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xGunners: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s declining production from the wing

Aubameyang is Arsenal’s transfer record signing but hasn’t quite reached his Dortmund peaks under Unai Emery

Arsenal v Vorskla Poltava - UEFA Europa League - Group E Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

When Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang signed from Borussia Dortmund for £56 million I was thrilled. Arsenal were getting one of the best strikers in all of Europe to lead the line. He even had the confidence to take the number 14 shirt made famous by Thierry Henry.

I had dreams of Mesut Özil playing killer passes to Aubameyang and got very excited. I imagined Henrikh Mkhitaryan cutting in from the wing and recreating the Borussia Dortmund magic. I pictured defenses getting scared of the strike duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette.

So far the results have been, well not quite up to the lofty expectations that I had for him.

Since joining Arsenal he has produced 12 goals (including two penalties), that is a goal every 128 minutes and 0.7 goals per 90 minutes. This isn’t all that different than what he did at Dortmund where he scored a goal every 106 minutes as a striker. This season, in a very small sample size, his minutes per goal is up to 241.

What is even more concerning is that his shots numbers have shown a decline from his time at Dortmund.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Shots Per 90

Season Shots Per 90 Team
Season Shots Per 90 Team
2013-14 2.9 Dortmund
2014-15 3.4 Dortmund
2015-16 4.3 Dortmund
2016-17 3.8 Dortmund
2017-18 3.8 Dortmund
2017-18 2.6 Arsenal
2018-19 2.6 Arsenal

The decline isn’t major, but comes out to about a shot per 90 less with his time at Arsenal compared to Dortmund. What is more concerning, especially this season as he has moved from striker out to the wing, is that it is not just the number of shots that have declined but also the quality of those shots.

xG Per Shot

Season Shots Per 90 Team
Season Shots Per 90 Team
2014-15 0.08 Dortmund
2015-16 0.21 Dortmund
2016-17 0.23 Dortmund
2017-18 0.28 Dortmund
2017-18 0.27 Arsenal
2018-19 0.12 Arsenal

This decline in xG per shot is driven by a change in where his shots have come from on the pitch. In his Dortmund seasons 2.2 shots from the “Danger Zone” (the center of the 18 yard box plus the six yard box) with just 0.6 coming from outside the box.

Breaking it down even further looking just at his time at striker, 64% of his shots came from the danger zone, 19% from the wide areas of the box and just 12% from outside the box. That is an amazing shot distribution! This shot distribution continued with his time under Arsène Wenger with 68% of his shots came from the danger zone, 16% from the wide areas of the box and just 10% from outside the box.

This season under Unai Emery, Aubameyang’s shot distribution is as follows: 36% of his shots from the danger zone, 14% from the wide areas of the box and 50% (!!!) from outside the box.

I was thrilled with the signing of Aubameyang but the team that Arsenal have built is not balanced. There are a number of very good attacking players in this team but many of them play in the same positions and spaces on the pitch. Making it so they all can play at the same time comes with major trade offs, one of them is that Aubameyang has been forced to play out of position on the wing and the resulting drop in production that comes along with that.

Solving this issue may not be possible. Playing with 80% of Aubameyang’s potential might be enough to keep starting Alexandre Lacazette as the main striker. On the run of results and the form of Lacazette this may well be the answer. With top four aspirations still very much alive figuring out how to maximize the team and the best eleven is a thorny issue that needs to be answered.