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Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flop in another big game?

17:47 GMT 09/03/2019
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 2018-19
The Gabon international missed a decisive penalty against Tottenham Hotspur, but could make amends this weekend against Manchester United
Considering the form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has demonstrated since he arrived at Arsenal in January 2018, it feels almost churlish to aim criticism at the Gabon international.

However, while Auba’s goalscoring record with the Gunners is impressive—he’s struck 26 goals in 41 league outings since arriving from Borussia Dortmund—his form has dipped in recent weeks.

The Central African has scored just once—in the 5-1 rout of Bournemouth—since late January, failing to net in six of his seven matches.

After netting two in two—against Manchester United and Cardiff City—the forward has failed to score in defeats by Manchester City, BATE Borisov and Stade Rennais, while he also drew a blank in the second leg against the Belarusian side and the 2-0 victory over Southampton.

He’s rarely shown his best form against the league’s biggest sides—that FA Cup goal against United failed to turn the contest in the Gunners’ favour—but worryingly, he’s also drawn a blank against some of the league’s lesser lights recently.

The 29-year-old is surely suffering from Emery’s uncertainty about his attacking options, and appears unable to secure a starting spot on a consistent basis.

After starting 18 games in a row, his last six showings have read: bench, start, bench, start, bench, start. He’s been a primary victim of the return to prominence of Mesut Ozil, the sustained form of Alex Iwobi, and Emery’s apparent preference for Alexandre Lacazette.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang | 2018-19 Premier League stats

The vitality the duo demonstrated when paired together during the latter stages of 2018 has dissipated, with Auba apparently the odd man out.

Questions have also been raised about his effectiveness in front of goal, despite his scoring record both in Germany and since arriving in England.

According to Squawka, the forward has missed more ‘big chances’ than any other player in the Premier League.

They attribute 19 big misses to Aubameyang, with Salah—on 14—down in second. His tally is significantly higher than the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Jamie Vardy and Callum Wilson (all 13) or even his Arsenal teammate Lacazette, on 11.

The latest of these ‘big’ misses came at Wembley on Saturday, as the forward missed a gilt-edged opportunity—a late penalty to win the North London derby in Spurs’ own (temporary) backyard—with a weak spotkick.

He was clearly emotionally shattered after Hugo Lloris’s save, and followed that up with a miserable performance in the midweek Europa League defeat by Rennes.

The Arsenal fans—and his teammates—may have offered their backing after the error against Spurs, but Aubameyang, despite being promoted to the starting XI, couldn’t respond with a big performance.

Rennes may have struggled to cope with Auba’s movement off the ball, and his pace in possession, his finishing was lacklustre, and his passing was also off the mark on occasion.

Any hopes that Auba would be back in form, full of confidence, and primed to hit the ground running against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rampant Manchester United on Sunday were neutralised by that muted showing at Roazhon Park.

His lack of defensive work rate or tracking back when out of possession can be forgiven if he’s slaying Arsenal’s opponents on a regular basis, but with the goals drying up, it appears as though Emery’s faith in his frontman is wearing thin.

Certainly, while Auba’s pure goalscoring qualities rival the top strikers in the game, his overall contribution ensures that he belongs in a category below the likes of Luis Suarez, Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero, all of whom are more complete operators.

Critically, looking ahead to Sunday’s showdown at the Emirates Stadium, Aubameyang’s record in the big games will surely prompt Emery to plump for the more complete Lacazette from the off.

Admittedly, and to his credit, he came up trumps in December’s 4-2 victory over Spurs at the Emirates Stadium. Beyond that showing, however, returns against the big dogs have been limited.

It’s been a familiar story since the attacker arrived in London.

He attempted no shots in the 1-0 defeat by Spurs in February 2018, and then missed a big chance early on in the 3-0 home loss against Manchester City later that month in the League Cup.

A few days later, in the Premier League now, Auba had a penalty saved by Ederson when Arsenal game up against the same opponents, and he fluffed his lines when a half-decent chance fell his way in the 2-1 defeat at Manchester United in April last year.

He cut a peripheral figure as the Gunners lost 2-0 at home against City in August, and opportunities came and went in defeats at Chelsea and the home draw against Liverpool in late 2018.

Auba may have halted that luckless run in the 196th North London derby, with his only goals against a top-six side, but his penalty miss in the 197th has brought his poor record back into the spotlight.

With the goals against the lesser lights drying up, Aubameyang desperately needs a big performance—a rare big performance—against a domestic heavyweight.