Just like Gunners legend Thierry Henry, the Gabon star is seemingly making a particular finish his bread and butter
There’s something especially pleasant about a striker having a trademark finish.
Ask any football lover, millennial or otherwise, to name a forward who scored a specific kind of goal with a certain level of ease and recurrence and Thierry Henry’s name immediately springs up.
Indeed, Arsenal’s all-time top scorer netted many brilliant strikes in his two spells in North London but one particular sort of finish became a trademark: the Frenchman receiving the ball in the inside-left channel, adjusting his body shape while bearing down on goal, before placing the ball coolly into the bottom right corner.
Usually, observers tend to urge forwards to vary how they approach one-on-ones: “oh, the striker should have lobbed the goalkeeper there”, “why didn’t he go round him?” or “why didn’t the forward blast the ball beyond the goalie?” depending on the situation.
Get the drift?
With Henry, however, those questions were rarely raised. You knew what was coming but it was near impossible to stop. The Premier League’s greatest player made it so popular that it’s now colloquially termed a ‘Thierry Henry finish’ whenever current forwards pull it off.
In truth, it was fitting that, on his second debut in a temporary spell at the Emirates Stadium in 2012, the club’s record scorer returned with his trademark strike in a 1-0 FA Cup win over Leeds United after Alex Song picked him out in his favoured inside left position.
Eight years later, it seems another Arsenal frontman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is set to give Gooners and Premier League viewers something to expect when he finds himself in such promising positions.
Conveniently, the Gabon star wears the squad number 14 that Henry made iconic at the club, a fact that makes it amusingly suitable for the current talisman to pick up the mantle.
This was the case as Mikel Arteta’s troops defeated Fulham 3-0 in the opening game of the new 2020/21 season as well as in their Community Shield success over Liverpool on penalties. Both goals were extraordinarily similar in that the Gunners played through their opponents' press, found the right winger on the day (Willian on Saturday, Bukayo Saka vs the Reds) who then played a diagonal to the club’s leading man.
Auba, on both occasions, was criminally allowed to cut inside before curling the ball past Marek Rodak and Alisson respectively into the far post. While the position from which the shots were taken varied, the idea behind the efforts were largely the same. The fact both came two weeks apart was striking.
Even more telling is that there’s a third, unseen by many, scored in a pre-season friendly vs Aston Villa at the Emirates during the international break. While that strike didn’t come about from a team move, it is arguably the best so far.
Auba’s banger in the friendly against Aston Villa the other day pic.twitter.com/tuE6cBOBjG
In an unclear clip posted on social media, Arsenal’s captain, stationed on the left touchline, can be seen receiving possession close to the halfway line after an errant pass in Villa’s midfield. The forward then progressed with the ball in-field and with little pressure by the visitors, curled a brilliant effort into the top-right corner from about 25 yards.
Fascinatingly, he’s always teased this sort of finish. In the early weeks of 2018/19, he got a similar bend on the ball in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Cardiff City in September 2018 after good link-up play with Alexander Lacazette and also in the 4-2 North London derby success over Tottenham Hotspur in early December of the same year.
While both strikes were a bit more central than Auba’s recent goals vs Liverpool, Villa and Fulham, it was probably an indication for what was to come.
Perhaps the most similar goal to the club captain’s recent finishes came on Boxing Day 2018 vs Brighton & Hove Albion away where he received a pass from Lacazette in that inside forward position and curled a first-time effort past Matt Ryan.
Interestingly, the one finish analogous to Henry’s trademark strike came in Arsenal’s victory over Burnley at Turf Moor on the final day of the 2018/19 season. The then-joint-Golden Boot winner latched on to a poor back pass to Ben Mee, raced through on goal and placed his shot into the bottom right corner after opening his body up for his first of a pair in the Gunners’ 3-1 success.
A more recent effort vs Everton in March, curiously under Arteta, was even closer to a Henry finish. The striker raced beyond the Toffees' defence following a David Luiz through pass, adjusted his body shape like the Gunners legend and finished into the bottom left corner like the retired French striker.
Aubameyang has now scored similar goals against Liverpool, Aston Villa (admittedly from farther out) & today vs Fulham. Something to monitor this season. #FULARS
In fairness, while the frontman has scored a variety of goals in his Arsenal career, a large portion have been scored from in and around the six-yard box. The recent tendency, like Henry, to hurt the opposition from that inside forward position has been remarkable.
At the end of the 2019/20 season, only six of Aubameyang’s plethora of goals for the Gunners had come from outside the box. However, the striker’s lovely strike vs the Reds at Wembley was hit just outside the 18-yard area while the similar effort in the friendly vs Villa came from farther out.
The rarity of strikes from that far out probably explained the ostensible lateness of Dean Smith’s defenders to close down someone as prolific as Auba, which seemed odd on first viewing.
The latest goals are probably a consequence of Arteta moving the marksman to play just off a primary forward on the left but the recent regularity in finishing brilliantly from that position is something that might become a theme in 2020/21.
If that type of strike is further harnessed by the Gunners this season and beyond, perhaps the Gabon striker will leave England having perfected the ‘Aubameyang finish’.