Arsenal fans, where has that mercurial footballer gone? That ruthless, punishing goalscorer. That guy who came on in a North London Derby and smacked the ball one-time past Hugo Lloris from outside the box. That guy who won us the FA Cup and Community Shield with spectacular strikes.
It is no secret that Aubameyang has fallen out of form, hard. The goalscoring sauce has seemed to dry up and so has the strut of a world-class goalscorer. Given his age and profile, it is easy to assume that the captain is dead and declining. However, that summation is not necessarily true.
According to The Athletic, when Arsenal were scouting Aubameyang in the Bundesliga, they did a lot of due diligence to see how long Aubameyang would still have it, using data analytics and plenty of other resources. They determined that, around his current age, Aubameyang would still be one of the best Premier League players around. In fact, Darren Burgess, Arsenal’s head of elite performance at the time, says that Aubameyang has exceeded the club’s physical expectations ever since he arrived. All that is needed, he says, is careful maintenance of his physical condition.
Everyone knows that our last season had a Before-Smith-Rowe and an After-Smith-Rowe, like the new number 10 was some kind of great Saviour. Before Smith-Rowe, Arsenal barely created any chances and the meager chances that was being created mostly fell to Lacazette who promptly wasted them. In fact, at one point through the season, analysts were pointing out that if Aubameyang had maintained his current shooting rate, he would end the season with 5 goals.
Thankfully, there was both an individual and systematic change at the club come December when Smith-Rowe became available for the first time. In that following period, Aubameyang enjoyed a little spurt of form as he started to get more shots away. His conversion was not back at his mercurial best, especially in the Europa League where he missed a few gilt-edged chances, but he was returning back to normal. And then malaria struck.
In the cited article, Darren Burgess noted that even a slight deviation in Aubameyang’s physical conditioning would have an outsized effect on the Gabonese output. Why? Because Aubameyang is not a technically dominant player. While he has all the deadly instincts of a world class striker in terms of where to move, when to move, when to strike, how to strike, the way he capitalizes on those instincts is not through technique but sheer pace.
He is an athletic specimen. His pace is famous and he barely has injury issues and he is always available to play. He can be unstoppable. Once that physical superiority is affected, Aubameyang becomes a shadow of the player he once was.
Aubameyang lost several kilos to the fever. Given the fact that he was just returning to form and his need to rediscover his confidence in front of goal, the physical deviation was enough to throw him off. No wonder he resumed the season early and was working hard to be fit in time for preseason with a Greek club.
The captain still cares. He is nearly back to his physical best and he has been getting chances in pre-season.
Now, all he needs is a goal and the black panther will be back.