Arsenal and The Aubameyang Dependency

Overview

Arsenal’s record-breaking capture of Aubameyang for £56 million in the January transfer window of 2018 was a serious sign of ambition, barely 6 months after breaking the club record to secure Alexandre Lacazette for £46.5 million.

His goal against Wolves on Saturday marked his 50th for the club and it got me wondering about a certain facet of his repertoire in relation to the overall team: how many of his goals are down to him just being a brilliantly wiley and clinical centre-foward and how many can we attribute to the team behind him?

I’d been wanting to do something along these lines for a while and after taking a look at each of his goals, I decided to dig a little deeper and get into some basic quantitative analysis of the man and see how he stacked up against some of the other world class centre-forwards he’s currently competing with in the Premier League.

The dependency aspect relates simply to – where would we be without his goals? At the time of writing, news has just broken that Xhaka has been stripped of the captaincy (and position within the so-called ‘captain’s group), passing to the man in question. My position here is also borne out of frustration, as we have a player who is in the absolute peak of their career and part of me thinks his talents are being wasted as he’s left fighting for scraps, while now shouldering the responsibility of a captaincy to boot. The prevarication about his contract situation only serves to cast more doubt on whether we can hold onto him.

Anyway, without further ado, you can relive those 50 below:


The Theory

There have been several instances where I’ve felt like he really didn’t have the right to score – what I mean by this is, the times where he has so much work to do with barely a half-chance and yet still manages to find the back of the net. A descriptive metric I’ve coined for the purposes of this is Aubameyang’s “individual brilliance” – goals which have only been scored because he’s made it happen. It’s not a trait unique to Aubameyang; in fact, I think it’s a trait that separates the very good from the world class. My interest is very much in finding out just how dependent this Arsenal team is on his goals and what effect they have on our results.

To do this, I’ve developed a few points of comparison to shed some light on his efficacy from an individual perspective (and in relation to some other world class forwards in the league), to looking at who he links up most effectively with in the team. In recent weeks, Aubameyang’s goals have subsided, which has unsurprisingly coincided with our slump in form* – correlation and causality are now the obstacles to overcome. He’s cut a dejected figure at times and for all of his effort in dropping deeper and being forced out to the wing to accomodate Lacazette, a leopard can’t change their spots – he shouldn’t be having to do that in the first place. I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent Black Panther idiom, but there we go…

*Speaking of which, @Orbinho always has the relevant pearls of wisdom:


The Data

Table 1 – Subjective Goal Breakdown

In Table 1, I’ve coined a descriptor in “individual brilliance” (or IB) to separate those goals that have come from nothing, from the rest of the pack. I was interested to see just how starved of service Aubameyang was. Now let me preface this by saying my interpretation of when he’s scored using “individual brilliance” is entirely subjective – you can have a look at the goals for yourself and keep tally if you’d like – but for my purposes here, I essentially counted any goal where I felt it was less than a half-chance when he received the ball, or if he scored from thin air, such as his freekick against Aston Villa.

The first thing that sprang to mind was the incidences of IB increasing year on year since he joined (fair assumption given that he’s already on 3 for the current season and is likely to surpass ’18/19’s tally). It could be argued that our playstyle even in Wenger’s last season was better suited to Aubameyang’s, but that doesn’t serve to explain how he was able to score 31 goals in all competitions last season. This also coincides with the startling number of points he’s already secured us this season in comparison to the season and a half prior. At the very least after looking at that, I’m glad the guy has a near-immaculate injury record or we’d be at similar laughing stock levels as some other unmentionables.

Table 2 – Aubameyang’s Contributors
Table 2 – Contributors Visualised

Table 2 shows where the goals that were actually worthy of an assist have come from: unsurprisingly Mkhitaryan, for all his inconsistencies before his timely departure, still managed to rekindle some of their fruitful relationship from the Dortmund days, with Lacazette also featuring predominantly. Perhaps most surprising is Ramsey topping the list, as despite his absence, is the biggest contributor to Aubameyang. This also coincided with what was our best period under Emery, as far as I’m concerned. It also points to our ongoing problems in filling the void the Welshman left, from his workrate, adaptability in games and his quality in the final third. The problem is finding another readymade Aaron Ramsey to fill the void, as for the time being, it’s asking too much of the likes of Joe Willock.

It also comes as no surprise that our fullbacks feature heavily, even those that aren’t naturalised in the position like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, as it’s become one of the few staples of Emery’s flimsy creativity. That cat appears to be well and truly out of the bag, though, as our chances from such positions have dwindled as teams have adapted their defences. We may have scored against Wolves in this manner but my overriding feeling is the likes of Kolasinac haven’t had nearly the same levels of success in recent times when firing in balls from the wing. These days, it just feels like a hopeful war of attrition.

Table 3 – Head-To-Head Player Analysis

To try and illustrate what kind of player we have on our hands, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the two players who closest to Aubameyang in the world-class ballpark of Premier League centre-forwards (no dribbling mouthbreathers to see here).

His calibre can be seen in the so-coined clinicity rating, which simply put, is the rati at which the player converts a “big chance”, relative to the total number of big chances. Although sometimes criticised for being wasteful, the data speaks for itself and it’s not like Agüero and Salah aren’t clinical themselves. It does make you wonder what kind of player we’d have on our hands on a level playing field.

N.B. Although Aubameyang has the smallest dataset, this can be offset by the fact that unlike the other two, he is not part of a title-challenging/winning side and yet is still the most clinical of the three (lower clinicity rating implies he converts a greater proportion of “total big chances”.


Conclusions

We’d be royally fucked without Aubameyang and I hope he outlives Emery’s tenure.