Mikel Arteta says Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is “hungry to do something” after returning to full fitness following a bad encounter with malaria.
After ending the last campaign as the club’s FA Cup-winning hero, the 31-year-old club captain, fresh from signing a big-money contract extension, was supposed to be the talismanic figurehead as his manager’s project stepped up a gear. It hasn’t worked out that way.
While 15 goals and 3 assists are nothing to sniff at, our striker’s goal tally is way down on what Gunners fans have been used to since he joined from Dortmund in January 2018.
2017/18 – 10 goals in 14 games
2018/19 – 31 goals in 51 games
2019/20 – 29 goals in 44 games
With teammates not exactly picking up the slack, the lack of killer instinct has cost the team dearly on the domestic front and hopes of qualifying for the Champions League now hang by a thread.
While a number of factors have played a part in Auba’s hit-and-miss performances – off-field issues and a lack of creativity around him certainly haven’t helped – Arteta believes his striker is in the mood to put things right.
“You know Auba’s character, he’s someone really lively, always joking, always smiling,” said the boss ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg with Villarreal.
“He had a difficult season so many of us as a club and a staff try to support him as much as possible the way that the team did as well.
“When he had some personal issues they were right behind him. As I said before football gives you an opportunity. He’s in a good place right now and he’s very hungry to do something.”
He added: “Everything affects but you have to come through that. It’s about how you react to the difficulties in your career which you’re going to have at some stage.
“He had some this season and it’s about showing the direction and the capacity to overcome that.”
The importance of delivering on the pitch tonight isn’t lost on Aubameyang. In fairness, he’s done pretty well in big games since he joined and this is certainly one of those.
Reflecting on the job at hand, he said: “I am really excited to play this game tomorrow because it is a big game and it’s a big moment for all of us. Hopefully, we deliver again.
“For sure it will be one of [the biggest games of my Arsenal career]. Definitely this season is the most important game and we know that we have to win this game.
“It is a big opportunity for us to get to the final, we play at home and this is maybe the biggest game of my Arsenal career.”
Having worked with him for 18 months, former boss Unai Emery is certainly wary of the striker leading Arsenal’s attack.
“Aubameyang is a killer,” said the Villarreal coach on Wednesday.
“He was, he is and he will always be. He has been through a process of being out of the team because of the illness he has had but he is back.
“He is there to work, to defend the team and give everything for the team, hoping he can perform at the top level and if that happens he is going to be very difficult to stop.