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Arsenal's Aubameyang dilemma: Arteta faces season-defining decision as Vlahovic uncertainty grows

7:00 PM GMT+4 21/01/2022
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal Fiorentina 2021-22 GFX
The Gunners would like to accept an offer from Al Nassr for their former captain but the situation is far from straightforward

What do you do with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?

It's a question that Arsenal are debating right now and whatever they decide could prove pivotal to the club’s season.

Aubameyang has not kicked a ball for the Gunners since the Premier League loss at Everton on December 6, with the 32-year-old finding himself banished from the squad having been disciplined for arriving back late from an overseas trip to see his mother.

It was the latest in a series of disciplinary breaches by the frontman and resulted in him being stripped of the captaincy by Mikel Arteta.

The striker’s future has been in doubt ever since and now Arsenal are mulling over a firm bid for the former skipper from Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr, whilst there is also believed to be interest in him from several clubs across Europe.

The offer from Al Nassr is for a loan until the end of the season, with an obligation to buy in the summer for around £6.7 million ($9.1m).

So far Arsenal have yet to respond, with Arteta and the club hierarchy still pondering what they should do.

And it’s no surprise that they are taking their time as the decision could go a long way to deciding whether Arsenal can sustain their push for a top four finish in the Premier League this season.

Arsenal would like to accept the bid and move on – but it’s not as simple as that.

Ever since Aubameyang was taken out of the squad, Arteta has been using Alexandre Lacazette as his central striker, with Eddie Nketiah his primary back-up option.

So far, that has been enough for Arsenal to get by, but after a free-scoring end to December, the goals have dried up in January, with the Gunners scoring just once in four games.

So, it would be a big risk to commit to playing the entire second half of the season with Lacazette and Nketiah – who have just three league goals between them this season – as your only central strikers.

There is also the added complication that both are out of contract in the summer and expected to leave.

Arteta has previously insisted that he is not concerned by either player's contractual status and he is confident both will continue to play with total commitment despite knowing they will be free agents at the end of the campaign.

However, he will know that is far from an ideal situation, which is why the Gunners are in the market for at least one striker.

“At the moment, [the squad] is extremely thin,” Arteta admitted prior to Thursday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final defeat against Liverpool.

“That is why we have a plan to try to bring players in with the right qualities to improve the squad in the best possible way.”

The big issue facing Arsenal, however, is being able to sign a top-quality striker in January.

Dusan Vlahovic, the Fiorentina forward, is the name on everyone’s lips, but he and his agent are understandably keen to wait until the summer before deciding on his next move.

With just 18 months left on his contract, Fiorentina want a transfer sorted now to ensure they get as high a fee as possible.

However, Vlahovic and his representatives know that he will have a host of clubs queuing up for him this summer and, crucially, he will also know which of those interested clubs can offer him Champions League football.

It will, therefore, be immensely difficult for anyone to convince him to make a move now.

Arsenal hold a strong interest in Jonathan David and talks took place between technical director Edu and the Lille forward’s agent before Christmas to establish the Canada international’s availability.

Again, though, David’s preference is to stay put until the end of the season before taking the next step in his career.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin is another striker on Arsenal’s list, but it’s extremely unlikely that Everton would even consider allowing their star striker to leave in January while they are flirting with relegation.

And that all leaves Arsenal in a difficult position when it comes to Aubameyang.

On one hand, the prospect of removing his £340,000 ($460,000) salary from the wage bill 18 months ahead of schedule is an enticing one, especially with a transfer fee – albeit a relatively modest one – also on the table in the summer.

However, can they afford to take the risk of letting him leave now, when there is still so much of the season to play and without having a replacement already through the door?

Of course, Arteta does have the option of making peace with his former captain.

Should he bring him back into the fold, that would give the Gunners time to work on securing one of their key striker targets for the summer.

A lot could depend on the results of the medical checks that Aubameyang has been undergoing with specialists in London during the past few days.

He returned to England earlier this week from his ill-fated spell with Gabon on Afcon, where he failed to even play a single minute for his country after testing positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the tournament.

Just as it seemed he was about to be available again, he was sent back to England – with the Gabon FA announcing he had suffered some sort of cardiac complication.

“He is in London and now he is going through some examinations,” Arteta confirmed on Wednesday. 

“We haven’t had any clarity from the Gabon national team about the reasons why he came back ,so obviously it is our obligation to make sure that medically the player is safe.

“Historically, everything we have done with the player, he has never had an issue. Hopefully, that is the case.”

Aubameyang has since taken to social media to reveal that the checks didn’t pick up any issue.

“My heart is absolutely fine and I’m completely healthy,” he said, whilst also stating that he was "already back at it".

Should that indeed be the case, then Arsenal have to decide what to do with Aubameyang.

Either Arteta brings him back into the fold or the club lines up a replacement before letting the forward leave.

Should Arsenal fail to do either, then a season that promised so much, could end up running out of steam.