Mikel Arteta is unsure whether Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will rediscover his best form in 2021-22.
Aubameyang signed a huge £250,000 per week contract at Emirates Stadium in September 2020 but then failed to live up to his billing as the Gunners slumped to eighth in the Premier League last term.
The former Borussia Dortmund forward endured by far the worst season of his Premier League career, contributing 10 goals along with three assists.
His 13 goal involvements were his fewest in a single campaign in England, including 2017-18 when he joined in the January and tallied 10 goals and four assists.
Aubameyang has turned 32 since the end of 2020-21 and it was put to manager Arteta on Thursday that this could be the start of an extended slump.
Arteta could not rule out that possibility but is waiting to see how the Gabon international performs as fans return this year to hopefully spell a more normal season.
“I don’t know – last season and everything that happened individually, collectively around the club for everybody, it was difficult to measure if that’s a trend or a one-off,” Arteta said ahead of Arsenal’s opening game against newly promoted Brentford on Friday.
“Our job is to help the players get the best that they have, and we know that with [Aubameyang] we are stronger.
“He scores goals and that’s one of the most important things in this game.”
Aubameyang declined in several areas of his game last season, although it was his profligacy in front of goal that caused most concern.
The striker’s conversion rate fell to 17.5 per cent, ranking 13th among the 27 players to score 10 or more – a list he had topped when netting with 32.3 per cent of shots in his first half-season at Arsenal.
Aubameyang was still ahead of Harry Kane, the division’s top scorer, in this regard, but his average of 2.2 attempts per 90 minutes represented another worrying low despite taking more touches in the opposition box (4.8 per 90) than a year earlier (4.4 touches, 2.7 shots, 22 goals).
As a result, his number of ‘big chances’ – situations where the player would reasonably be expected to score – dropped from 0.8 to 0.5 per 90.
And Aubameyang was actually slightly fortunate to reach double figures.
Although he marginally underperformed his expected goals total of 10.2, his expected goals on target value – which measures the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance – of 7.8 spoke to his below-par finishing.
At the other end of the pitch to Aubameyang, it appears Arsenal are still attempting to add to their options, with the Gunners having reportedly lodged a £24million bid for Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Those reports emerged on Wednesday but were swiftly shot down by Blades boss Slavisa Jokanovic, who insisted Ramsdale is not for sale.
“I don’t have any intention to sell him,” said Jokanovic on Thursday. “He will be in my starting 11 for the next game.
“He is a very good keeper and I am really happy working with him. He’s a really expensive keeper too.”
Ramsdale moved to the Blades from Bournemouth in 2020.