Monday, December 11, 2023

Sunday round-up: Women’s FA Cup Final / Aubameyang concerns

Morning all. A quick Sunday round-up for you.

From an Arsenal perspective, today is dominated by the Women’s FA Cup Final, where we take on Chelsea at Wembley, kick off 2pm.  It’s been a good season so far, and Jonas Eidevall has had a really exciting start as head coach, so fingers crossed today they can do the business.

As you would expect, Tim has all the preview stuff you need, with team news and all the rest over on Arseblog News. He’ll also have the post-match stuff, which will hopefully include the celebrations. If you want to watch, there’s a guide as to where it’s on in the Tweet below:

Fingers crossed, and come on you reds!

Elsewhere, there’s some pre-Everton stuff doing the rounds, and we’ll keep the main preview for tomorrow’s blog. There were some questions about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang though, who has now gone five games without a goal, and has just four from thirteen Premier League appearances (his overall goal total is boosted by a hat-trick in the Carabao Cup).

One of the things I don’t really understand is the idea that he’s not working hard enough or that he’s just become lazy and doesn’t care. Just a couple of weeks ago Arteta was singing his praises about how much he was doing to lead the press etc, and even yesterday made it clear it’s not down to lack of effort:

You are always concerned when your main striker isn’t scoring goals but he is trying his hardest. He is aware of how much we need him as a team to score goals and at the moment, they are not coming but the rest of the things we are asking him to do, he is trying his best.

For me, it’s not work-rate. If it were that simple, it’d be really easy to fix. I think we’re looking at a player whose goalscoring form is in the toilet right now, which can happen to strikers. Especially streaky ones. I have expressed some sympathy before for Aubameyang, and any Arsenal striker under Mikel Arteta, because the need for efficiency is huge. When you miss a chance, it’s hard to compartmentalise that and focus on the next one because you can’t be sure there will be a next one. One big miss looks like one ENORMOUS miss when it’s the only chance of the game. Which isn’t to make excuses for Aubameyang, or anyone else, but we’re not a team which creates a high volume of big chances, so the ones we don’t take feel especially egregious. When we talk about football as a game of tight margins, ours feel like the tightest in the universe at times.

The other thing you can’t help thinking about a player who is 32, and very much in the September of his career, is that age is catching up to him. We know he had a difficult season last year, but there were other issues. Injuries, so far there are none this campaign of sufficient seriousness to keep him out of a game. There were personal issues, a bout of malaria that went undiagnosed for a while. There were reasons to explain such a big drop off in his goal tally.

This season, not so much. So, perhaps coupled with a run of poor form, we’re seeing a player who has lost a step, who isn’t quite as sharp as he once was, whose movement isn’t quite as devastating. It’s far from inconceivable given his age, but let’s also remember that all of that information and data will be available internally. We have our eyes, and we have the stats that are publicly available, but sprint tests and bleep tests and movement and all of that is recorded and if there’s a big drop off, the manager and the player will know it better than we will.

When it comes right down to it, strikers are judged on goals, and so far this season he hasn’t scored enough. It’s clear why we’re being linked with all kinds of centre-forwards, and I fully expect that to be the next big signing the club makes. For now though, the Aubameyang alternatives aren’t particularly compelling. Alex Lacazette has one goal this season, and is going to leave in the summer. Eddie Nketiah, rejected a contract and he’s off too, perhaps as early as January. Flo Balogun is way too good for U23 level, but as the opening day against Brentford demonstrated, he’s in need of a loan to start playing adult football as soon as possible.

I do think Gabriel Martinelli might be an option worth considering, and his last two performances merit his inclusion for Monday night. Fitness issues for other players might demand he plays in one of the wide positions, so I don’t necessarily see him replacing Aubameyang. If that’s something we were thinking of though, I’d prefer it was Martinelli to one of the other two. Let’s build for the future, with players who will be part of that.

Of course, a goal or two for the captain would change the mood, and change some of the conversation around him, and with plenty of football to come in December, let’s hope he can put an end to this streak asap.

Right, let’s leave it there. We’ll have our Everton preview podcast available later today over on Patreon, so keep an eye out for that.

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