Can Aubameyang live up to the number 14 shirt?
Arsène Wenger has often been criticised for letting transfer windows go by without bringing in the big signings that can take the team to the next level, so his acquisition of Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for £56 million, just months after the purchase of Alexandre Lacazette for around £46 million, represented a significant change of policy.
To an extent, of course, the move was forced on the club. The Alexis Sánchez saga had to be resolved, and Arsenal couldn’t afford not to replace him just as the season is about to enter its final decisive stage, with the Carabao Cup and Europa League up for grabs.
The first of these trophy chances comes at the end of the month and would be an early opportunity for Aubameyang to repay some of the fee – not to mention the faith – that has been invested in him by the Gunners. Anyone who wants to place a bet on who will win the Carabao Cup will see Manchester City as favourites, but Aubameyang is the kind of player who can shift markets, and his arrival is something of a welcome wildcard.
If the signing of the Gabonese star was a statement of intent – that Arsenal were not prepared to take a step back despite the departure of Sánchez – the fact that he’s been given the famous number 14 shirt is another kind of statement. Aubameyang has spoken of his admiration for Thierry Henry and has even risked comparing himself to Arsenal’s best player of the Premier League era. Those are some pretty tough boots to fill, but it has to be said that there are some intriguing similarities between the two, not least their French background.
Like Henry, Aubameyang is quick – perhaps even a fraction quicker than his illustrious compatriot – and capable of playing out wide as well as through the centre. Aubameyang also has some of Henry’s languid calm and poise on the ball. In full flight, he can make goalscoring look easy, and the degree of flair that he brings to the game will endear him to Gunners fans.
Of course, what matters most of all to Arsenal fans is whether the new signing can deliver goals. His record in Germany suggests that this will not be a problem. He found the net 98 times in 144 appearances for Dortmund, and his career goalscoring average is an impressive 0.50 goals per game. This is a better record than either Olivier Giroud or Alexis Sánchez, and is even better than Henry’s career goalscoring rate – though Henry managed an even more impressive 0.68 goals per game during his time in the Premier League
Just as exciting as Aubameyang’s goalscoring record is the possibility that he could be the centrepiece of a faster, more dynamic Arsenal line-up. In that sense, his bond with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Wenger’s other major January signing, is just as important as his ability to find the net. With Mkhitaryan, Özil, Aubameyang and Lacazette, Arsenal have a quick-thinking, mobile and creative forward line that can recapture the lightning fast, deadly attacking style of the Invincibles.
Turning that into a reality may take a while, however. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang linked up well in their first game together against Everton, but they struggled in the derby defeat against Tottenham, with Aubameyang looking particularly ineffective. Both Wenger and the player himself have spoken of the need for him to work harder, to come towards the ball more often, and to link up play more effectively – as Henry did – but assuming that he develops this part of his game to a greater degree, Aubameyang can be an asset.
The only other cloud on the horizon could be Aubameyang’s disciplinary record. It wasn’t great at Dortmund, but on closer examination, most of the friction between player and club was related to his desire to move on. While that is less than ideal, it is hardly unusual in the modern game and is unlikely to be a problem that Arsenal will have to deal with in the short term as Aubameyang is set to take a leading role in the team for the foreseeable future.
With Lacazette in the squad, the Gunners now have the option of playing two pacey, skilful and prolific goalscorers all at once. At the same time, the departure of Sánchez, Giroud and Walcott gives this the feel of a new era at the Emirates. Let’s hope it’s a winning one.
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