Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mikel Arteta at a crossroads as striker awaits Arsenal return


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will not return to the Arsenal squad this weekend, but even after he does so that won’t necessarily mean a return to normal. The word from many figures around the club is that, this time, something has broken.

This time represented one disciplinary breach too far. “The situation is much worse than people think,” one source said.

It brings what might seem to be an inevitable personality clash between manager and captain.

Mikel Arteta is an assertive and demanding character, who is extremely fastidious. Aubameyang is a laid-back character, to the point some consider him lackadaisical.

That perhaps comes across in his response to all this. Friends of Aubameyang say he’s serene and intent on keeping “a positive attitude”.

That easygoing personality is also why perceptions of him are often more complicated than portrayed. Aubameyang’s nature means it would be very easy to miscast him as a feckless character, with a big-time attitude, not worth the trouble.

That isn’t the case at all. There often isn’t even that much trouble.

Even those who grew most frustrated with Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund, such as sporting director Sven Mislintat, would say they “love him as a person”. He had a great relationship with senior players such as Marco Reus. Young players, meanwhile, tend to idolise him, which informed the decision to make him Arsenal captain.

When academy graduates first come into the squad, Aubameyang doesn’t ignore them, or make them “earn his acknowledgement” in the way some senior professionals can do. He immediately asks their name, and gives them guidance. That even applies to those competing for his position.

He is rarely accused of a lack of professionalism. An issue is that he maybe likes the trappings of professionalism too much.

Teammates would often remark on the sheer ostentatiousness of Aubameyang’s cars, and he has had a reputation for constantly asking for bonuses and extras.

That can sometimes colour a capacity for being late, missing training sessions and barely paying attention to Dortmund video sessions. Those who know Aubameyang wouldn’t put this down to any flashness or idea he’s above it. Instead, it’s a kind of innocent carelessness that can be common to many people. The feeling at Dortmund, for most of his time there, was that this can be managed.

The feeling at Arsenal is more one of frustration.

Because, on the face of it, Aubemayeng’s disciplinary breach seems relatively mild. The forward was given permission to visit his mother in Gabon, only to return late. The lack of punctuality is put into a rather different context, however, when you consider he was trying to get to and from a country that has no direct flights from London over a 24-hour period in the middle of a pandemic.

The issue appears more to have been a typically lackadaisical failure – that word again – to inform Arsenal, and the fact it was the fourth known breach.

It is fair enough to believe this is behaviour that doesn’t befit a captain, especially when a manager is trying to sharpen the entire mindset of his squad, with many young players looking to that captain for leadership. Since Aubameyang is not really an authoritative voice, he is supposed to lead by example. This isn’t the example the club wants.

The Gabonese striker can seem too laid-back in style for some tastes

(Getty)

That only raises questions, however, as to why Aubameyang was made captain in the first place.

When one Dortmund figure was informed of the decision, he merely responded with an expletive. He couldn’t believe it, despite being fond of Aubameyang.

The German club wouldn’t have dreamed of giving him such responsibility. The callow nature of the Arsenal squad was part of the reason Aubameyang got the captaincy, because he was one of the few experienced players.

The player never sought it, though, and hasn’t always worn the armband that comfortably. Arteta had another long conversation with Aubameyang about it earlier this season, which did lead to an initial upswing in form.

But this leads to the biggest question with the Gabonese striker, and any star like him. It is whether his form is worth it.

“It is one thing to be a star and perform,” one source close to the squad says. “It’s another when you don’t. You can’t expect favourable treatment.”

Aubameyang’s weighty contract situation has been compared to Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, not least as regards a complicated future, but it is highly debatable whether he has had the impact of either. Ozil could be frustrating but he regularly had moments, performances and spells where he elevated Arsenal to a higher level. Sanchez meanwhile frequently dragged Arsenal to that level, and occasionally beyond.

The Chilean was a player who would just seize a game and take command of it, often while taking off.

An opinion within the game, as argued by one figure at an opposition club, is that Aubameyang “doesn’t hurt you” in the way those two stars did.

He seems more passive than both, talented but as if waiting for things to happen for him.

This has actually become a source of complaint for the 32-year-old himself. He doesn’t feel Arsenal create enough chances for him. Aubameyang is usually expected to perform off one or two a game, and this isn’t just down to team execution. It’s down to his role. As Ian Wright says, “it’s using the club’s most expensive striker as a decoy runner.” That can ensure Aubameyang isn’t at his sharpest when chances do come, such as that huge opportunity against Newcastle United, when he somehow hit the post from yards out.

Aubameyang’s shot against Newcastle, which hit the post from close-range

(AFP/Getty)

Again, it wasn’t even about the miss as much as the manner. Aubameyang seemed almost languid as he lunged for the ball. It stands out all the more when the young players have been so forceful in his absence.

It feeds certain perceptions.

And yet for all those perceptions, he has proven he will do it if the chances come. Aubameyang’s strike rate at Arsenal is actually superior to Sanchez’s. The Chilean’s was 0.49 goals per game in the Premier League. Aubameyang’s is 0.53.

He can still do plenty of damage. Whether it is enough to justify everything else, including the wage, is what the club is now wondering.

The word now is that many are fed up. Arteta would probably prefer a change. Barcelona like Aubameyang but would prefer Edinson Cavani. The striker may not have many options in the market.

That could leave him at Arsenal.

Much would depend, then, on what next. It isn’t beyond him to just pick things up again and offer the goals when required.



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