The 4-0 defeat at Anfield last weekend had a lot of familiar themes, even if this is a relatively new Arsenal outfit. One area of the team that, as I wrote 14 days ago, is by no means “new to the look” is the attack. Lacazette, Aubameyang and Pepe were all inherited from Mikel Arteta and there is a lingering feeling that it wouldn’t have been the attack he himself would have chosen.
Once again, it proved too easy for a strong opponent to separate Lacazette and Aubameyang from the rest of the team and turn them into a deserted island suffering from drought and dysentery. That Arteta started working with them is in itself an admission that none of them give him fully what he wants in a lone striker.
Aubameyang generally gets the nod over Lacazette for associating a superior scoring hazard and goals >>> game. Last season, the captain had his poorest season in an Arsenal shirt, scoring just eight open-game goals. This was due to a number of factors beyond his control that are now well litigated; but it still raised legitimate concerns about his performance at this stage in his career.
Seemingly unlucky this season, Auba is putting up physical numbers unrivaled by his flashy contemporaries in the Premier League. However, this is still an Arsenal team struggling to score goalscoring opportunities on a regular basis. At least they stick with a goal difference of -4.
We know the player Auba well, he is a striker in the penalty area and his movement in the penalty area distinguishes him. Arsenal don’t get the ball into the box easily or very regularly, but how much does Auba contribute to the team’s inconsistent attack and how much is he a victim? Has his level of performance actually decreased as much as many believe? Let’s look at the numbers.
So far this season the Gabonese have scored four goals in 878 minutes in eleven games. That’s roughly every 219.5 minutes, he’s got an XG of 4.4 during that time, but much of that is made up for by a pair of penalty shoot-outs. It’s not great, especially since he’s spent all of his minutes with the center-forward this season.
|season||goals||XG (expected goals)||Goals per 90||Non-penalty goals per 90||XG pro 90|
The first conclusion from the table above is that it is probably better to be an attacker under Arsene Wenger than under Unai Emery, and probably better to be an attacker under Unai Emery than under Mikel Arteta. Arteta made defensive solidity a key tenant of its Arsenal home improvement project, sometimes at the expense of the attack.
We can see that the numbers are back in the right direction, albeit slowly, this season, although the sample size remains small. What we’ve seen is a drop in Auba’s XG per 90, which is a very good indicator of a striker’s “health” since the end of the 2018/19 season. It’s also noteworthy that Aubameyang is usually pretty close to its XG in terms of conversion rate.
The outlier is the 2019-20 season when he scored 22 goals on an XG of 15.8. His XG pro 90 since this season has been at a pretty constant level, between 0.41 and 0.45, but for some reason it ran really hot in 2019-20 and that, coupled with Arsenal’s virtual win in the FA Cup, was persuasive Arsenal single-handedly present him with a new three-year contract in 2020. Let’s break him down further and see how his shooting developed over the same period.
|season||Shots per 90||Shots on target every 90||Percentage of shots on target per 90|
We can see his shooting numbers have been relatively consistent – with the exception of last season when his shots got a little more headstrong, he only shot a little less than the others at the club last season. What we can see from this data is that the footage shows us that last season was particularly bad when the XG shows us that 2019-20 was very good for Aubameyang. The context from last season is that he was healthy when Arsenal went without number 10, and when Smith Rowe and Odegaard came on, he wasn’t healthy. This season he’s showing progress on those numbers this year.
|season||Press per 90|
The first thing to note is that for half the season under Arsene Wenger, Auba had a lot less work to do off the ball, but we can see pretty solid physical numbers there. In terms of closing opponents off the ball (I don’t have high intensity sprint data) his numbers didn’t really go down until last season when he had the effects of malaria and – it must be said – he made a losing one as Arsenal Figure had big trouble creating himself prior to the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard (he scored a hat trick when both players played behind him for the first time at home against Leeds).
This season, his physical stats have been back up in terms of pressure, which doesn’t suggest a major slowdown on his part. He has started every game in the Premier League since the end of August and the eye test shows that his performance cannot be faulted. He definitely looks more engaged and fitter than last season, when malaria certainly lost a few pounds from his body. Let’s take a look at what Arsenal’s overall creative numbers look like during Aubameyang’s tenure.
|season||Shot creation actions per 90||Passes that result in one shot per 90. led||Fits the last third of every 90||Passes into the box per 90|
I reiterate my claim that you would rather be an attacker under Arsene Wenger than under Emery or Arteta. We can see a drop in creative numbers under Emery, then a big drop in Arteta’s first season, followed by small, gradual rallies. On this basis, I find it justified that Aubameyang points to a lack of regular service, especially since there are hardly any signs of actual physical decline.
What skewed the data, and possibly delayed that impression, is that Aubameyang beat all of its metrics in Arteta’s first season. There were already signs of a lack of supply, but Auba was simply better at turning porridge into caviar, which would likely be unsustainable. On the flip side, that purple patch probably caught up with him last season.
The fact that much of Auba’s data shows improvement this season suggests to me that the player is not in serious decline just yet. The level of service has improved this year, but only marginally. It remains to be seen whether the creative data of the entire team continues to improve. If Arsenal’s creative output improves and the captain’s end product doesn’t, we can probably assume father time is calling for past orders at the bar. Still, the impression remains, at least for me, that Auba isn’t the type of striker Arteta really wants for his redesigned Arsenal outfit, and that’s the most important factor.
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All of the data in this article is from FBRef