Scoring in an Auba Wonderland

Things really are different at the Emirates this season. After his brace against Burnley on Saturday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be top of the Premier League scoring charts on Christmas day. Since Robin van Persie picked up his Golden Boot in 2012 and moved up the M1 to Manchester, Arsenal involvement in the race to be top scorer has been rare. By this stage of 2016/17 Alexis Sánchez had 12 goals, and he finished with an impressive 24, but in a particularly high scoring season, he was only able to finish third overall. That is the only time in the last six full seasons that an Arsenal player has found the net more than 16 times in a league campaign. 

For Aubameyang, however, such a position is not a new feeling. This is a player who, in his last full season in Germany, not only won the cannon award for top scorer in a closely fought race with Robert Lewandowski, but also scored more goals in a single Bundesliga season than anyone since the 1977. Last season he played for two struggling teams whose managers didn't last past May, and his campaign was impacted by the January transfer, but he still managed to score 23 league goals. 

Despite this, however, it actually feels like Aubameyang is somehow underrated, or overlooked, when it comes to the Premier League’s standout players. Even amongst Arsenal fans there sometimes doesn’t seem to be a full recognition of the fact Arsenal have one of world football’s most prolific goal scorers, who isn’t injury prone, a luxury they’ve arguably only had for a single season since Thierry Henry left the club. 

I think Aubameyang ins't helped by his style of play in this regard. His lack of involvement in general play means he rarely stands out in matches, even when he scores. His repertoire of eye-catching goals has actually been better this season than in his time at Borussia Dortmund, but a significant proportion of his goals still look relatively simple and aren't very memorable. It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of his goal celebrations are more spectacular than the goals themselves.

Arsenal more than most clubs have come to appreciate strikers for more than just scoring. Thierry Henry was arguably responsible for helping to change how strikers are viewed in England, thanks to his selflessness in setting up others and amazing all-round dribbling and passing skills. Like Henry, Robin van Persie evolved from a wide man or support striker to a genuine centre forward, while maintaining his top class technique and link up skills. When he became only the second Arsenal striker of the last ten years to score 20 league goals, Alexis Sánchez was still near the top of the league in chances created, through balls and dribbles. Even Olivier Giroud was defended for not being the most prolific striker around because of his perceived ability to bring others into play.

This combines to mean that on a match to match basis, Aubameyang rarely has single performances that are considered particularly impressive. He has four games this season where he scored a brace, yet hasn’t won a man of the match award in the Premier League this term. Sure, the goals at Fulham came when the contest had already been decided, but his goals in the other three were decisive, yet the general consensus afterwards was that there had been better performers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. People’s idea of a man of the match display is a complete performance rather than one or two decisive moments. It does, however, show how such a player can go a bit unnoticed. Consistency can sometimes be overlooked at the hands of the spectacular.

Describing what it is that Aubameyang does so well can be both straightforward and quite difficult. His goals speak for themself, but attribute wise it’s harder to explain what makes him so good. He’s not a link up striker and he’s not very good at creating his own shots off the dribble. People often describe poachers like him as clinical finishers, but this hasn't been the case for most of his career. In has last six months at Dortmund he scored just ten goals from almost 14 expected goals in the Bundesliga. This season he’s been efficient in front of goal but has still missed some big chances, like in the 1-1 draw against Wolves or the 2-2 at Old Trafford. His strength is essentially getting on the end of chances. At Dortmund he got on the end of chances more than almost any other player in the world and the goals naturally followed. He’s a similar player to Edinson Cavani in many ways. He can have misses that look sloppy, but his movement allows him to keep churning out good chances, and his fitness and durability allow him to keep getting on the park and produce big numbers over a season.

More to come

Despite him sitting at the top of the Premier League scoring charts, it's clear Arsenal are yet to fully get the best out of Aubameyang. This could either be viewed as a concern - what happens when he goes on a finishing slump? - or as something to be encouraged by - if he’s top scorer now, what could he do if Arsenal managed to eek out even more from him? His non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes figure is currently 0.51, 5th highest in the league. But that pales in comparison to his last 30 months in Dortmund, where the figure was 0.9, one of the absolute highest in Europe. 

His period of elite output in Germany can kind of be broken into two parts. In 15/16 Dortmund were one of the strongest teams in Europe, with a balanced and cohesive midfield and attack able to consistently create all types of chances. Their off ball movement and creativity meant they were regularly able to get in behind opposition defences and all of the front three scored multiple tap ins. After that season key players were sold and injury ruled Marco Reus out for most of Aubameyang's final 18 months in Germany. The team suffered significantly but it only increased their dependence on their star striker. 

