The human brain is designed to work in a way where we associate certain people with certain words, based on our exposure and experience with the person in a specific context. When football enthusiasts hear the name ‘Aubameyang’, they think of the word ‘goals’. The Arsenal superstar is best known for his pace and sublime goal-scoring abilities. If Arsène Wenger had any regret over the transfer of the Gabonese forward, it would be the fact that he didn’t sign him sooner
Born in Laval, France, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the son of former Gabonese footballer, Pierre Aubameyang. He arrived at AC Milan’s academy at the age of 18 and impressed the youth team coaches with an award-winning performance in the G-14’s Champions Youth Cup, held in Malaysia. There, Aubameyang scored all seven of Milan’s goals against the likes of Ajax, Arsenal and Bayern Munich. However, it wasn’t enough to earn him a place in the first team and he was sent out on successive loan spells to Dijon, Lille and Monaco where his performances were quite insipid.
After scoring two goals in 19 appearances for Monaco during the first half of the 2010/11 season, Aubameyang was loaned to Saint-Étienne in the winter transfer window. Though blazing fast, he lacked equanimity in front of goal, managing a mere two goals in his first 14 appearances for Les Verts. The club was at a crossroads regarding Aubameyang’s future with doubts about whether to extend his loan into the following season.
In the summer of 2011, Christophe Galtier, Saint-Étienne’s manager at the time, sat him down and explained the importance of dedication and hard work to make his mark in the top flight. This turned out to be the turning point in Aubameyang’s career and he changed for the better. He trained the entire summer and started the following campaign all guns blazing. The Board of Directors were convinced with his performances and he was offered a permanent contract by the end of the calendar year.
“After a chaotic first five months, we didn’t know if he should stay with us or not. But he showed real desire to stay—for example, spending all his holidays in Saint-Étienne. He wanted to do a full year at one club. I spoke to his dad a lot and I followed the advice of my presidents by giving him another chance. From the first day that he arrived at training, he wasn’t the same man. He’d become a war machine,” Christophe Galtier told L’Equipe. Aubameyang started the season out on the flanks, later becoming the centre forward. With 18 goals and 11 assists in 38 appearances, he was named as Saint-Étienne’s Player of the Season.
He played a paramount role in Saint-Étienne’s renaissance and won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2013, beating Rennes 1-0.
The summer of 2013 saw him swap Saint-Étienne’s green for the yellow of Borussia Dortmund. His career in the West German city was off to a flying start with a dreamlike Bundesliga debut, where he bagged a remarkable hat-trick. He played on either side of Robert Lewandowski during the course of the season and ended his inaugural campaign in Germany with 16 goals in all competitions. Upon the Pole’s relocation to Munich, then-coach Jürgen Klopp decided to play the Gabonese international as the team’s main striker. “He’s one of the best players for the counter-attack that you can find on this planet because of the timing of the runs and the really outstanding finishing record in situations like that. He can play both positions, from the wing or as a single striker or together with another striker.” Klopp said of Aubameyang.
It was at Borussia Dortmund where he truly announced himself to the world. He led Die Schwarzgelben to DFB Cup glory in 2016/17 and wound up as top scorer in the Bundesliga, courtesy of an extraordinary 31 goals in 32 league appearances. It was the highest single-season goal tally by any non-German striker in the league, a record which was later broken by Lewandowski this year.
Aubameyang signed for Arsenal in the 2018 January transfer window, for a then-club-record fee of £56million. His emphatic form since arriving at the Emirates has cemented his place as one of English football’s deadliest forwards. While the team has been going through a tough transition in the post-Wenger era, he has played a pivotal role with an incessant supply of goals. Despite not playing in his preferred centre-forward position, for the most part, it has been a treat to watch Aubameyang on the flanks, where he is given the freedom to cut inside and drive at his adversaries in 1v1 scenarios. Also, the constant interchanging of positions as the game progresses gives him the opportunity to display his lethal prowess as a striker in dangerous areas. The 2018/19 Premier League golden boot winner has been less menacing under Mikel Arteta with his xG and xA reducing from 0.69 to 0.45 and 0.14 to 0.09 per 90 minutes respectively (FBREF). However, his defensive statistics like interceptions and recoveries have increased significantly.
The Arsenal captain, now on the wrong side of 30, cannot solely rely on his pace. Perfectly timed acceleration is crucial for his performance to sustain at a high level. His position as a left-winger has given him the freedom to play beyond the widest defender, often lurking in their blindside. As an inside forward, he has also aided in creating space for their left-back to occupy attacking positions in the final third.
With Arsenal finishing 8th in the Premier League this season, it is crucial for Mikel Arteta to persuade the ex-Dortmund forward to stay in an attempt to build the squad around him. The FA Cup final triumph last weekend, coupled with a lucrative contract and important signings, might just be enough to convince the Gabonese hitman to commit his future to The Gunners.
Written by Rohan Ajit | Feature Image by Adam Davy/Pool via Getty Images
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