Arsenal failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in twenty years at the end of the 2016/17 campaign. The Gunners add another top class signing with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joining from Borussia Dortmund this January, but can the Gabonese international propel them to a top four finish?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang departed Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund as one of the most prolific forwards in European football. He concluded his spell with a league tally just two short of 100 goals but scored 141 goals in 213 appearances in all competitions.
Peter Stoger excluded him from Borussia Dortmund’s match day squad for their Bundesliga clashes against VfL Wolfsburg and Hertha BSC. However, the 28-year-old was surprisingly included in the starting line-up in their disappointing 2-2 draw against SC Freiburg at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday.
Arsene Wenger appeared unconvinced that Aubameyang would sign for Arsenal during the January transfer window, and Aubameyang’s recall to the Borussia Dortmund squad increased fears in North London that he’d remain in Germany.
Aubameyang becomes Arsenal’s third signing during the January transfer window and the club’s all-time most expensive signing for a fee in of £56 million. The Gunners have offloaded Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United, Theo Walcott to Everton and Francis Coquelin to Valencia.
Arsene Wenger has previously been criticised for his inability to identify adequate replacements for outgoing stars, but the Frenchman has ambitiously lured two world-renowned players to fill the void left by former talisman Alexis Sanchez.
What Can Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Offer at the Emirates Stadium?
The former Saint-Etienne forward has been synonymous with the top of the goal scoring charts in the Bundesliga during his four-and-a-half year spell at the Signal Iduna Park. He’s consistently rivalled Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski and beat him to the Golden Boot last season. His league tally of 31 goals was the highest recorded since Dieter Muller scored 34 goals for FC Koln during the 1976/77 campaign.
His goal scoring record has been exceptional in Germany this season with 21 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions, despite his future being in disrepute due to numerous transfer rumours. He was linked with a series of Premier League clubs including Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City and also a possible switch to China.
Arsenal have secured the signature of a natural goal scorer, who is capable of taking them to the next level. He has remained consistent during his spells in France and Germany, and has the ability to replicate his glistening goal scoring form in England. He has a tendency of breaking in behind opposition defences by utilizing his sprint speed and unique anticipation of attacking scenarios. Henrikh Mkhitaryan also sparked a formidable and telepathic partnership with Aubameyang during his final season with the Black and Yellows.
Mkhitaryan finished the 2015/16 campaign with a season-high of 15 assists and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s tally of 25 goals was only bettered by Polish international Robert Lewandowski. It’ll be interesting to see whether they can pick up from where they left off in Germany and continue their mind-blowing combination at Arsenal.
The 28-year-old enjoys shielding the ball from his opposition to create space for his fellow attackers to break on the counter-attack. Alexandre Lacazette will be likely to flourish in a system including both of them in the attacking line. Lacazette will be able to feed off Mezut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who’ll have more freedom and options to create attacking chances in the final third with the contributions of Aubameyang.
How Arsenal Should Alter Their System to Accommodate Aubameyang
Arsenal have reverted to a back-four in their previous three matches – successfully beating Crystal Palace in the Premier League and Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Carbao Cup but losing to Swansea City on Tuesday. They’ve also played with a back-three on numerous occasions, which leaves Wenger with the option to employ a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-2-2 formation.
The Gunners are unlikely to exclude Jack Wilshere from their plans, or leave out the dynamic Mezut Ozil to accommodate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Alex Iwobi and Ainsley Maitland-Niles could potentially be the unfortunate victims to be sacrificed at Arsenal to ensure they can include their two latest signings.
If Arsenal set-up with a 4-2-2-2 system, Granit Xhaka could also experience a reduced amount of playing time, with Elneny playing a more defensive role to give Wilshere the freedom to make attacking runs from central midfield. Ozil and Mkhitaryan can then be deployed in attacking midfield roles and Aubameyang and Lacazette can lead the line. Some would argue that Ozil and Mkhitaryan may lead to an attack built to penetrate through central areas, but Bellerin and Monreal are also capable of applying attacking width.
The starting line-up on paper will originally be a back-four consisting of Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal, a midfield partnership between Elneny and Wilshere, an attacking midfield duo of Mkhitaryan and Ozil and a forward line of Lacazette and Aubameyang.
However, it’s likely to alter drastically during attacking scenarios to provide balance. Bellerin, especially due to his speed, but also Monreal, should be instructed to bomb forward down the channels. Therefore, Ozil and Mkhitaryan can play more central roles to create attacking openings for the two forwards.
Elneny may slot into a back-three to provide cover for Mustafi and Koscielny. This will also provide defensive width and replicate a similar system played by defending Premier League champions Chelsea last season.
Wilshere is capable of being the midfield enforcer to penetrate the ball from deep positions into the feet of reliable architects (Ozil and Mkhitaryan).
With Elneny portraying a more defensive role, Wilshere will have the freedom to play more of an attacking role but must also be aware of his defensive responsibilities.
The combination play between full-backs and attacking midfielders (Monreal and Ozil) and (Bellerin and Mkhitaryan) will provide more attacking balance.
Instead of a predictable penetrative attack through the centre of the park, Arsenal will have more attacking width, with the potential to make overlapping runs with the full-backs or inward runs with the attacking midfielders.
This system could be incredibly successful but it’s currently speculative as we are still unaware as to how Wenger will set up with his new signings. Regardless of his system, Aubameyang is an exceptional signing that is more than capable of playing a decisive role in reducing the eight-point deficit between themselves and fourth-place Liverpool and guaranteeing a return to the UEFA Champions League next season.