Aubameyang formed a brilliant partnership with 19 year old Ousmane Dembélé. The winger assisted 10 of his 29 non-penalty league goals in 16/17. Dembélé is a player who can assist all types of goals, but his trademark assist that season became the low cross to Aubameyang. He had the ability to manufacture space on the wing with his speed, dribbling and two footedness and send low curling crosses to Aubameyang in behind the defence (see 1:20, 1:40, 4:00 and 5:30 on the video below). This is one of the most effective ways Aubameyang utilises his pace. When a wide player gets the ball behind, or even just close to inline with the defensive line, they can play the ball behind the defensive line and Aubameyang has the speed to reach what the defenders and most other forwards in the world can’t. The finish is simple but most players don’t have the athleticism to reach the number of balls he does with his slide tackle esque tap in. 

A winger of Dembélé’s ability makes creating these situations relatively straightforward. Their individual skill allows them to beat a fullback and deliver the killer ball. This isn’t a luxury Arsenal have had since Aubameyang’s arrival, however. Teams without high level one v one players have to rely on good movement and combinations to get into the areas where they can play dangerous passes across goal. Arsenal’s lack of true wingers has been well documented, and as such their route to providing him with such chances has inevitably fallen to the fullbacks. In the early stages of the season Hector Bellerin was Aubameyang’s best route to getting big chances, and since his return from injury and Arsenal's increased use of a back three, Saed Kolasinac has become the Gunners’ chief creator. Here’s a breakdown of the chances created for Aubameyang in the league so far this season: 

Aubameyang chance providers.png

While it’s not a surprise that without genuine wingers, Aubameyang has relied on fullbacks for service, it is perhaps concerning that the other attacking players have been responsible for such a small proportion of the big chances he has got on the end of. Only Ramsey has been able to set up multiple chances of decent quality for him, and although Ramsey's assist total is inflated, his xA (expected assists) on passes for Aubameyang in the limited number of minutes they’ve played together is fine. 

I made a graphic showing the chances that have been created for Aubameyang this season and colour coded it by who created the chance. As you can see the majority of chances in the danger zone were created by either Bellerin or Kolasinac. Other than the chance Iwobi created against Chelsea, there's no other openings from the half spaces. 

Aubameyang chances recieved map.png

Most concerning is the lack of significant chances created by Özil and Mkhitaryan. Other than the one assist against Leicester, Özil hasn't been able to find Aubameyang on the end of moves, though he was instrumental in both his first goals against Leicester and Burnley with brilliant pre-assists. Özil did create some good chances for Aubameyang in the few matches they played together last season, which suggests the problem is more down to the Özil specific issues this season rather than a lack of compatibility between the pair. Mkhitaryan enjoyed a fine partnership with Auba in Germany and assisted two of his first three goals for the club, but since then it’s been slim pickings. 

The reality is Arsenal lack a brilliant one v one winger like Leroy Sane who would help get the most out of Aubameyang, and that has to be the focus on the attacking front in future transfer windows. But that doesn't mean the current attacking midfielders can't contribute more. They have the capabilities to be doing more on the creative side, whether it be playing incisive through balls or getting into the half spaces and finding accurate cutbacks. If Aubameyang is to get the goals needed for the Golden Boot and, much more importantly, if Arsenal are to get the goals needed to move back into the top four, both player and club will be hoping for, and relying on, getting more from their chief playmakers.  

Oscar Wood is a special contributor. Follow him on twitter @reunewal.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Leicester

A captain’s redemption, nutmegs and one touch football.

Project 24 is well and truly in motion as Arsenal gained their 21st points in the league, keeping pace with the league leaders while playing some scintillating football along the way. Not many would have predicted the levels of improvement made by the Gunners at this stage of Emery’s tenure but the signs do look good so far.

Monday night’s match against Leicester showed that while the team still has deficiencies, they have it in them to blow away any opponents by sheer firepower. Below are 5 observations from one of the best games of the season yet.

Ozil The Captain

My man of the match. I was surprised to hear that Ozil got the armband. I can’t say that he’s at the top of my list when it comes to being a “leader”. All too often, he does fade into the background when the going gets tough.

Monday night against Leicester, I was glad to be proven wrong. Once Arsenal chased the game after going a goal down, there was no turning back. Ozil led the way from this moment– starting moves from deep, pulling off body feints to go past defenders and dictating Arsenal’s best offensive moves.

He played in his preferred role behind the striker, the first time in a long time this season, and proved why he’s one of the best in the world in that position.


