Mikel Arteta is convinced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score the goals to fire Arsenal into Europe next season.
Gunners boss Arteta revealed his “many conversations” with Aubameyang in trying to get to the bottom of what has been a frustrating season for the Arsenal captain.
Aubameyang, 31, has scored 13 goals in all competitions but it has been far from a vintage season for the Arsenal striker and his form unquestionably dipped after signing a new mega-money £250,000-a-week three year contract.
But Arteta believes Aubameyang – who was dropped for last month’s North London derby after reporting up late – will get back to his best form for the run-in.
Arteta said: “We talked for months about the ratio of goals we need him to score to give us the best possible chance of being at the top.
“It has not been what it has been in recent years and it’s a factor that is contributed to by a lot of things that the team has to do on the pitch. But it is not just his thing.
“But obviously we need Auba in a different form in the next games to give us our best chance to finish where we want to finish the season, that’s clear.
“It is easy to connect things like that (new contract), but I am not suspicious of that. I have seen, and we have had many conversations, about what he wanted to do from last year’s point of view to his near future in the next two years, and he was very ambitious with that.
“To maintain that level is really complicated but he is trying his best, he is trying hard. That is what he is aiming to do.”
Aubameyang missed big chances against Olympiacos after being recalled for the Europa League tie after the Spurs game and was off form in Arsenal’s draw at West Ham.
The Gabon international now knows this is Arsenal’s crunch time as they face Liverpool ahead of Slavia Prague in the Europa League and they must push for a European place as well as a European trophy.
Aubameyang has played up front and also wide this season which Arteta insists is not the reason as to why he has struggled for consistency.
Arteta said: “He can play off the left, off the right, in the middle. He’s done it. It’s nothing new. When you look at his stats in the past, there is not a big difference.
“It depends how we play and how much we provide him, and how efficient he is when he has these chances and these movements. When he’s got this form of confidence when he is unstoppable. It is dependent on many factors.”
Arteta still believes Arsenal can qualify for Europe through their league position but admits it will take a huge late push.
“Like a final every game, for us it’s like a final, for us three points means a lot in the table and we need to go for them so we need to win as many games as possible, we know that,” said Arteta.
Meanwhile, Arteta has confirmed they want to sign Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard on a permanent basis and insists the Norway captain is happy – but they will still have to convince him.
Arteta added: “I don’t like to read between the lines, I speak with him every day, I see his face, his body language and he seems really happy right now here.
“Our contract with him until the end of the season but what we have to do is try to make him perform, develop and as happy as he can be.
“The team is going to be reflecting in better performances, better results and at the end of the season we’ll see where we are and have a discussion.”