Arsenal must figure out how to get the best out of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
When the teams emerged from the tunnel at Wembley for the Carabao Cup Final, the supporters in the Arsenal end could have been forgiven for doing a double take at the sight of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their colours. The January signing had been ineligible for the two matches against Ostersunds, resulting in a 15-day gap between his second and third Arsenal appearances. The club's record signing has consequently made a slightly stuttering start to his career in North London, but Arsenal fans will be desperate for him to find his feet sooner rather than later. The Gabon international will turn 29 this summer, so it's imperative the team find a way to exploit his undoubted goalscoring potential while he remains in his prime.
Aubameyang did not make the impact he would have hoped for Sunday in a 3-0 defeat to Man City at Wembley. He must have been disappointed not to convert Mesut Ozil's cross and give the Gunners an early lead. The fact he was marginally beaten to the ball by Kyle Walker might simply be attributed to a bit of rustiness. An Aubameyang in the rhythm of regular football would surely have gotten there first and beaten the goalkeeper.
After that, he was largely uninvolved. No outfield player touched the ball more infrequently (18 touches) than Aubameyang. With Arsenal struggling to retain possession, he inevitably became isolated. Arsenal have arguably put the cart before the horse, spending their January budget on a striker while their defence and midfield remain riddled with dysfunction.
Ostensibly, Aubameyang was the replacement for Alexis Sanchez. Some have suggested that bringing in a more team-oriented player might improve Arsenal's overall game. However, Alexis' individualism was frequently his greatest asset to Arsenal. Even when those around him were underperforming, he could still produce something.
Aubameyang is not that sort of player. He is principally a finisher, and subsequently reliant on service. After the matches against Tottenham and Manchester City, it's clear that Arsenal have not yet found a way to provide him with an appropriate supply line.
Perhaps Alexandre Lacazette is owed an apology. The Frenchman was in the midst of a dire run of one goal in 13 games prior to undergoing knee surgery, and that poor spell seemingly saw him demoted to second choice by Aubameyang's signing. He's suffered plenty of criticism, but perhaps it's now becoming clear that he was simply starved of service. This is Arsenal's worst midfield for a decade, so it's not conducive to laying on chances for their frontmen.
Even the league's most prolific goalscorers miss opportunities to score. Mo Salah found the net again against West Ham last weekend, but in truth he ought to have had a hat trick. Harry Kane was ultimately Tottenham's late hero against Crystal Palace, but earlier he'd missed multiple chances. Aubameyang had one chance against City, and couldn't make the most of it. However, the onus is on Arsenal to find him chances more frequently.
There were still glimpses of the threat he can offer. When put it one-on-one situations with defenders, he looked dangerous. It simply didn't happen often enough.
What's troubling is that Arsene Wenger had the best part of two weeks to work out how best to use Aubameyang. However, it didn't feel like Arsenal's Wembley tactics were remotely tailored to their new centre-forward.
That needs to change, and fast: there are only 11 more games in which he is eligible to play this season. What's more, Aubameyang is not exactly a youngster, and with a game based largely on blistering pace the window opportunity for Arsenal to unleash him on the Premier League is relatively slim.
Perhaps by next season, this will no longer be Wenger's problem. However, whoever is at the helm must find a way to get the best out of Arsenal's £56 million man. When you spend that much on a striker, you have committed to making them a key component of your team. Arsenal have acquired an elite goalscorer, but without an appropriate supporting cast that will only ever be worth so much.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.