Many Arsenal fans see Aubameyang’s best position as an out-and-out striker, but Dan Critchlow argues Mikel Arteta is right in his decision to play the forward on the left wing.
After a brace and a man-of-the-match performance against Everton at the weekend, it’s time for Arsenal fans to accept that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a good fit on the left-hand side.
Ever since Mikel Arteta took over, Aubameyang has exclusively featured on the flanks. For the most part, he’s playing on the left, starting every Premier League game under Arteta on that side. Last Thursday’s match against Olympiacos was the only exception, when the head coach used him on the right instead.
Understandably, this raised questions from the Arsenal fanbase at first, particularly with Alexandre Lacazette out of form. When you have one of Europe’s top goalscoring centre-forwards in your squad, it seems counter-intuitive to shift him out wide – even more so when it’s 20-year-old Eddie Nketiah replacing him up front, as was the case against Newcastle and Everton.
The fact is: It’s working. Aubameyang’s two goals at the weekend put him level with Jamie Vardy at the top of the Premier League goal charts.
Only Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Sergio Agüero (both with seven goals) have scored more than Aubameyang’s six in the league since Arteta took charge. And that’s bearing in mind the Arsenal striker had a red-card suspension during that period.
More than just goals, Aubameyang is working hard for the team on the left. He regularly tracks back, covering for Bukayo Saka’s surging forward runs. The threat the 30-year-old poses cutting inside also occupies defenders and opens up space for the left-back to exploit. It’s no surprise Saka is suddenly on a run of assists.
Arteta specifically praised his captain’s efforts on Sunday, saying: “It was an incredible amount of work Aubameyang was doing. Before I took over I had my questions about him but he showed his commitment. I wanted him to show if he wanted to do it and do it physically.
"Aubameyang is our most important player, no doubt the impact he has in this team.”
Aubameyang does lack some of the attributes you traditionally associate with a winger. He’s a decent dribbler, but not a great one. His weak-foot crosses really aren’t that impressive and he doesn’t create a huge number of chances.
That’s not so much of an issue in this system, though. With the left-back pushing up as much as Saka does, Aubameyang is rarely the one hugging the touchline. He’s more of a wide-forward than a winger.
Arsenal also don’t have many strong alternatives on that side. Reiss Nelson is better on the right and Saka is needed at left-back. For all there is to love about Gabriel Martinelli’s finishing, movement and workrate, his dribbling and crossing are often even worse than Aubameyang’s.
More than just goals, Aubameyang is working hard for the team on the left. He regularly tracks back, covering for Bukayo Saka’s surging forward runs.
Centre-forward is a different story, where Lacazette, Nketiah and even Martinelli make good options in the ex-Dortmund man’s place.
Let’s not forget that Aubameyang wasn’t performing to his best level at centre-forward immediately prior to Arteta’s arrival. After his Player of the Month form in September, the striker scored just twice in nine league matches from the middle – nowhere near his current goal rate. Although that’s not to say his form wouldn’t have picked up under new management.
It’s clear Arsenal’s problems in forward areas were as much to do with the system as any individual. It just makes it harder to argue that Aubameyang needs to be in the middle to produce his current numbers.
The pressure is still on Lacazette, Nketiah and Martinelli to perform at centre-forward. Lacazette can’t go on another run of nine games without a goal, and Nketiah has to put away chances like the one that hit the bar against Newcastle.
However, if either of them match even half of Aubameyang’s goalscoring output, there’s no issue with him getting his goals from the left.