Mikel Arteta wants to help Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rediscover his best form as Arsenal plan to treat every game as a final for the remainder of the season.
With the international break over, the Gunners resume their campaign on Saturday when Liverpool visit Emirates Stadium.
Both teams are desperately in need of points with just nine games remaining in the Premier League, or else run the risk of missing out on qualifying for Europe via the domestic route.
While Liverpool still have their sights set on a top-four finish, Arsenal go into the fixture well off the pace having won just three of their previous nine in the competition.
Like the team itself, Aubameyang has struggled for consistency in the competition. The Gabon international scored 22 league goals in each of the previous two seasons but has yet to reach double figures in 2020-21.
“We talked for months about the ratio of goals we need him to score to give us the best possible chance of being at the top,” Arteta told the media ahead of the Liverpool game.
“He’s not been what he has been in recent years, a factor that is contributed by a lot of other things that the team has to do on the pitch – it’s not just his thing.
“Obviously, we need Auba in different form in the next games to give us the best chance to finish where we want to finish this season, that is clear.”
Aubameyang could point to playing regularly in a wider attacking role as a reason behind the decrease in his productivity, with a nine-goal haul still one behind the total he managed in his first 13 league appearances after signing from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.
His position in the team may also explain why his average of 2.28 shots per 90 minutes is comfortably lower than in previous seasons at the club, along with a shot conversion rate of 18.37 per cent (which is still better than Harry Kane’s number of 16.67 per cent).
Yet when it comes to converting big chances – those Opta define as a situation where a player is expected to score – the 31-year-old sits at a healthy 45.4 per cent, well above his 2018-19 total of 36.1 per cent when he finished tied with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah for the Golden Boot. He is slightly outperforming his expected goals tally of 6.8 this term too, managing seven non-penalty goals from 47 shots.
Arteta recognises it is not necessarily all down to the player himself, with the Gunners manager asking for different requirements from his captain while instilling a more controlled approach to proceedings, laying the foundations for what he hopes will be long-term success under his guidance.
“He can play off the left, off the right, in the middle. He has done it, it’s nothing new,” Arteta replied when asked about Aubameyang’s best position.
“When you look at his stats from the past, there is no difference. But it does depend [on] how we play, how much we provide for him and how efficient he is when he has these chances.
“When he has got this form of confidence, well, he is unstoppable. It is dependent on many factors.”
The north London club rewarded Aubameyang for his previous exploits – including two goals to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final last August – with a bumper new contract.
With the goals drying up since signing to stay for a further three years, questions have been raised over his commitment to the cause. He was also dropped from the starting XI prior to the derby with Tottenham in March for disciplinary reasons, though Arteta quickly drew a line under the issue in the aftermath of a much-needed 2-1 victory.
Arteta has no doubt Aubameyang remains ambitious, stating: “It’s easy to connect things when they relate to it like that, but I’m not suspicious about that.
“We have had many conversations about what he wanted to do from last year’s point of view with his future in the next three years. He was very ambitious with that, but to maintain that level is really complicated. He is trying hard and that’s what he is aiming to do.”
Arsenal could do with their captain leading from the front during the run-in, starting against Liverpool in what is the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history.
“It’s like a final every game,” Arteta said ahead of the final stretch. “Three points mean a lot in the table and we need to go for them, we need to win as many games as possible. We know that.”