With the signing of Alexandre Lacazette for a club record €53 million, Arsenal seemed to have solved their striker problem that had existed since the sale of Robin van Persie back in the summer of 2012. However, just six months since the arrival of the Frenchman, the Gunners have broken that record yet again, for Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. On the face of it, €63.75m for one of the best strikers in the world represents good value, especially with some of the transfer fees that have been paid in the last 18 months. However, this begs the question of why Borussia Dortmund are willing to accept such a relatively low fee for a player with a massive and well-deserved reputation.
There was a time a year ago that moving from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal would be a downgrade and many people may argue that it still is with Arsenal sitting eight points outside of a Champions League place. However, Dortmund are a club in limbo. Unable to keep hold of their best players after the departures of Ousmane Dembélé and Aubameyang, they are no longer the clear second best club in Germany. The emergence of RB Leipzig and the return to form of Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen have meant that Dortmund are no longer locks to qualify for the Champions League. Aubameyang must also have been dismayed by way they were never competitive in the Champions league this year. A group containing Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur was never going to be easy but Dortmund looked a class below both of those sides.
Aubameyang is a goalscorer and a very good one at that. Despite starting his Dortmund career playing on the right wing, the Gabon international has scored 141 goals in 213 games for the German club putting him right up among the very best strikers in the Europe and with every season, Aubameyang is only getting better. The Gabonese has increased his tally every year he has been in Germany, peaking last season with 31 goals in 32 Bundesliga games, finishing as the league’s top scorer ahead of Robert Lewandowski. Arsenal fans shouldn’t worry about Aubameyang being a product of a supposedly weak league either. Firstly, the Bundesliga isn’t as weak as many people think and secondly, 11 goals in 17 Champions League matches since 2016 show he can perform against Europe’s elite.
With 21 goals in all competitions this season, Aubameyang is showing no signs of slowing down despite being part of a Borussia Dortmund team that has underperformed massively all season. So, it seems Arsenal really are getting one of the best strikers in world football for a fee less than that Manchester United paid for Romelu Lukaku last summer.
We can also dive deeper into Aubameyang’s goal numbers to further highlight just how impressive his time in Germany has been. Thirty-six of his 141 goals have been game winning goals (via transfermarkt.com) including winners against Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig, Schalke (twice) and in the DFB Pokal final last season against Eintracht Frankfurt. Arsenal fans will be surprised at how dangerous Aubameyang is in the air, too. At 6’1” he isn’t the tallest striker, but he has great strength and the ability to get above the defender marking him. He can score with either foot, as well as being an accomplished penalty taker.
Aubameyang is a player that scares you when he plays against your team, as many fans have found out. He has truly incredible pace, the kind that will keep opposing defenders awake at night. Combined with superb movement off the ball he is the kind of player that a playmaker like Mesut Özil must dream of. Despite sounding like the perfect player for a counter-attacking system, he has thrived in a team that is consistently in the top five in Europe for possession. Aubameyang’s finishing ability is perhaps the most impressive part of his game. A 20% conversion rate in the three seasons from 2014 put him eighth in Europe, although year-on-year he increased his conversion rate from 14% to 19.47% and finally to 25.66% in 2016/17. So Aubameyang is not only a great player, but one who is getting even better with every season.
His pace means that defenders must drop deep, which will gift more time and space to Arsenal’s midfield playmakers. Aubameyang can also drop deeper to receive the ball and use the threat of knocking the ball past a defender to give himself space to get a shot away. Expect to see the likes of Özil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan running at defences while Aubameyang peels off between the centre-back and full-back looking for a ball to be played through. Once through on goal, he is a lethal finisher – often letting the goalkeeper commit himself before lifting the ball over him and into the net.
On the face of it, the 28-year-old is a striker with few, if any weaknesses. He can run at defenders with the ball or make off the ball runs in behind them. He can finish with either foot from inside or outside the area and is also be a threat in the air.
This begs the question of why Dortmund were so happy to let him go. Many expect Aubameyang’s internal disciplinary issues contributed greatly to their decision. He was left out of the squad for a Champions League match in 2016 for ‘internal reasons’ that left then manager Thomas Tuchel ‘with no other choice.’ It later turned out Aubameyang had made an unsanctioned trip to Milan. However, that season was Aubameyang’s most prolific season to date so the suspension didn’t influence his performances on the pitch. He was suspended again in November, reportedly for being consistently late for training and a team meeting before Dortmund’s game against VfB Stuttgart. Finally, this month he was left out of the squad for the first game of the Ruckründe against VfL Wolfsburg for another disciplinary offence.
While you cannot excuse Aubameyang’s misdemeanours, there was never a suggestion that it had an impact on the spirit in the Dortmund camp. Dortmund’s issues in recent years are more to do with bad relationships between the board and manager and subsequent poor managerial appointments.
Aubameyang’s transition to the Premier League will be helped by the similarities in the style of football between Dortmund and Arsenal. While neither is at the peak of the powers, both like to control possession and look for small openings in a defence to thread a ball through. With the arrival of Mkhitaryan and the news that Özil will extend his stay in London, Arsenal have two of the best playmakers in football and it’s an opportunity that surely was too good for Aubameyang to turn down.
The players Arsenal have will allow Aubameyang to thrive even more so than he did in Germany. Özil will be the best teammate he has ever played with and you couldn’t design a more perfect striker for the German playmaker than Aubameyang. He’s one of the most dangerous players in Europe, while there will be many sleepless nights ahead for Premier League defences in the years to come.
By Thomas Pain.