Min­i­mal­ist ap­proach masks pure cut­ting edge of Aubameyang

Arse­nal player is dead­li­est, most thrillingly old-school cen­tre-for­ward in the Premier League

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - Bar­ney Ronay

OK, but apart from that. Apart from scor­ing more goals in the last 3½ sea­sons than any­one else we have seen in Eng­land. Apart from be­ing the Premier League top scorer in a new-build team still try­ing to work out their rhythm and shape.

And apart from do­ing all this with a thrillingly con­trolled range of move­ment, that easy grace that scarcely leaves a dent in the dew. Apart from all that. What has Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang ac­tu­ally done to com­mend him­self as the dead­li­est, most thrillingly old-school cen­tre-for­ward in the Premier League?

It is nor­mal to have reser­va­tions about Aubameyang. Peo­ple of­ten do. As Arse­nal have be­gun to stut­ter a lit­tle, with to­day’s trip to An­field look­ing like a chance to mea­sure the dis­tance this team still has left to run, there will be a temp­ta­tion to ques­tion ev­ery­thing.

Per­haps Aubameyang could have put away an even greater per­cent­age of his chances. Per­haps he could mask the clanks and clunks of the new era a lit­tle more ef­fec­tively, pulling out that fun, goofy grin more of­ten, the look of a man who cel­e­brates ev­ery sin­gle goal he scores as though this is the great­est, most un­ex­pected thing that has ever hap­pened to him, as though he sim­ply had no idea such things were even pos­si­ble.

Ei­ther way, Aubameyang is likely to en­ter the new year as the league’s top scorer. And, as ever, there is a vague sense of sur­prise about this. It isn’t hard to see why he con­fuses peo­ple.

Fudge

Foot­ball is a crowded, struc­turally baroque thing, a mess of noise and du­elling met­rics. In the mid­dle of which there is a clar­ity to watch­ing a player like Aubameyang. His out­line is dis­tinct.

At a time of post­mod­ern po­si­tional fudge, Aubameyang re­mains a pure cut­ting edge. No one in any ma­jor Euro­pean league has more goals from fewer shots. No player has made fewer in­ter­cep­tions and scored more goals.

It is a min­i­mal­ism that can be both dev­as­tat­ing and amus­ingly pe­riph­eral. Against Chelsea in Au­gust, Aubameyang played for 90 min­utes and touched the ball 18 times. Three months later in the win against Spurs he pro­duced the most ruth­lessly de­struc­tive in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance of the sea­son, with 44 touches, two goals, an as­sist, five tack­les, noth­ing wasted, noth­ing thrown away.

He even won two head­ers, this from a man who still grins man­i­cally when he suc­cess­fully heads the ball, and who is even now – whis­per it – on a run of three whole games with­out com­mit­ting a foul, be­ing flagged off­side or mak­ing a tackle.

This is noth­ing new. There is some YouTube footage out there of Aubameyang’s first goal against an English team in the colours of Mi­lan at the one-off World Youth Cham­pi­onships in Malaysia in 2007. Even this is pure one-touch killer, a run off the back of the Arse­nal de­fence and a dreamy one-touch, no-look in­step vol­ley yawned over the keeper with a flex of the big toe, not break­ing stride, just run­ning off to laugh about how good he is. Mi­lan still didn’t sign him.

To date the only teams to have spent any money on this won­der­fully smooth goalscor­ing ma­chine are Saint-Éti­enne, Arse­nal and Borus­sia Dort­mund, who got rid of him in part be­cause their own mea­sures sug­gested he was do­ing less, mov­ing less, car­ry­ing out the team plan to a less ex­act­ing de­gree.

Para­dox

This is a part of the Aubameyang para­dox. He is both a mod­ern foot­balling ath­lete and a throw­back to pre-Premier League times. In the age of 4-4-2, there were two main types of cen­tre-for­ward. First the clas­si­cal Big Man, present now most ob­vi­ously in the shape of Andy Car­roll, who in his bet­ter mo­ments can still repli­cate the de­struc­tive ef­fects of hurl­ing an ag­gres­sively con­fused wild yak from a sec­ond-floor bal­cony into a Christ­mas mar­ket. And se­condly the fast, smooth, Lineker/Aubameyang type, who made good runs and fin­ished well and played right at the front of the team.

A cut­ting edge this sharp is still supremely ef­fec­tive. Aubameyang has nine Premier League away goals in 2018. His goals in tight games have been re­spon­si­ble for 12 league points so far this sea­son. Plenty of Arse­nal fans pre­fer the more ag­gres­sively in­volved Alexan­dre La­cazette. Oth­ers have twigged that Me­sut Özil, di­vine im­pe­rial princeling of the late Wenger years, can­not re­ally play in the same team. One min­i­mal­ist is fine. Two looks like deca­dence.

Plus, the game has not changed that much. Per­haps the main thing that has gone wrong with Manch­ester City in the last month is just that their own killer up front has been in­jured or out of form. For all the talk of op­po­nents wis­ing up to the high press, of the loss of Fer­nand­inho’s rapid tran­si­tions, these nar­ra­tives are of­ten en­gi­neered out of some fairly ar­bi­trary de­tails, games won or lost by fine mar­gins.

Stick Aubameyang in that City team for the last four games and they would prob­a­bly end up win­ning all of them.

It is fool­ish to over­look the most ob­vi­ous route to goal, or the power of the min­i­mal­ist, who might not be the best or the most com­plete, but who has a par­tic­u­lar kind of beauty in his cold clear lines. – Guardian

PHO­TO­GRAPH: REUTERS

Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang cel­e­brates scor­ing against Burn­ley last week.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.