Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal must find ways to involve Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang closer to goal if the striker is to replicate his prolific return of previous seasons.
Aubameyang scored a poacher’s effort to defeat Rapid Vienna on Thursday within 13 minutes of coming on. It was his first goal since the opening game, against Fulham, since when his pickings in Premier League fixtures have been slim. He has managed six shots in the top flight all season and, from a starting position on the left of the attack that has borne fruit in previous campaigns, has struggled to pose his usual level of threat.
“He needs to get in more goalscoring opportunities, he needs to get the ball more around the box in order to do what he is able to do,” Arteta said of Aubameyang, who will return to the starting lineup at home to Leicester on Sunday. “[Rapid Vienna] was a different game to some of the games we have played against big teams this season. It is the same for him or [Sergio] Agüero, who didn’t have a shot on target as well at the weekend. It’s not an isolation of just our player.”
Given Aubameyang has scored 73 goals in 117 appearances for Arsenal, there will always be a degree of disquiet when he experiences a dry spell. “Expectations for him are that he has to score a goal every game so this comes with the nature of the big player he is, what he has done in the past,” Arteta said. “People expect that from him in the future. He needs to handle that, and we are here to support him when difficult times come round him.”
It stands to reason that Aubameyang would be nearer to the thick of things if he started in a central role, but Arteta has preferred to rotate that position between Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah. “That’s always going to happen,” he said of calls to play the club captain through the middle. “The moment he does not score, he needs to play as a nine. If you play him as a nine, why don’t you keep him on the left because he has been so successful on the left?”
Thomas Partey should make his first league start after impressing against Rapid, while Héctor Bellerín, Kieran Tierney and Granit Xhaka are expected to return to the XI.