While the big talking point after Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday was Pep Guardiola getting a win over former assistant manager Mikel Arteta, a lesser topic that invited discussion was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang firing another blank.
It’s now four games since the Gabon superstar last found the back of the net for the north Londoners — 393 minutes precisely since his trademark goal against newly-promoted Fulham. Auba, scorer of 22 Premier League goals in each of the last two seasons, is now in danger of not hitting those numbers again given the recent evidence.
In truth, there’s a caveat: it’s still too early to ascertain whether the forward’s dry spell at the start of 2020/21 will lead to a significant reduction in goals, while it ought to be noted that two of those games have been against Liverpool and Manchester City, many pundits’ picks to challenge for the title.
However, the rebuttal to the second assertion would be to indicate how Aubameyang’s recent run of scoring vs the big teams at the backend of last season in league and cup, as well as in the Community Shield, looked to be a precursor to a newly-found edge in the so-called big games.
This hasn’t been the case, with the former Borussia Dortmund striker attempting no shots against the Reds at Anfield and City on Saturday, a pretty damning fact. He had 27 and 25 touches respectively in both encounters, completing eight passes on Merseyside and 10 in Manchester at the weekend.
Indeed, this has dampened the optimism that’d grown in the last three months over the prolific frontman’s big-game goals. Having been criticised for being peripheral in encounters vs Arsenal’s rivals, the 2019 Golden Boot winner seemed to have been empowered recently to punish City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the space of a couple of months.
Be that as it may, statistics from Arsenal’s other games suggest there may be a bigger problem, with Aubameyang not even getting many shots away, thus calling Arteta’s approach into question. Against West Ham United, he attempted one effort, while there were two attempts (both off target) in the Gunners’ last home game vs Sheffield United.
After three strikes at goal from the club’s skipper in their opening day victory, there’s been a decrease in the volume of shots in recent matches.
Admittedly, it’s a small sample size, but should this be worrying and are misgivings about Arteta’s approach reasonable given that the frontman scored those hugely important strikes under the talented tactician at the end of 19/20?
To be honest, it’s hard to not sympathise with Arteta, owing to the profile of players he has at his disposal. The recent weeks have revealed why Houssem Aouar was chased, and while Thomas Partey’s addition potentially adds a lot of positive things to the side, their glaring creativity problem remains a bugbear.
Arsenal lack a genuine playmaker in the side — well, there’s Mesut Ozil but he’s strangely persona non grata with the regime at the moment — and it’s up to their astute trainer to find solutions as Auba has seemingly been nullified in recent contests. Some might suggest this was a matter of time, given how reliant the north London side were on their captain to deliver in the final third last term.
It was interesting to see how Guardiola silenced the attacker on Saturday, deploying Kyle Walker as a right-sided centre-back to limit his effectiveness.
Having punished his City team with a brace in the FA Cup semi-final in July from only three shots, Pep restricted the frontman’s efforts to zilch this time around.
Although still early doors, an interesting observation in Auba’s average heat map shows how the striker spends less time in the opposition’s box, compared to last season.
This may well change as the games come thick and fast but the current facts are striking, nonetheless.
With other top contenders for the Golden Boot currently firing on all fronts, Auba already has a lot of catching up to do if he’s to compete for or win the top scorers award for a second time.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Heung-min Son have netted seven respectively, Mohamed Salah has hit six, one more than the pair of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy and two higher than teammate Sadio Mane.
In spite of the current lean run in front of goal, maybe Gooners shouldn’t fret too much as this isn’t unprecedented in Auba’s Arsenal career.
He went on a four-game drought either side of the lockdown before hitting a brace against Norwich City and a further three in five starts.
Earlier, as Unai Emery’s reign unravelled, the frontman scored one in six games, before hitting six in the following nine games.
However, digging deeper, the striker’s shot statistics in his identical drought last term highlights numbers which put current scarcity in context.
Despite not hitting the back of the net vs West Ham, Man City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton, Auba attempted a staggering 13 attempts in those four games — one, two, seven and three respectively — 10 higher than he’s managed in this current dry spell.
This will definitely worry even the most optimistic supporter, given how the side have leaned on Aubameyang in the last two years.
Arteta has certainly stabilised Arsenal in less than a year in charge. Still, how he navigates a tricky period for his team’s best player will go a long way in the North London club’s push to end in the automatic Champions League spots as well as compete for the Europa League.