Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined Arsenal in January of 2018 from German side Borussia Dortmund. Aubameyang brought with him a Bundesliga 2015-16 Player of the Season award and the Bundesliga Top Goalscorer award of 2016-17.
Aubameyang’s rapid pace and huge personality was a stark contrast from his predecessor Olivier Giroud. Arsenal got a snippet of what the Gabon international could offer when he scored 10 goals and assisted four in 13 appearances in 2017/18. During these games featured a run where he scored five times in his first six games, the only player to ever achieve this feat at Arsenal.
Going into the 2018/19 Premier League season, the thought of Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette and Mesut Ozil playing a full season together was a mouth-watering prospect for Arsenal fans and a fearful one for the opposition. As the season went on, the question of how to fit all three together in the same lineup plagued Arsenal. With Aubameyang being rotated in and out of the team, sometimes playing alongside forward partner Lacazette, how did he become the Premier League’s top scorer?
Trademark of Aubemayang’s game is his off-the-ball movement. He makes goal scoring opportunities for himself with his runs and creates space around him for his team-mates. His exploitation of dangerous areas can be highlighted by the fact that he leads the league in xG and a boasts a .77 xGp90, also the best in the league.
Mix this with his unmatched speed, ability to combine in tight spaces, and world-class technique completing one of Europe’s fiercest forwards.
A perfect example of Aubameyang’s great off-the-ball play is his 22nd goal, the goal that put him top of the Premier League scoring charts. He particularly likes to target the space in between centre backs and full-backs.
Aubameyang’s off-the-ball movement also benefits the players around him. Here’s an example of Aaron Ramsey’s goal vs. Everton at the Emirates in the 2017/18 season.
Aubameyang sometimes struggles to impose himself on games in which Arsenal don’t have a lot of the ball. Not making as many key passes, drawing as many fouls, shots and successful dribbles per game compared to other top strikers in the league. The season before in 2017/18 he only had 0.3 successful dribbles per 90. In short, he can struggle in play on the ball.
Keeping with the comparison next to Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero. Aubameyang has also missed 23 big chances which is the most of the three. The second most is Harry Kane only with 11.
Integration from Emery
With such amazing attacking threats in the Arsenal squad, manager Unai Emery was tasked with putting all of them together. He started the season trying to play Aubemyang wide on the left to make up for Arsenal’s lack of wide threat and maintain defensive balance while playing Lacazette and Aubameyang together.
Aubameyang out wide, however, is not as effective as he is through the middle. In this game his weakness in general play was on full display vs. Everton at home, Aubameyang had a 69% passing accuracy, created zero chances and only had one shot in the penalty area.
Despite scoring it was clear that this would not be a long-term solution to the Aubameyang/Lacazette conundrum. Unai Emery would eventually settle on a 3-4-1-2 formation.
This system allowed Aubameyang’s space exploiting to flourish. With two world-class attacking players in Lacazette and Ozil playing around him. Aubameyang and Lacazette contributed 50 goals and 22 assists between them.
In the 2016/17 season at Dortmund, Osumane Dembélé and Aubameyang was the best assist-to goalscorer combination in Europe’s top five leagues. Service from wide areas can allow Aubameyang to utilize his off-the-ball movement and ability to read the game to full effect. This makes the wingbacks an important facet to the 3-4-1-2.
Worthy of an award
Aubameyang ended up playing a part in 30% of Arsenal’s Premier League goals. No player in the league contributed more to their team’s goals. Manager Unai Emery was able to to create a system that would get the best out of the Gabonese marksman. Using his pace to attack quickly in transition and predatory instincts inside the box to find space for goals.
Finishing top of the scoring charts through a currently unquantifiable statistic, of off-the-ball movement. Arsenal has one of Europe’s elite among its ranks and has something serious to build around in the summer transfer window.