Gabon captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being allowed to return to Arsenal in light of the ongoing health problems he continues to encounter at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The Gunners skipper has yet to feature in the biennial African football showpiece after testing positive for Covid-19 on January 6, and while he was due to return against Ghana earlier this week, his comeback was blocked on medical grounds.
Panthers coach Patrice Neveu has now confirmed to GOAL that the striker will be allowed to return to Arsenal in order for his ongoing health problems — and the nature of the Covid-19 residue in his system — to be properly assessed.
What has been said?
“Since yesterday, the decision was taken to send them home to their club,” Neveu told GOAL, referring to Aubameyang and team-mate Mario Lemina. “We can’t judge it here [in Cameroon], we can’t assess the pathology of Covid here.
“It’s important that Mario returns to Nice and Pierre returns to Arsenal,” he added. “It’s a decision that we’ve taken among ourselves.”
The Gabon Football Federation subsequently confirmed in a statement that the players are being released from international duty.
"The Gabonese Football Federation has decided to put the players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina back at the disposition of their clubs in order for them to follow more in-depth exams," read a brief communique.
Aubameyang, denying rumours his exit was related to indiscipline, wrote on Twitter: "We have problems that are already complicated to solve, then on top of that there are rumours, in short, we have health to take care of first and foremost, I won't go back to address these false rumours and I sincerely hope that our team will go as far as possible."
Lemina wrote on his Instagram story: “I’m not even going to feed the lies which seek to harm. I have nothing to do with them. I have pain upon pain for my national team, which is surrounded by liars seeking a buzz."
What has happened?
Aubameyang tested positive for coronavirus upon his arrival at Yaounde airport, having travelled to Cameroon from Abu Dhabi along with compatriot Lemina.
The diagnosis forced him to sit out the Panthers' opener - a 1-0 victory over Comoros - but after returning a negative test, he trained with the team on Thursday ahead of their second Group C game against Ghana.
His comeback plans were thwarted only a few hours before kick-off with the Black Stars, after medical tests demonstrated evidence of coronavirus residue in his system.
After the match, Gabon told GOAL that they were hopeful that subsequent medical tests would allow both Aubameyang and Lemina to return to action, although sources within the camp revealed on Sunday that subsequent medical tests had not revealed a change in circumstances.
The decision was taken on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday's final group meeting with Morocco, to allow both to return to their clubs.
“It’s very complicated,” Neveu continued. “I’m not new to this team, I’ve worked with Gabon for three years, and fortunately Caf gave us the option of having a squad of 28 players.
“However, losing Pierre-Emerick and Mario, it’s a lot for this team. We don’t have the squad of Nigeria or Morocco, and we know we’re in a hard competition.”
Gabon, who have four points from their opening two matches, are looking to reach the knockout stages of the Nations Cup for the first time since 2012.
The Panthers have also been hit by several new infections, including influential forward Denis Bouanga, second-choice goalkeeper Noubi Fotso, full-back David Sambissa, midfielder Serge Ngouali and striker Ulrick Eneme Ella.