When you think of the best centre-forwards in world football, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rarely enters the conversation. But the Arsenal star absolutely should. Is he underrated, and if so, why might that be?
Robert Lewandowksi. Harry Kane. Luis Suarez. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sergio Aguero. Over the years, these are the centre-forwards that surface when a debate is had about who is the best number nine in the world. But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is rarely mentioned in the same vein.
And yet, while each of these players are worthy of being mentioned in this discussion, Aubameyang is equal to each of them. Only, he never seems to get the recognition he deserves, whether that be now or in the past.
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The Arsenal centre-forward is a natural-born goalscorer. He was named the co-Golden Boot winner in his first full Premier League season, is set to challenge for the title again this year, currently sitting just one goal behind Jamie Vardy, and has scored more than 30 goals in all competitions for four successive seasons and is on his way to breaking that barrier again with a strong end to the current season.
His minutes-per-goal ratio is equally as sensational. Since the 2015/16 season, Aubameyang’s minutes-per-goal ratio in league competition has been: 99, 89.7, 109 and 105.8 (the first half of the season with Borussia Dortmund and the second half with Arsenal), 124.2, and 135.6. They are truly world-class rates of scoring, among the very best in world football. So why is he not mentioned in the same vein as Kane and Suarez and Lewandowksi?
Well, perhaps it starts with his style of play. While these players are elite goalscorers, they also impact games in other ways. Kane is superb with back to the goal, holding up play and winning fouls. Lewandowski is similar, while Suarez is a superb dribbler, able to wriggle past defenders and influence matches in more ways than just his goals.
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Aubameyang, much more akin to Aguero, is a poacher. He is a ruthless, prolific finisher who scores goals that look rather simple: a tap-in at the far post is his exemplary move, for instance. A run in behind and one-on-one finish. A snap shot from a loose ball. These are the types of goals that he tends to rely upon. They are as equally valuable, but they are much more forgettable.
The goal poacher, then, which is what Aubameyang is, is an underrated role in general. Like Eddie Nketiah among the Gunners’ youth players at present, Aubameyang’s brilliance is his movement, his anticipation, his sense of danger and positioning. These are all unflashy attributes that do not excite the increasingly FIFA-obsessed fanbase around the world. He plays simply.
Aubameyang is a truly elite centre-forward. He has been and still is one of the world’s leading strikers. Perhaps, then, it is time he is thought of like that because the beauty of his simplicity is what makes him such a brilliant player.