bowed to fan pressure and played Aubameyang as the central striker, which saw him post his best shot total (5), best xG figure (0.67) and most touches in the opposition box (9) in a Premier League game this season.
Looking at Arsenal’s passing network from the Wolves game, it becomes clear that the major issue was successfully getting the ball to Aubameyang.
No player to play more than 30 minutes in the game on Sunday managed fewer ball touches overall than Aubameyang (23) and he received fewer passes from his teammates (8) than goalkeeper Bernd Leno (9). One positive is he was playing where he’s evidently the most dangerous, with his ratio of touches in the opposition box (39%) the highest he’s ever had in a Premier League game in which he’s played 45+ minutes.
Things may have not gone to plan for Aubameyang since signing a new three-year contract with Arsenal on the eve of the 2020/21 season, but it of course hasn’t always been this way.
From his debut in February 2018 until the end of the prolonged 2019/20 Premier League season, the Arsenal striker had been one of – if not the most – impressive striker in the competition.
In this period, no player to score 20+ goals in the Premier League over that 18-month spell converted a higher proportion of their non-penalty shots than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (22.5%).
He also outperformed his non-penalty xG total by 7.6 in these 18 months, which was the fourth highest over-performance by a Premier League player between Aubameyang’s debut and the end of the 2019/20 season.
Since Arteta’s first game in charge of the Gunners on Boxing Day 2019, Aubameyang has seen himself deployed much wider on the left than the positional freedom he evidently had under previous manager Unai Emery.
As shown in the images above, it’s very clear how much of a positional shift the 31-year-old has encountered between his spell at Arsenal under Emery compared to that under fellow Spaniard Arteta.
Arteta recently told The Times, “Auba is scoring a lot of goals coming from that position; he has done that a lot in his career. We know he can play as a number nine. At the moment the team is a little bit better like this.”
But has moving Aubemayang out wide been to the overall benefit of Arsenal’s attacking threat? The numbers don’t suggest as much.
As displayed in the top half of the graphic above, the Gunners have scored fewer goals, attempted fewer shots and posted lower xG numbers in their first 30 Premier League games under Arteta than they did in their final 30 Premier League matches with Emery as manager – and it’s the same story for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang himself.
With Emery in charge, Aubameyang posted the third best xG per 90 from non-penalty shots in the Premier League (0.56), but this has reduced to 0.29 per 90 during Arteta’s reign – the 28th highest in the competition during this period since December 26, 2019.
Alongside those per 90 numbers, it’s become very noticeable that both the tally and the average quality of Aubameyang’s shots has reduced in the last 12 months under the new manager, which is unsurprising due to the previously mentioned positional shift.
Of non-penalty shots, he saw his average xG per shot at 0.20 under Emery’s management at Arsenal, suggesting the average player would be expected to convert 20% of these chances. Alarmingly, this xG per shot average has nearly halved under Arteta to 0.12, but Aubameyang’s individual quality has meant he’s still kept his conversion rate of open play shots at 18% during this time.
Aubameyang has seen a drop off in all attacking metrics, but has still managed to score nearly one in five of his shots in the Premier League under Arteta – proof that when he finds himself in a position to shoot, he’s still clinical in front of goal.
Arsenal fans will be hoping that they’ll play to his strengths this weekend in the north London derby against Spurs, with a central striker starting berth. Should that happen, there’s every chance that Aubameyang will show his obvious quality and be amongst the goals once again.
If this has got you excited for the game on Sunday, maybe test your knowledge with our north London derby quiz.
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