PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG was Arsenal’s hero in last season’s FA Cup final with two goals, before leaving fans waiting anxiously for him to sign a new contract.
But after famously avoiding another Robin van Persie-type situation, supporters are already left wondering: Has he already lost his edge?
Pierre-Emerick Aubamaeyang will have to adapt his style of play if he’s going to continue to be an elite strikerCredit: Rex Features
Aubameyang was widely criticised after his uncharacteristic profligacy against Benfica and more so after his anonymous showing against Manchester City.
One of his harshest critics was Jamie Redknapp who told Sky Sports he believed Aubameyang was ‘past his best’ and had ‘lost his superpower’.
As recently as July, after Aubameyang saw off City in the FA Cup semi-final, Redknapp was far more positive about the Gunners skipper.
The pundit beamed: “I think [Aubameyang’s] world class, there’s not many like him.
“He’ll be looking at [the Golden Boot], he’ll be hoping he can get the Golden Boot.
“He’s one of the best players in the world at what he does.
“I think, of course age is against him, but he looks like he’s not slowing up.
“He’s fit, he’s got a great attitude for the game, wants to score.”
Are we really to believe Aubameyang has gone from world-class to past his best in just six months, as Redknapp suggests?
In truth, the Arsenal star was probably always somewhere in between the two extremes set out by the former Tottenham and Liverpool man.
The truth is, if you look at the history of the physically-demanding Premier League, there are very few strikers who have had stellar goal-scoring seasons in their 30s.
Of course, Aubameyang won’t be as fast at 32 as he was at 29, so the question now is how can he adapt his game… and will his Mikel Arteta be willing to deploy tactics to suit?
While he may not have the same lightning pace to win every foot-race, he can still use his experience to arc and time his runs, placing the onus on the creative midfield trio.
For my money, I hope Arteta perseveres with his captain through the middle, as we saw how well it can work against Leeds.
But Aubameyang MUST be willing to adapt, work and improve on the elements of his game that do not come naturally so the team can benefit from the thing he does so naturally… score.
To play centrally, Aubameyang must be willing to drop deeper and link-up the play, be involved earlier in attacks and help start the moves he can finish off.
Aubameyang proved he still has the magic touch with a hat-trick against Leeds, but has struggled sinceCredit: PA:Press Association
The skipper did just that against Leeds, but against City nothing stuck to him and he failed to bring Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka into play.
Auba’s display away at Valencia in the Europa League semi-final in 2019 was a perfect centre forward display.
And if he has, in fact, lost a yard or pace then all the more reason to stick with him through the centre, as he offers less creativity from the left than Nicolas Pepe, Saka or Emile Smith Rowe.
On top of that, he is a far more lethal finisher than Alexandre Lacazette who, tellingly, has not been offered a contract extension.
Aubameyang was dangerous from the left for a spell, but that was often in the 3-4-3 set up for the counterattack rather than Arteta’s current preferred 4-3-3.
The role still allows him to drift and interchange when appropriate and we will still see him cutting in from the left at times – as he did for his first goal against Leeds.
I would prefer Aubameyang over Lacazette in the central role, taking charge of things.
I believe he can and will take the opportunity between now and the send of the season, hopefully starting Thursday against Benfica.
*Follow Dave Seager on Twitter…