Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last featured for Arsenal a month ago. Now, it seems he may never play for the Gunners again.

The 32-year-old star striker began his time in north London as one of the club’s top players. Aubameyang arrived at the Emirates widely regarded as one of the best number nines in the world. The Gabon international managed to rack up 54 goals in his first 85 Premier League matches with Arsenal.

Not only did Aubameyang score with ease in the first two-and-a-half years with the Gunners, but he scored important goals as well. Most notably, he netted all four of his club’s goals in the semifinals and the final of the FA Cup during the 2019/20 campaign. His Man of the Match performances in these games guided the Gunners to their record-fourteenth FA Cup victory.

Nevertheless, the Gabon international’s steep drop in production since this FA Cup final put him out of favor for Mikel Arteta.

Disappointing performances in recent seasons

Aubameyang suffered illnesses and injuries en route to a lackluster 2020/21 season. His 10 league goals became his lowest tally during a full season since his freshman campaign in Ligue 1 over a decade ago. It was also in this 2020/21 season that Aubameyang missed out on a massive matchup with bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Injuries were not the cause. Rather disciplinary reasons regarding showing up late to the game. This would obviously not be the last time the forward, and captain of Arsenal, was in trouble with his manager.

When Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta decided to freeze out Aubameyang from the team last month for additional disciplinary reasons, most pundits and fans assumed the move would negatively affect the north London club. After all, a pair of 22-goal seasons preceded the poor 2020/21 campaign.

This, however, has not been the case. As 2021 turned to 2022, the Gunners won five of their last six matches. Additionally, Arteta’s side look to be a much more threatening side going forward without their captain and highest-paid player. So how could Arsenal be playing better without Aubameyang? It appears to be down to tactics and team play.

Arsenal without Aubameyang

It is no secret that Arteta clearly needs his players to be good passers of the ball. This is particularly true as the Gunners advance forward. The Spaniard wants Arsenal to play quick and incisive passes, especially out wide with either the full backs or wingers. Movement and space is key here.

Historically, Aubameyang is clinical as a finisher. Yet, passing seems to be secondary to his skill set. As a result of Aubameyang’s various absences, Arteta employed one of, or even both, Alexandre Lacazette or Gabriel Martinelli. Lacazette and Martinelli link up with the midfield and each other better than Aubameyang.

Another area that Arteta focuses on is pressuring his opponents when Arsenal lose the ball. This is imperative to play for the Spaniard. Arteta comes from the school of Pep Guardiola where possession is principal. If your team has the ball, hold on to it. If not, urgently get it back. And, again, both Lacazette and Martinelli are clearly more prosperous in pressing and being a nuisance to the opposing players.

The team’s improvement in these areas are clearly directly impacting Arsenal’s performances over the last month. Arsenal are averaging 3.0 goals per Premier League game since Aubameyang was relegated to the sidelines. This is compared to the Gunners averaging just 1.2 goals per match in the 15 league games prior.

There are a number of reasons for Arsenal’s recent form, including development of young transfer window newcomers and the resurgence of the midfield. However, the final third’s jump is particularly noticeable. Also, keep in mind that Gabriel Martinelli is just 20, showing room for improvement with decent statistics as things stand.

Aubameyang and Arsenal’s future

Arteta acknowledged the differences in his team’s play in recent matches following their 5-0 thumping of Norwich.

“We are scoring more goals because we are getting into those positions in much better condition,” Arteta said.

“Every process is done much, much better, and I guess better positioning and chances to the strikers. At the moment they are being really effective.”

With the January transfer window in full effect, reports claim Arsenal is shopping Aubameyang around. Potential suitors get a lethal goal-scorer from years prior, but there are certain drawbacks. Issues with his disciplinary record, lofty wages and recent decline in output could turn teams away.

Regardless, it remains apparent that it is in the best interests of both parties for Arsenal to continue without Aubameyang in its plans.