Arsenal need Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to start doing what he was signed to do
Ten goals, ten different goal scorers: Arsenal's season so far has been an exercise in shared responsibility. It would be a good enough situation for most clubs -- especially those with a new head coach, keen to see players playing themselves into form under a new structure -- but as a recipe for long-term success it is inherently flawed. Nothing gets the heart beating faster and the points flowing as readily as a striker in red-hot form bagging chance after chance.
The fact that Arsenal's admirable collective effort papers over individual frustration was made clear when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was substituted after 68 minutes of Saturday's 2-1 win over Newcastle, having failed to score again. The striker, who has hit the net just once in five games, vented his frustrations -- a return to the kind of public displays of dissent which Alexis Sanchez, now in something of a goal drought himself at new club Manchester United, once indulged in.
Kinder interpretations of Sanchez's petulance cast them as the frustrations of a superior player unhappy with his teammates' failure to reach his level; Aubameyang's was more revealing of a player unhappy with his own form. The Gabon international has one of Arsenal's 10 goals this season, but no more. Having scored 10 goals in 12 games last season following his arrival in January, making the most prolific Premier League start of any Arsenal player, his goal scoring atrophy is developing into something of a minor concern.
Unai Emery dismissed Aubameyang's reaction in the way all managers do. "I want the players I change or don't start in the first XI to be angry, they have ambition to play and help the team and stay on the pitch," he said. "For me it's a normal situation." Perhaps, but if it becomes the norm then Arsenal will have a problem.
These are still early days under Emery, and it should be remembered that Aubameyang scored a lovely effort against Cardiff before the international break, but something is not quite right with Arsenal's club record signing at present. A glaring miss in the 3-2 defeat to Chelsea in Arsenal's second match of the season sticks in the mind, as well as Emery's quote following that game that "Aubameyang needs to find the confidence."
While the close relationship developing between Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette contains much promise, the fact is that the former is still trying to find his place in this Emery team. That's not uncommon, nor particularly unexpected, but it is a situation that the new head coach will have to resolve quickly. It is hard to think of a successful side that does not possess a prolific forward and Aubameyang is Arsenal's key goal-getter, even if he is playing wide at present.
Maurizio Sarri was appointed far later than Emery in the summer but the Chelsea manager is already talking about Eden Hazard potentially scoring 40 goals this season. The Belgian currently tops the Premier League goal scoring charts with five but is no natural predator. If he can score 40 then who knows where a player like Aubameyang's ceiling is. Arsenal need to give him the best chance to discover it.
The stats say Aubameyang is having exactly the same number of shots per game as last season: 2.4. The trouble is that that figure is lower than in any of his seasons at Borussia Dortmund bar his first, in 2013-14. Maybe he overperformed last season, and is underperforming in this, but Arsenal have not yet provided him with the volume of chances which enabled him to become one of Europe's most revered centre-forwards at Dortmund.
Aubameyang really only trades in goals. He does not boast the all-round game of Lacazette and the position he has recently adopted on the left wing seemingly doesn't suit him well -- so far at least. He thrives off being a central striker and maybe there is a way Emery can accommodate him alongside Lacazette -- even if a two-striker system has never been at the forefront of the head coach's tactical plans.
The sight of a £55m striker going off in a huff can't become a regular feature of Arsenal's games if they are to have a productive season. But dropping a £55m striker is a difficult decision to take, too.
So while goals may be found from every corner of the dressing room at present, a more sustainable and desirable solution would be to play to Aubameyang's strengths more and help him score the goals that are his only real mission statement.