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Africa Sports News of Saturday, 7 August 2021


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: What to expect in 2021-22 for Arsenal, Gabon

Arsenal captain and Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal captain and Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The story of last season

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang endured his least impressive goalscoring campaign at Arsenal last year, where he netted only 10 Premier League goals.

While there’s the necessary context of him starting only 26 times, his general performances and several stretches of games without scoring were worrying.

He was criticised during the Gunners’ wretched spell in the autumn in which Mikel Arteta’s men went seven domestic games without a victory.

Auba netted only five times in the first half of the campaign, despite starting 17 fixtures. A few knocks and malaria saw him feature infrequently after the New Year, but he netted as many strikes as he’d managed in the first part of the season, despite starting only nine times.

“After signing his new contract last summer, everyone expected Arsenal’s captain to go on to produce another clinical season in front of goal, but it just didn’t happen,” Goal’s Arsenal correspondent Charles Watts remarks. “While plenty of strikers would be happy to score 15 times in a season, that tally was well below Aubameyang’s usual standards as was the level of his performances.”

The upshot of Arsenal’s talisman failing to hit previous heights meant the North London side failed to make the European spots, finishing eighth, and were eliminated by Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final.

Missing out on a return to Champions League football via the continent’s second-tier competition hurt just as badly as the club’s absence from Europe for the first time in 25 years.

Any transfer talk?

After committing to their captain with that three-year contract last year, it’d be harsh to jettison the Gabon star after one bad season.

The former Borussia Dortmund forward is expected to play out 2021-22 at the Emirates Stadium, although the futures of Alexander Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah remain unclear.

Best/worst case scenarios for 2021-22

Undoubtedly, for Auba to return to his goalscoring best in the new campaign, banishing a truly forgettable 2020-21.

If he returns to his best and Arsenal, by extension, end in the Champions League positions after a five-year absence, the campaign will be tagged a success.

The opposite of the aforementioned has to be the obvious worst-case scenario. What if the club captain’s form in the preceding year wasn’t just a one-off, but rather a prelude to an even greater decline in the forward’s potency?

Missing out on CL qualification will also be a hammer blow for player and club.

What are they saying?

“This is a huge season for Aubameyang, coming off the back of what was a massively disappointing campaign last time out,” Watts continues.

“There are many who believe he is now past his best and he will be determined to prove them wrong and everyone at Arsenal will be desperate for their talisman to return to the top elf form he showed during his first couple of years in north London.

“His form in pre-season has not been great, however. He has yet to score and has missed some big chances, including against Chelsea on Sunday, and that has set the alarm bells ringing.

“One thing is for sure is that Arsenal are to have a strong season, they need Aubameyang at his best. So far this summer, we are yet to see signs that he is anywhere near that yet.”

What role will Aubameyang play at the Afcon?

After missing out in 2019, the Arsenal star will lead Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to be held in Cameroon in January.

Despite Auba’s presence, the Panthers have hardly pulled up trees in previous editions, notably exiting at the group stage in 2010, 2015 and 2017 (as hosts).

They did reach the quarter-finals as co-hosts in 2012, where the forward’s miss in the penalty shoot-out defeat by Mali proved costly.

Going by events in preceding outings at Afcon, the Arsenal star is unlikely to make any significant difference to Gabon’s chances of reaching the semis for the first time or even surprising the continent by winning their maiden crown.

Goal's prediction for 2021-22

With Arsenal missing out on Europe completely in the imminent season, surely Arteta’s troops will make a sustained push for a Champions League spot.

While they face stiff competition with the Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City, they have one thing over all those sides: having a full week to prepare for games.

It’ll be up to Aubameyang, despite a brief Afcon absence, to lead the charge and Goal is backing the 32-year-old to thrive despite his worrying pre-season drought.