Mikel Arteta knows better than most what it is like to be part of a team reliant on the goalscoring exploits of one player.
During his playing career, the Spaniard was part of an Arsenal team who, in the 2011/12 season, leaned heavily on the prowess of Robin van Persie.
The Dutchman scored 30 Premier League goals for Arsenal that season, 22 more than any other player in the squad, and his efforts almost single-handedly secured a top-four finish.
Eight years may have passed since that season, and Arteta may now be in the manager’s dugout instead of on the pitch, but comparisons can be drawn to the current squad’s reliance on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Like Van Persie, the Gabon international has shone in an Arsenal attack that is not fighting for the Premier League title. Aubameyang has 17 League goals and, again like Van Persie, he is lacking in support, as Alexandre Lacazette is the closest contributor with six.
There is also, of course, the fact that Aubameyang, like Van Persie in 2012, will have just one year left on his contract come the summer.
Arsenal ended up losing Van Persie that summer to Manchester United and, while Arteta hopes the club can keep hold of Aubameyang, either way he needs to develop an attack that is not so dependent on the 30-year-old.
“With the players we have at the moment, we have to try to put out a team where our goal threat is high,” said the Spaniard. “There are always positives and negatives — I just try to find the right balance and players that can generate chemistry between them.
“You need individual performance and you need the collective side of your team as well to support that.”
Aubameyang is expected to start tonight’s Europa League clash at home to Olympiacos but the match is as good a time as any for Arteta to start moulding Arsenal’s attack into a more rounded unit.
The Greek side head to Emirates Stadium looking to overturn a one-goal deficit from the first-leg and, as such, they will have to attack Arsenal. That should provide Arteta’s forwards with space to exploit on a night when they will be looking to book a spot in the last-16 of the Europa League.
It is a big stage for a rookie head coach like Arteta and he confessed in the build-up to matches like this he sometimes uses his former boss at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, as a sounding board. “We talk about a lot things,” he said. “He’s my friend, he’s been a mentor, I’ve spent a lot of hours, days and nights with him.”
And picking the brains of Guardiola may not be a bad idea for Arteta as he tries to find a way to ease the burden on Aubameyang. City’s attack, admittedly with an abundance of riches, is one of the most complete in Europe — as summed up by the fact they have not really felt the loss of Leroy Sane due to injury this season.
Wednesday night was another example, too, as Sergio Aguero was left on the bench against Real Madrid, but Gabriel Jesus stepped up to help secure a 2-1 win at the Bernabeu.
Arteta is unlikely to leave out Aubameyang, but, in truth, he has the personnel to do so. Lacazette, who has struggled this year, scored 36 goals during his first two seasons at Arsenal, while Nicolas Pepe found the net 22 times in Ligue 1 last season.
The talent is there for Arteta to make Arsenal unreliant on Aubameyang, it just needs to be unlocked. In 2012, it took Van Persie leaving for Arsenal to move away from being labelled as a one-man team. The following season, they had four players finishing with double figures in League goals as the burden was shared around, instead of being laid on one man.
Arteta will not want Aubameyang to have to leave to prove this squad can do the same, but if he desires the forward to stay, then games like Thursday’s need to go to plan.
Winning the Europa League is quickly becoming Arsenal’s best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season, which is exactly where a forward of Aubameyang’s calibre deserves to be.