When Arsenal met Olympiacos in the Europa League last season, the Gunners were sent crashing out on a dramatic night at Emirates Stadium that is remembered for Aubameyang’s glaring miss right at the end of extra-time.
Having just conceded a goal in the 119th minute, Arsenal were pushing for an equaliser when the ball fell to Aubameyang five yards out. You expected the net to bulge – but somehow he missed the target and Olympiacos went through on away goals.
That was back when fans were still allowed to attend matches. However, Emirates Stadium was as quiet as it is behind closed doors. Everyone was in disbelief, not least Aubameyang, who could barely look up during his post-match interview with BT Sport.
“Very, very disappointed,” he said. “What can I say? It’s very hard, very tough.”
Aubameyang did respond to that disappointment by firing Arsenal to FA Cup glory at Wembley, but last month he admitted that miss was still in his mind when he scored a late winner against Benfica to send Arsenal through to the last-16 of this year’s Europa League.
Tonight, he can truly banish any lingering demons from last season’s defeat to Olympiacos by helping Arsenal take a step towards reaching the quarter-finals.
It has been a difficult season for Aubameyang since he signed a new long-term contract last summer and the fact he is yet to reach double figures for goals in the Premier League says a lot. Even when he joined Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018, he found the net 10 times in only half a season.
Aubameyang’s struggles have led to criticism, not least from former Liverpool and Tottenham midfielder Jamie Redknapp.
“Aubameyang is past his best,” the Sky Sports pundit said last month. “He’s going to have moments; he’s going to get hat-tricks. But when I watch him sometimes, it’s like he’s lost his superpower.”
Those at Arsenal, namely Mikel Arteta, don’t accept that view and it is why they are backing their captain to stand up and deliver tonight.
“In these moments you need to have big players performing and making the difference,” said Arteta.
“Because at the end it will define where we finish in the season and it looks like at this moment he is firing and happy, physically in a good moment, and full of confidence. So it is a good moment for the team and him.”
That’s not to say Arteta, and Aubameyang himself, aren’t aware the Gabon international can do more. His goal tally this season is not good enough, but since moving to a central role more recently there are signs of him getting back to his best in front of goal.
The 31-year-old has scored six times in his last six games, whereas before the turn of the year he had managed just five during the start of the current campaign.
“Obviously they are much better stats and stats that are related to who he is and what he needs to bring to the team,” said Arteta.
What Arsenal, and Aubameyang, wouldn’t give for another goal tonight as they bid to keep their season alive.