Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang “still seems a little below par” for Arsenal, admits Alan Smith, with a talismanic presence at Emirates Stadium registering just six goals this season.
Only three of those have come in the Premier League, with a once prolific frontman finding himself stuck in a serious rut.
The 31-year-old’s standards have dropped off since he signed a lucrative new contract in north London, with it suggested that he may have lost some of his drive.
Smith is not buying that, with Aubameyang as important to Mikel Arteta’s cause as he has always been, but he concedes that the Gabonese has looked a shadow of his former self.
“Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang still seems a little below par,” the former Gunners striker told Sky Sports.
“He had one or two moments against Crystal Palace, one when he cut in off the left flank before getting a strong shot away. That was a bit more like it, but, in fairness, he was part of a team that was stuttering and couldn't really get going.
“That didn't help him. Chances were not being created, and you can't underestimate what a big miss Kieran Tierney was. His runs on the outside allow Aubameyang to drift in and get closer to goal. That didn't happen enough against Palace.
“Having got a goal against Newcastle in the FA Cup, you are hoping now he can get one or two more and go on a run. He doesn't now want to go on a run of three or four games without a goal because anyone's confidence would be affected under those circumstances.”
Arsenal, who saw off Newcastle 2-0 in the third round of the FA Cup, will play host to the Magpies again on Monday in the Premier League.
Thomas Partey will be hoping to see more minutes in that contest, with a big-money summer signing from Atletico Madrid making his first appearance since December 6 in the Gunners’ last outing against Crystal Palace.
“We don't really know what Arteta's number one midfield partnership would be, but you'd have to say Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey would be close to it,” Smith added.
“Their respective games should complement each other well. Partey is someone who can drive forward with the ball, he can pick out a clever pass and Xhaka can hold a little more and he's got a decent passing range.
“It would be good to see them play together in the coming weeks and build up some sort of partnership.
“There's no doubt Partey can add to the side and make it a better team with what he's got at his disposal, and a better understanding with Xhaka would help that.”