Ozil scored the equalizer, but not before driving through the centre of the park with the ball and playing a one-two with Bellerin to receive the ball in the box. That nonchalant one touch finish to the bottom corner looked easy but don’t let that fool you. Not many have the composure and technical ability to stroke it so calmly into the bottom corner while running at pace.

The “pre-assist” for the second goal required military level radar capabilities to spot an overlapping Bellerin. And for the final goal, Ozil’s orchestration of the entire move was sublime. He started it by casually backheeling a layoff to Guendouzi before sprinting forward to demand for the ball from the flank. Somehow, he knew that Lacazette was behind him as he let the ball through his legs for the French striker to tee him off as he burst again into the box to receive the pass. The pièce de résistance was the composure to dink the ball past an onrushing Schmeichel with the outside of his left foot for Aubameyang to tap in.

Ozil’s vision, drive and technical ability was evident today for all to see. On the evidence of this match, it would be tough now for Emery to shunt him to the right wing.

Arsene Wenger spoke during the international break about how he was worried that with Ozil’s international retirement, he might lack new goals to work towards and it might stunt his drive to maintain a high standard of performance.

Perhaps, being one of the leaders of this Arsenal team could bring renewed focus and responsibility that would finally see him put in more performances like this.

A Case for Pierre

That’s 4 goals in 2 games as a substitute for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He may not have Lacazette’s aggression or hold up play but I’ve not seen such an elite penalty box poacher since Pippo Inzaghi and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

If Aubameyang was an X-Man, he would definitely be Nightcrawler. He seemingly teleports into space and evades the eye of opposition defenders to pounce on simple tap ins.

auba 2.jpg

Lacazette has been crucial in keeping the game ticking, pressing defenders and also scoring decent goals for the team. But you can’t deny that Aubameyang is a pure striker who, with an in-form Ozil and co providing ammunition, can challenge for the golden boot.

It’s a tough call for Emery but also a good problem for the Arsenal coach. With the team now improving with their “automatisms” going forward, I’d like to see Aubameyang given a run of games to see what kind of impact he can make for Arsenal.

Iwobi, the Prince of Nutmegs

How things have changed for Iwobi. He seems to be one of the first names on the team sheet in recent games. He looks fitter, sharper and is one of the rare players in the team who can dribble and carry the ball forward. Against Leicester, he was voted to be the man of the match as he showed great drive and invention to push for a win.

he Nigerian international seems to also have developed a penchant for nutmegs and other freestyle skills on the pitch. Who is this guy and what have you done to the real Alex Iwobi?

In all seriousness, Iwobi fully deserves the plaudits coming to him. He’s been excellent and I hope he can keep up his standard of performance as he looks to secure that left wing position in the team.

Is Mustafi… Playing Well?

Mustafi is a mystery to me. He can be excellent in some games when his sliding tackles come off but miserable in another when he loses concentration and/or takes unnecessary risks that jeopardizes the defence.

In Sokratis’ absence, I have to say Mustafi has been relatively decent and he continued his solid performance against Leicester. He hasn’t been as rash in his decision making and has done the basics fairly well. Part of it, I’m sure, is down to the improved protection in front of him in the shape of Torreira. But Mustafi has been a 7/10 with his defending and has also been good playing the ball out of the back. I don’t recall the pacey Vardy getting a big chance on his side of the penalty box.


This may be his last season to prove to the fans and the management that he’s not a ticking time bomb at the back. Fortunately for him, he’s taking his opportunities to prove his worth in the absence of senior players such as Koscielny and Sokratis. More strong performances may give Emery a good headache when all the defenders return from injury (if we are so lucky).

Weak first halves vs strong game management

What is it with poor first halves and strong second half comebacks when it comes to Arsenal this season? The team has ridden their luck through this winning run, giving numerous chances and ceding the initiative to the opposition during most of the first half. Could it be due to Emery’s tinkering from game to game? Or perhaps his unfamiliarity with the opposition that has made it tough to prepare a tactical plan?

Whatever it is, Arsenal almost always come out all guns blazing in the second half and this game was no different. After going ahead, Arsenal’s game management was excellent – slowing down the game at will before switching gears to hit on the counter when an opening arises. Even the redeployment of Xhaka at left back didn’t seem to affect him, with enough cover to protect him on the rare occasion Arsenal lost possession.


I’m liking how Arsenal has been more pro-active in managing the game instead of being stuck on “gung ho” setting no matter the situation. Arsenal hardly gave Leicester a sniff in the second half by controlling the game maturely.

This shows that Emery is very adept tactically and is capable of reacting to the opponent’s shape and plan. If only Emery could come up with a way for Arsenal to start strong too. Let’s hope that’s not too far in the horizon.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.