Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has, I think it’s fair to say, been quite the success at Arsenal Football Club.
In fact, saying “quite the…” feels like I’m qualifying a statement which has no need of qualification whatsoever.
The bare facts, since Auba’s electrifying debut at home to Everton in February 2018, tell their own story:
- 51 Premier League appearances (7 as substitute)
- 34 goals
That’s exactly 2 goals for every three appearances in an Arsenal shirt. A record which, I think, speaks for itself.
However, I don’t think Auba’s impact can be judged in purely statistical terms.
I was lucky enough to be present for that debut game v Everton, which saw our new number 14 line up against the previous incumbent of that shirt.
During the first half, sent through by Henrik Mkhitaryan, Auba chipped the Everton keeper with an insouciance seasoned Gooners would have associated with a certain T. Henry (happy belated, sir).
Okay, so he was actually a fraction offside and we got away with one. However, we have seen on 42 occasions (all competitions) since the first time, that this insouciance is normal.
It’s so normal, in fact, that he can produce a wonderful piece of skill to control a fizzed in ball and dink it home in two touches (as he did at Newcastle last week) and Matthew and I barely deign to mention it on last week’s podcast. I digress, back to that Everton game…
At the other end, the previous incumbent of the number 14 shirt was sent through on our goal. As he raced towards Petr Cech, it seemed as though 57,000 Gooners held their breath waiting to see what Theo Walcott would do. The end result wasn’t exactly a surprise, as he waited too long, someone got back and managed to block the shot, which – I think – looped out for a corner.
In these moments, the thought crystalises; Theo, God bless him, was a trier. In fact, he was very trying, but he was doomed to failure by the weight of the number 14 shirt on his back. However, for Auba, it is clear that he is not subject to the pressures which afflict mere mortals. You can see this in the way he plays the game, in his finishing and what appears to be a very healthy attitude towards the game.
Let’s consider the circumstances in which Auba joined the club, during the dog days of Arsène Wenger’s 22 years at the club. We were told that we had signed a player who would cause more trouble than he was worth, a player perhaps more in love with the cars he drives even faster than he could run- and, as we all know, Auba is very quick. More to the point, Auba’s signing, a record one at the time, was made just six months after Arsenal had broken their transfer record to sign the centre forward Alex Lacazette from Lyon. Clearly, there was huge potential for Auba’s arrival to put a few noses out of joint.
However, despite all these things, Auba quickly settled down with 10 goals in 13 games at the end of the season and went on to form the strongest bromance we’ve had at the club since the days of Wrighty & Super Kev with Lacazette. Even this has only been aided by Auba’s adaptability; sometimes he has had to play wingman to accommodate Alex, but we have yet to hear a word of complaint from him on the subject. In fact, he seems happiest with the Frenchman supplementing him in attack.
Nor has there been any suggestion from Auba – in stark contrast to some of the players we’ve had at the club over the last few years – that, despite our slightly reduced circumstances, he might be looking to ply his trade elsewhere. In fact, just days before the Europa League final, Auba told RMC in France French radio station that he wanted to be remembered as an Arsenal “legend”.
For me, he’s well on the way.
One of the great things about Auba is, when you watch him interviewed, you can tell that whilst he blatantly loves playing football, he recognises it is just a game. I feel he probably brings a healthy sense of perspective, but also fun and lots of it, to the Arsenal dressing room. It’s certainly difficult to imagine being down for too long with Auba around.
This may come in handy after the weekend’s trip to Liverpool…
None of the above would matter if Auba was just a penalty box merchant, able only to profit off the work of others and only against the division’s whipping boys. This, however, is not the case. A penalty and an outrageous strike v Tottenham last season helped us carry the day in the Emirates fixture. Okay, so he missed a penalty which would have won us the return derby (I’m ignoring the wider implications of that miss), but a week later he made up for that with one against Manchester United. That showed character.
And if you were tempted to think that his wonder goal against Spurs was a one off, well I give you the winning goal at the weekend, beating a previously obstinate Nick Pope at his near post with an absolute ripper from the edge of the penalty area.
I was going to shoehorn a bit in here about Auba being an obvious upgrade on a previous incumbent of the centre forward position, a Frenchman now playing in south west London. But I sort of think it’s irrelevant. It’s legitimate to miss Giroud and his style of play which nobody left at Arsenal can truly replicate.
However, Auba, with his pace, predatory instincts and sheer violence of finishing, is a proper, bums off seats, centre forward, and – finally – the true heir to Thierry Henry’s number 14 shirt.
We’re lucky to have him.