Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Will Arsenal begin to move on from the striker?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Will Arsenal begin to move on from the striker?

by Emily Smith
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored four goals in 14 Premier League games this seasonNot for the first time, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been making headlines following a disciplinary breach at Arsenal.

The 32-year-old was stripped of the club captaincy on Tuesday after arriving home late from a sanctioned trip abroad after misinterpreting Covid-19 protocols.

The Gabon forward has been in trouble before: he was dropped from the starting line-up for the north London derby last season after turning up late to a team meeting and was punished for breaking rules at Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

After returning to England late last week he trained on Thursday but was dropped from the squad for Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton by manager Mikel Arteta, who went public with the details.

By Tuesday morning, Aubameyang became the second player in recent years to have the Arsenal captaincy taken away – after Granit Xhaka in 2019 – and he will not feature in the match with West Ham this week.

Stripping Aubameyang’s captaincy is ‘clear statement’ from Arsenal – Arteta”The decision we have taken as a club is very clear – it is because we believe he has failed to be committed at the level we all expect and agreed,” Arteta said.

“What I expect from any person in this football club, that is representing this badge, is passion and that he gives absolutely 100%, that he puts the club in front of any personal interests and is able to do anything to fulfil the badge we have on the chest.

“Apart from that, you can listen to individuals and you can understand different cultures, but that commitment and passion has to be there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

“I am here to make the right decision every day and to defend the club, to be consistent in something that we want to do, on and off the field. We have to be consistent in our decision making.”

‘Once trust goes, it is hard to get it back’Aubameyang joined the Gunners from Dortmund in January 2018, just months before Arsene Wenger’s departure, and quickly became a key player at Emirates Stadium.

He won the Premier League Golden Boot award in his first full season after scoring 22 goals.

With his contract running out last year, he signed a new three-year deal worth a reported £55m, underlining his importance to the team.

But since then his influence has waned and there are echoes of the Mesut Ozil situation – the German signed a lucrative contract after flirting with a move away but struggled for form and was regularly left out of the squad before departing for Fenerbahce in January.

Former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha praised Arteta for making an important point to his squad.

“Aubameyang broke the trust; those things matter,” Onuoha told BBC Radio 5 Live. “As soon as that trust is gone, from your team-mates or the manager, it’s hard to get it back – some may say even impossible.

“It feels like Mikel Arteta is making a statement to the players. He’s saying a problem which you make yourself isn’t just going to be kept in house and be something you can just get away with.”

The Athleticexternal-link reported Aubameyang returned to France to care for his mother, but former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton told BBC Radio 5 Live he did not have sympathy for the player given he had breached an agreement, while his ex-team-mate Alan Shearer told Match of the Day Aubameyang’s behaviour was “not good enough”.

“Arteta trusted him, Aubameyang knew what the agreement was and to come back the following morning was totally unacceptable,” Sutton said. “If he’s made a rule, Aubameyang breaks it and he doesn’t come down hard on him, Arteta’s got a massive problem on his hands.”

‘There’s an acceptance he’s not the way forward’Harry Symeou, host of the Chronicles of a Gooner podcast, understands why the club offered one of their best players such a lucrative contract but feels there needs to be a contingency plan for Aubameyang’s exit.

“It is too easy to say ‘when you give a player a big contract, this is what happens’,” said Symeou. “If we’d given contracts to Robin van Persie or Cesc Fabregas for example, players who left because of the club’s perceived lack of ambition but also for monetary reasons, there would be no complaints. You can’t have it both ways.

“Aubameyang does need to move on now, we are at that point. There is an acceptance that he is not the way forward. What this has done is accelerate that need to move on.”

Perhaps that process has already started, since statistics suggest the Gunners are less reliant on Aubameyang than they once were.

Between 2017-18 and 2019-20, Aubameyang’s peak at Emirates Stadium, his minutes per goal ranged from 115 to 128; in the past two seasons, it has been 201 and 159. He scored 31.2% of Arsenal’s goals in 2019-20; that was halved to 16% last term.

Perhaps surprisingly, Arsenal’s win percentage without the striker is markedly better than it is with him, even dating back to his arrival. They have won 49.1% of matches when he has played, and 64.6% when he has not.

Aubameyang’s shot conversion rate is just 17.9% this seasonSymeou adds that there is concern over Arsenal’s goalscoring prowess as Aubameyang’s importance to the side fades, but says the players have begun to work better as a team under Arteta.

“Arteta likes to invite the press and play around it; that requires explosive players to be on their toes and be sharp on the break,” he explained.

“I don’t think Aubameyang’s build-up play has ever been that good; Wenger built a team of creators around him, like [Santi] Cazorla and Ozil. The team is more functional now, which naturally means we create fewer chances, and the goals need to be shared out.”

Aubameyang’s shot total for the past season and a half reflects that – it is way down on his more productive seasons under Unai Emery. He has had 124 attempts on goal since the start of last season, compared to 260 in the previous two.

Because of Aubameyang’s age and declining influence, talk of potential replacements has been ongoing for some time. Arsenal are reported to be one of a number of clubs who admire Fiorentina’s Serbia striker Dusan Vlahovic, while Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin has also been linked.

“Everybody wants to have the real deal up front, but we have to accept the team is evolving tactically,” Symeou said. “That requires a different skillset to Aubameyang’s. You’ll see a shift in the type of striker Arsenal will go for. The thing everyone who has been linked so far has in common is physical presence, but a willingness to run the channels.

“Arteta’s Arsenal have no problem creating overloads in wide areas to get crosses into the box, but we’ve never had a striker fit for purpose.”

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