Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has enjoyed a dream start to life at Barcelona, leading to inevitable questions of what could have been had he stayed at Arsenal, and Gunners legend Emmanuel Petit is still baffled as to “what the hell happened”.
A man in charge of the captain’s armband, and one with 92 goals to his name through 163 appearances, found himself frozen out by Mikel Arteta in north London following a breach of club discipline in December 2021.
With it clear that bridges had been burned beyond repair, the 32-year-old departed English football for Camp Nou in February, but an unfortunate saga continues to puzzle former Arsenal midfielder Petit as Aubameyang clearly still has plenty to offer at the very highest level.
What happened with Aubameyang at Arsenal?
Quizzed on why the Gunners allowed such talent to slip their net, 1998 World Cup winner Petit – speaking in association with Lord Ping – told GOAL: “Aubameyang has been a goalscorer everywhere he went – Dortmund, Saint-Etienne and with Arsenal before things turned in a bad way.
“He still has the quality to score everywhere he goes – it doesn’t matter if you play for Barcelona, Arsenal or Dortmund. He has got quality and has shown it for years.
“You cannot judge Aubameyang on what he did in the last few months of his Arsenal contract. For me, you have to look at his whole career. If you look at his record, it talks for itself.
“It’s not surprising how he adapts himself, he has proper footballers around him at Barcelona. It is a different type of playing but he has the tactical quality and the ability to score goals. I’m surprised by the fight he came with and the way he has come back so quickly to how he was before – before the struggles at Arsenal.
“I still don’t understand what happened with Arsenal. What the hell happened? Can someone explain to me? I still don’t get it. Everybody was using [Mesut] Ozil as an example of signing a new contract and not being the same player any more, but why now is he the same player he was before he signed with Arsenal?”
Should Arsenal have done more?
With Aubameyang netting nine times through 11 appearances for Barca, there have been suggestions that Arsenal should have done more to iron out any issues with their leading marksman rather than allow him to leave as a free agent.
Petit is not buying that, despite the Gunners now lacking a prolific goalscorer, with the Frenchman saying of a deal that shocked some: “No, I was not surprised. His behaviour was not good, his mentality as well. When you are captain, you have responsibilities to the club, the players and the fans. I think Aubameyang made too many mistakes and in the end Arteta lost patience with him.
“Maybe he had an argument with him and the relationship was not good enough. When you are captain, you have to send a message to your team-mates as well. That was not the case anymore. So I was not surprised that Aubameyang left the club.
“I was just disappointed with the way it happened and how it ended – the story between Aubameyang and Arsenal. I wanted something different for him and the club. But when you look at it now, I think that Arteta did what he had to do. He did it right, he took the right decision. This is what I like with Arteta, he can be ruthless – even against your own captain.
“When things like that happen in the dressing room, I think he took the right decision. When you do that with your captain, then you have sent a great message into the dressing room.
“Of course losing Aubameyang was not good for Arsenal at this point, but when you look at the team right now – since the beginning of the season – they are improving week after week. They are becoming a strong team in the Premier League and are coming back to the way it was before. It is like a rebirth for Arsenal.
“The situation right now for Aubameyang and Arsenal, I think both of them have won. Aubameyang is having a revival at Barcelona, he is becoming a top player again, and in the meantime Arsenal are doing great as well. This situation has been very complicated, but at the end of the day both sides have won.”
Will Arsenal sign a replacement?
Having parted with Aubameyang while Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah run down their respective contracts, there is plenty of speculation to be found regarding Arsenal looking to land a new number nine in the summer transfer window.
Petit believes that should be the case, saying amid talk of interest in the likes of Alexander Isak, Jonathan David and Dominic Calvert-Lewin: “Why not? I hope so for Arsenal. When you look at the top scorers in the Premier League, it is no surprise that Manchester City and Liverpool are doing well. Liverpool have three in the top 10, Tottenham have two.
“When you look beyond that, Manchester City have many players in midfield because they don’t play a lot with strikers and have so many different midfielders that can score between 10 and 15 goals per season.
“Arsenal have [Gabriel] Martinelli, [Martin] Odegaard, [Emile] Smith Rowe, [Bukayo] Saka and are improving but if they want to improve for that last level – because they are still struggling against the top teams in the Premier League, every game they have lost is against City and Liverpool – that last step, they need a top scorer.
“In the meantime, I want Arsenal to propose a new contract to Lacazette because his relationship with Martinelli, with Odegaard, with Smith Rowe and Saka has been magnificent. But they need a different kind of striker that can score goals week after week in order to compete for that last level.”