I saw a superb thread on Twitter, brilliantly breaking down why we are not likely to see Aubameyang consistently under Arteta as the central striker. I asked the author (@TheOddSolace) if he would like the multiple tweets produced as an article. Here is the result……
Despite the clamour among Gunners fans, Mikel Arteta has largely resisted the urge to feature club top scorer Pierre Emerick Aubameyang as a No.9. Having given it some thought, I think I understand why. Here’s a bit of a thesis on why Aubameyang cannot play as a central striker for Arsenal without a No.10.
I enjoyed Amy Lawrence’s use of the term “bastard press” to describe the work Arteta expects from his No.9 on Arseblog’s Arsecast. Very apt as Auba isn’t really the right fit for that. Remember him leading the line in one NLD under Arsène Wenger at Wembley and looking completely incapable in terms of pressing. In any case, he is 31 and, if anything, needs to be doing fewer breakneck sprints to preserve his physical condition. In order to get the best of him for the duration of his next contract, his brief must be centred on efficiency of movement.
However, those are just the concerns without the ball. In possession, it appears from what we’ve seen so far that Arteta wants a centre-forward who can link the play rather than one who (predominantly) runs in behind. There have been, broadly speaking, three systems under the Spaniard. He started with 4-2-3-1 and persisted with it until the break. This system morphed into a 2-3-5/3-2-5 (depending on how many strikers the opponent was fielding) in possession with – from right to left – Nelson/Pepe, Özil, Lacazette, Aubameyang and Saka/Kolasinac taking up the five corridors in attack.
Upon resumption, he rolled out a 4-3-3 which he used in losses vs Manchester City and Brighton. Why this change?
My theory is this: with Özil no longer available for selection (for whatever reason), there was no No.10 to use in that role (and please don’t say Willock; for all his strengths, he’s not a 10). The Manchester City game was a bust the moment both Xhaka and Mari went off, so it doesn’t count toward this analysis. However, against Brighton, we saw a 4-3-3 with both 8s pushed high up, almost like Manchester City do. In possession, Kolasinac sat alongside the centre-backs and Bellerin was tucked in as a midfielder: forming a 3-2-5 with – from right to left – Pepe, Ceballos, Lacazette, Saka, Aubameyang occupying those five corridors in attack.
It was interesting, but there were obvious problems immediately. For one thing, Aubameyang often had to come very deep to pick up the ball and carry it down the line (you really do not want him doing this); for another, Ceballos struggled to find space to receive the ball between the lines like Özil does, and he didn’t make forward runs inside the Brighton left-back Dan Burn, who Pepe was pulling wide to the touchline.
After that game, Arteta switched to a 3-4-3. This way, he could still get his 3-2-5 structure in possession, but this time with Aubameyang playing more inside and an actual forward (Pepe or Saka) instead of Ceballos in the inside right channel.
Notice something? In every scenario, he has balked at playing Aubameyang as a centre-forward. However, the reasons in each case are slightly different. In the 4-2-3-1, he couldn’t play Auba as the 9 because, apart from the fact he can’t carry out the same pressing responsibilities, Arleta needed to maximize the team’s scoring potential. He’s said so himself. In the 4-3-3, Aube cannot link play centrally, but unlike Lacazette and Nketia, he can play wide. Think about it: how many 4-3-3s can you name where the central striker is (mostly) concerned with running in behind? Not many, I bet. Without an actual No.10 between the lines, you need the centre-forward to be able to come off the front line and receive the ball.
The only way around this is what Guardiola did at Manchester City where he had, in Aguero, a player as close to a “pure” No.9 as is possible in the modern game: play two “free 8s” between the lines to act as the link, and allow the striker focus on making short explosive movements inside the box and in behind. With both David Silva and De Bruyne between the lines to receive, it mitigated the need for the central striker to drop.
Incidentally, it is the same issue in a 3-4-3: there’s no No.10 here either, which means the No.9 must be able to drop.
He didn’t score, and Arsenal fans have decided they hate him now and want him sold (maybe they have a point) but consider the role Lacazette played against Leicester on Tuesday for reference. Aubameyang cannot fulfil that brief, and that is the only sure-fire way to consistently connect midfield to attack through the centre.
Nketiah, who has been in favour under Arteta, doesn’t “drop” that well either, and has gaps in his game, but he is (a) quicker and more malleable than Lacazette and (b) younger and more energetic than both Laca & Auba, so he can at least do the pressing bit. That’s why he’s been getting starts.
So, unless Arteta intends to sign a new No.10, Arsenal are unlikely to use a 4-2-3-1 consistently and, by extension, Aubameyang is very unlikely to play as a No. 9 consistently in a 4-3-3, even though he’s the best goal scorer at the club.
Our thanks to Solace Chukwu, @TheOddSolace for allowing is to share his excellent analysis today. Get following ….