From Laval via Dortmund to London, it's been a remarkable journey for Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang. Still, what he must have watched on Tuesday wasn't encouraging - it was Arsenal at their 'finest': a mass implosion with lamentable mistakes and monumental errors, slapstick defending and a collective with the spine of a jellyfish. It was Wengerian football at its direst with the usual checklist of defensive miscalculations and misunderstandings, Granit Xhaka ineptitudes and a rudderless and leaderless XI.
Gone was the comfort, and even repose, of the post-Alexis Sanchez era. Arsenal had defeated Crystal Palace and outwitted Chelsea tactically in the Carabao Cup, but this Arsenal inception in Wales was very much a drenched and drained reincarnation of the London team with Sanchez in their ranks, but without the Chilean’s zip and zap, and with even less panache and pedigree. Credit to Swansea for a fabulous performance and a fine execution of Carlos Carvalhal's gameplan, but, somewhere in a lush hotel suite in the English capital, Aubameyang’s wonder at his putative transfer must have turned into sincere pondering, and not without ennui: Wengerian football, Arsenal a top club? Aubameyang presumably experienced his first existential crisis in London. It will not be his last.
On Tuesday the Gabonese had arrived in London to complete a €63.5 million transfer from Dortmund to Arsenal. The striker has the speed, the game intelligence and nose for goal that Arsenal crave up front. His stats are outstanding: in 213 games for German giants Borussia Dortmund, Aubameyang scored 172 goals, including 21 in 24 matches this season. There simply wasn’t a better striker in the Bundesliga, except Polish star Robert Lewandowski, who averaged a goal every 107 minutes.
In the past two and a half seasons he netted 69 goals in 79 league games — only Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Lewandowski, Harry Kane, Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Higuain did better in the corresponding period in Europe’s top five leagues. He scored 66 goals more than any other Dortmund player since his debut in July 2013. But to reduce Aubameyang's qualities to stats and a battle with Lewandowski would be short-sighted.
At Dortmund, he evolved. Under Jurgen Klopp he played primarily as a winger in his first two seasons. He scored, but wasn’t exceptional. The arrival of Thomas Tuchel, Klopp’s successor, transformed Aubameyang. He became an out-and-out-striker, a top poacher and a lethal presence inside the penalty box. Ciro Immobile, and even Lewandowski, who had decided to move to Bavaria, were soon forgotten.
His reinvention as a centre forward was high-flying with pace the key to his game. His link-up play remained — and remains — unsatisfactory, but was compensated with bursts of speed and his ‘Torinstinct.’ His goal-scoring appetite didn’t go unnoticed and the Gabonese was linked to multiple elite European clubs, but his move never came. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City showed interest but his dream of joining Real Madrid faded when Zinedane Zidane overlooked him.
Arsenal can no longer compete with those elite clubs and, perhaps, the idea of playing in red and white is, without the proposition of the Champions League, no longer engaging, alluring or fascinating, but Aubameyang thought otherwise. He is tasked with providing new impetus at Arsenal and scoring goals, providing a team on the drift with firepower. The club sold their top scorer in each of the past five seasons (Theo Walcott 21 goals, Olivier Giroud 22, Sanchez 25, Giroud 24 and Sanchez 30) in the space of just a fortnight, an unprecedented sale.
His new club sits in sixth position, eight points behind the top four. The League Cup and the long road to Lyon in the Europa League may offer some gratification and salvation, but with the terminal velocity and irrelevance that Arsenal are playing their way to a disastrous season finale, even Aubameyang may be sucked into the despondent narrative of the North London club. The Gabonese offers as many solutions as he raises questions: how will he fit into the Arsenal team? Will his character be a disruptive force in the dressing room? What will happen to Alexandre Lacazette? Is Arsene Wenger ready to switch to a 4-4-2 to accommodate both the Frenchman and his newest recruits and play Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the wing?
Was his recruitment necessary in a team that long has been top-heavy and fragile at the back? Aubemayang’s signing was perhaps not a pressing need for Arsenal, but the prospect of Mesut Ozil, who signed a new deal until 2021, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang combining all together is a daunting one — if and when Aubameyang can outrun and outscore everyone.
Published Date: Feb 01, 2018 12:12 PM | Updated Date: Feb 01, 2018 15:33 PM