Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has admitted he cannot be sure if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in decline or not after the striker's disappointing goal return last season.
Aubameyang scored just 15 goals in all competitions last season, his lowest return for the decade, and in the Premier League his non-penalty goal return dropped from 20 to eight in a hugely frustrating campaign, the first after he signed a major three-year contract with Arsenal.
However, there were a string of mitigating circumstances on and off the pitch that might yet go some way to explaining Aubameyang's difficulties. The Arsenal striker was given time off midway through the season while his mother battled illness before he himself was brought low by a bout of malaria contracted on international duty. In footballing terms, he spent much of the early season marooned on the left wing flank where he had enjoyed a hot streak of form late in Arteta's first term, but with little service coming his way he struggled to be as influential.
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Aubameyang's on-pitch struggles seem to have extended into preseason, where he failed to find the net even though he did show a welcome ability to get into the sort of scoring positions that evaded him last season. Still, without goals to his name, there will be much concern over whether the 32-year-old may no longer be the players who terrorized defenses in his prime.
Asked whether Aubameyang might have entered career decline, Arteta said: "I don't know. Last season and everything that happened individually and collectively, it was difficult to measure whether that was a trend or a one off.
"Our job is to help the team get the best they have and we know with him we are stronger because he scores goals. That's one of the most important things in this game."
Arteta has at least seen signs at London Colney of a more settled captain with the Arsenal manager adding in his pre-match press conference: Since he came back he looked in the right mindset and he's trying to put last season, which was difficult for everybody and not just for him, for many different reasons, and go back to the level that he can achieve. He knows and we know that with his level, this team can achieve much better thing."
Whatever his form, there will be even more eyes on Aubameyang than usual this season with Arsenal welcoming Amazon film crews to their London Colney training ground and beyond. Arteta is no stranger to these endeavors though he would probably admit that the cameras will not capture the same success this year that they did four years ago when he was assistant manager at a Manchester City side that won the Premier League title with a tally of 100 points.
Arteta was not consulted when Arsenal decided to follow in the footsteps of City and Tottenham.
"We're going to help as much as possible for everybody to see what this club means, how are things done at the football club, be as transparent as we can to show the values, integrity, passions and where we are trying to drive this football club," he said. "Hopefully it's a perfect year to show that. It's down to us to try to produce the best piece we can so everybody can feel part of what we do and our fans can feel proud of what we do."
Amazon's cameras will find themselves recording what promises to be a hectic conclusion to the summer for Arsenal, with the club hoping to secure a back up goalkeeper and creative midfielder at the very least before the end of the transfer window on Aug. 31. If they can move players on, they would also like to strengthen Arteta's options at right back and center forward.
Arsenal have already signed center back Ben White, midfielder Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares for a combined $100 million, but that has done little to satisfy some supporters, particularly on social media where every report and rumor leads to a vociferous reaction. "If you're reading all the time every news related to the club you can get confused," said Arteta. "You see that many names attached to it that one day you go from here to there. So obviously you're going to like more A than B, if you get B and you were expecting A you're never going to be happy.
"We will try to explain why we do things the way we can and be transparent with that."