No guarantee of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang success at Arsenal

The Gunners swing from exciting to frustrating, but this constant inconsistency threatens to rob them of their hitman's best in his prime years

COMMENT    By Solace Chukwu     Follow on Twitter 

Beyond the obvious mischief in the sentiment, one might say that, in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, an inconsistent Arsenal have found the perfect standard-bearer. Certainly, his first two appearances for the Gunners would seem to bear testament to this view.

He veered from mildly involved but menacing to, well, holographic, all in the span of a week, and it remains to be seen which Auba will turn out for the Gunners in their Carabao Cup final against Manchester City in Sunday.

On his debut against Everton, the former Dortmund man whet the appetite for the North London derby, but his vaunted duel with Spurs hitman Harry Kane never threatened to take off, bar a very brief moment in the first half.

Benefitting from the doziness of the officialdom, he had opened his Gunners' account with scooped nonchalance at the Emirates; at Wembley he paid the price for that previous generosity. The assistant referee giveth, and the assistant referee taketh away.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal

To focus on the gulf between both performances though is to miss the point.

The Gabon international has, after all, scored at a decent enough rate over the past two seasons that to term him inconsistent would be not just foolhardy, but inaccurate. Instead, it is the approach Arsene Wenger employed, and the contrasting demands that it placed on the team as a whole, and on Aubameyang in particular, that should give one pause.

Aubameyang | 2017-18 Premier League stats

Beyond all gripes about financial handicap, the sense persists with Arsenal that the malaise runs deeper.

As late-era Wenger devolves into parody, the Frenchman's inability to find a balance in his match strategies is more and more apparent: here, it looked like the idea was to counterattack; but there was a shocking lack of intensity, almost as though there was no belief in the plan.

Arsene Wenger Arsenal

Invariably, Arsenal will either drop too deep or push too high. This uncertainty from one game to the next will have the side-effect of making Aubameyang's adaptation even more problematic than it needs to be, and it will be intriguing to see how the Gunners approach Sunday's showpiece against Pep Guardiola's side.

While he certainly is not a system player, it is worth noting that, through his time at Borussia Dortmund, he had the benefit of a somewhat consistent playing style (at least without the ball), even while cycling through three coaches.

It is what has shot up his output into a world-class dimension, allowing him to effectively specialize. To expect any radical alterations to his game feels somewhat like a waste of his peak.

This then is one way in which the 28-year-old may need to adapt, but then the lack of clarity is also apparent in the squad situation into which he has been implanted. Having been wholly ineffectual at centre-forward against Spurs, he then inexplicably was moved out to the left to accommodate Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette, as Arsenal sought a way back into the game.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal Everton

That brought to the fore the previously muted debate as to how both can be accommodated within the same team: neither is enough of a creative influence or a battering ram for a straight 4-4-2 to make sense, and so there exists a weird compromise that seems useful to no one.

Lacazette himself seemed to be struggling for confidence before injury struck, and while Aubameyang always cuts an assured figure, this had threatened to be an added complication.

His battles in the Bundesliga involved an external 'enemy' in Robert Lewandowski, with whom he frequently duelled.

Quite how he would have reacted to having to compete internally remains to be seen, although the Frenchman's injury now offers Auba the opportunity to establish himself as the main man in Wenger's attacking schema.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal Everton

Certainly with Lacazette absent, Wenger now has no excuse for not tailoring his team to the strengths of his club-record striking addition.

Article continues below

There was a time though when the Gunners' boss could baulk at this as a matter of principle, in his stubborn determination to play football a certain way. It was quixotic and inescapably doomed, but it was his way.

Now, he does not have even that anymore.

In its place is something equally as self-harming: a lack of real identity. It may well turn what looked a sure thing in Aubameyang into a lightning rod for further frustration.