Mikel Arteta is adamant that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not lost his touch in front of goal, but has warned his captain not to compromise other areas of his game as he tries to break a four-match drought at Old Trafford.
Aubameyang has not scored since the win against Aston Villa on 22 October, when he converted a rebound from his own saved penalty, and has struggled to tap into his predatory instincts since then. He missed from the spot against Watford last month and fluffed a simple chance when Newcastle visited the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
His strike rate has dropped off significantly, but Arteta has been delighted with Aubameyang’s application off the ball and believes maintaining his effort in that department should be a priority.
“To put the ball in the net or not can be a difference of millimetres or by a second: Auba has that capacity and hasn’t lost that capacity,” he said. “What he cannot lose is the rest of his game. He cannot think: ‘I’m going to do a little bit less of that now to score more goals.’ It doesn’t work like that. It works the opposite way round because he had four opportunities to put the ball in the net.”
Before Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli broke Newcastle’s resistance, Aubameyang had brought a fist‑pumping reaction from his manager when he charged down a defensive clearance near the touchline. “That’s non-negotiable,” Arteta said. “Our front players have to put people on the ball under pressure every single time. That moment changes the momentum of the game a little bit because a few minutes later we scored the goal, again in another high press situation. That’s what I demand.”
In the past Arteta preached the need for Arsenal to rely less on Aubameyang’s extraordinary goalscoring return and, given the player has scored only four of the 15 goals the team have amassed in the league, the burden appears to have lightened. The manager admitted, though, that his talisman’s numbers remain vital to their ambitions.
“The form of Auba will always be related to the goals he scores,” he said. “There are many other things apart from goals but obviously we need that contribution, because his goals are critical for our success. That’s been shown in the last few years when we weren’t able to do that. That has to be his aim, to continue to do the things he’s doing and then at the right moment put the ball in the net.”
Aubameyang scored a penalty in Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford last season and Arteta described the visit this year, when they will face a Manchester United side five points and three places below them, as “another important game”. He must wait on Saka’s fitness after the forward sustained a knock against Newcastle and must also decide whether Kieran Tierney will return at left-back in place of Nuno Tavares, who shrugged off a shaky display at Liverpool to perform strongly at the weekend.