About 44 percent of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s touches came from the center. When the former Arsenal captain returned to Emirates Stadium, he revisited a particular part of the pitch. In the heady days of the Gunners’ first success under Mikel Arteta, they won an FA Cup final against Chelsea with two goals from Aubameyang. When Arteta faced Frank Lampard again, and with Aubameyang switching sides, three of his meager nine touches were the direct result of Arsenal goals, four in all coming from kick-offs.
It was an ignominious homecoming for perhaps Arsenal’s deadliest striker since Robin van Persie. These days, Aubameyang plies his trade for a team with 30 fewer league goals than Brighton (you could put an exclamation point after 30 or Brighton) and Arteta has long since won the argument.
Arsenal is better without Aubameyang. They didn’t need a particularly one-sided encounter with Chelsea to prove that. However, the way to do it illustrates how and why. They have replaced the striker by not replacing him. They had a five-month interregnum at the end of last season, when it was argued that exiling Aubameyang so soon cost them Champions League football, in a campaign in which no striker scored more than five league goals and they were surpassed by the first four
A minor milestone in Aubameyang’s ill-fated comeback, camouflaged by the dire statistics cataloging Chelsea’s decline, came when Gabriel Jesus scored Arsenal’s third goal; it was his tenth of the Premier League campaign.
Only 17 players are in double figures in the entire division and almost a quarter of them are from Arsenal. Three of the top ten are gunners, and none of them are strikers.
And if it would have been different if Jesús, who has the best goal-per-minute ratio in the squad, had been in shape all season, the truth is that Arteta has found a new goal model, more equal. . Now there is a collective commitment. There is also individual improvement.
Four players are already in the best accounts of their career. Granit Xhaka is one, but there is a stronger trio: Gabriel Martinelli still holds the lead with 15, but Bukayo Saka was outplayed against Chelsea by Martin Odegaard. A brace took the Norwegian to 14, a number that seemed unlikely when he finished last season with seven.
“This year I have scored more goals”, said the captain. “I’m just trying to help the team.” Arteta was more enlightening. He has taken technical talent and injected it with a goal-scoring ethos, programming it to make runs into the penalty area, declaring that embellishing games was not enough; Odegaard had to determine them. “That’s what we had to get out of him, he’s talented but he needed to occupy different spaces and become a threat, and have a mentality to win games, not just control games and I think that has changed,” he said. .
Taking talented players and making them prolific isn’t that simple; Look at Chelsea, who have a slew of wingers and number 10s and, across all competitions, a ridiculously low performance of 16 goals in 27 games. But there is something of his mentor in Arteta’s approach. Pep Guardiola has long avoided the idea that scoring is a specialized skill, instead adding goals to other players’ games: Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling have all had their most productive campaigns under Guardiola. . He is the coach who won titles either without a striker or when the center forward was outplayed by players who came from deeper or wider positions.
Arteta has tried to do the same: bought a disinterested striker, in Jesus, and turned Saka and Martinelli into greater forces in the penalty area. Both are also among the seven Arsenal players with at least five assists – there is a shared responsibility to contribute.
The paradox is that Arteta now imbues the spirit of Guardiola more than the Manchester City coach. Guardiola builds a mountain of goals on the work of the relentless Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has 34 of City’s 84; he amounts to 40 percent and, three years ago, Aubameyang scored 39 percent of Arsenal’s goals. But his impressive 22 comeback came on a team that scored just 56; it was then Arsenal’s lowest total for 24 years.
Now he is at 81, just three behind City and with 29 in his last ten league games. If Arsenal don’t win the league, it won’t be for lack of power.
Whether they do or not, they are on their way to surpassing even the best of Arsene Wenger’s teams. At the current rate of progress, they will score 90 top-flight goals, something they last did in 1963-64. A policy of having a group of scorers looks like an unquestionable triumph. Aubameyang looks like the man caught on the wrong side of history, the goalscorer left behind so Arsenal can score more.