From captain to outcast: How Aubameyang lost his way at Arsenal

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 2021-22Getty Images

"My manager!"

Those were the two words Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang posted on social media on August 1, 2020, just a few hours after Arsenal had beaten Chelsea 2-1 to win the FA Cup.

Those words accompanied a picture of Aubameyang and Mikel Arteta standing arm in arm while holding the famous trophy on the Wembley pitch.

Just over a month later, the pair were pictured together again, this time at Aubameyang’s house as he signed his huge new contract which ended months of speculation over his future.

It was a contract Aubameyang hinted he may not have signed, had it not been for the influence of his manager.

"I had a chat with Mikel,” said the 32-year-old. "He was straight and honest, and that's what I like because we are always honest.

"He said 'okay, you can maybe leave. I don't know what your mind is [thinking] right now, but you can leave and go for trophies at other clubs, or you can stay here and have a legacy.'

"This, for me, was the key word."

At that point in time, Aubameyang and Arteta looked like a match made in heaven for Arsenal. But what a difference 16 months can make.

Now, as Arsenal prepare to take on West Ham on Wednesday, the Gabon international finds himself out in the cold in north London.

The player who almost single-handedly fired the Gunners to the FA Cup less than two years ago has been stripped of the captaincy, and is currently not being considered for selection.

Aubameyang Arteta

It is a remarkable fall from grace, and one that stems from a series of incidents which Arteta believes have made Aubameyang's position as captain untenable.

The latest came last week when Aubameyang returned home late from a trip abroad.

It is believed he was given permission by Arsenal to travel to see his mother after defeat at Everton on Monday, but that he was explicitly told to return to England by Wednesday.

He did not, however, return until Thursday, and that had a knock-on effect with Arsenal’s Covid protocols - something that infuriated Arteta ahead of Saturday’s game against Southampton.

Aubameyang was sent home from training and told not to come in on Friday. He was also removed from the squad to face Southampton, with Arteta telling the media before kick-off that his captain had been left out because of a ‘disciplinary breach’.

Aubameyang was then called into London Colney for talks with Arteta on Monday, and was informed following those discussions that he was being stripped of the armband.

But the decision is not just down to that one incident, as the statement released by Arsenal on Tuesday made clear.

“Following his latest disciplinary breach, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will no longer be our club captain,” the statement said.

“We expect all our players, particularly our captain, to work to the rules and standards we have all set and agreed.”

Aubameyang quote
Getty Images

The fact that the statement started off with the words "latest disciplinary breach" was very striking.

And, speaking during his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Arteta was just as keen to point out this wasn’t down to one isolated incident.

“We have made this decision based on certain moments where he has not fulfilled his duties, and that’s it,” said the Arsenal boss.

“The decision that we have taken as a club is very clear. It is because we believe that he has failed to be committed at the level that we all expect and agreed. It is as simple as that.”

This was not an easy call to make for Arteta

“I feel really sad,” he admitted. “As a coach you are trying to help a player to become a better person, to be fulfilled and to enjoy it on the pitch.

“At the moment with this decision, Auba is not going to be able to do that. So for me it is just sadness.“

For Arteta, however, the fact this latest incident arrived just nine months after Aubameyang had been disciplined for arriving late for the north London derby was too much to ignore.

He felt he had to take action, especially as there had also been other incidents, including one at the start of the year that saw the striker break the club’s strict Covid protocols.

But the Arsenal boss is aware that his decision could go either way with a squad which contains several players who are close to Aubameyang.

Aubameyang Lacazette

He is hoping, however, that senior players will put friendships aside and understand why the club decided to go down the route that they did.

“They accept the decision,” the Gunners boss said when asked about the impact Aubameyang’s situation could have on the dressing room.

“I think they know because they have committed to it, that we want to take our culture, our demands and who we want to be as a club to a different level. 

“When those standards are not met, you know you cannot participate in our daily basics.”

The focus now is on who will step into the void left by Aubameyang.

Whether he will remain at the club beyond the January transfer window remains unclear, but a swift return to the starting XI does not look likely.

That will leave Arteta with Alexandre Lacazette as his only experienced, senior striker, alongside youngsters Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun.

Arsenal were not planning on dipping into the January market to bring in another forward. The plan was to wait until the summer before looking to bolster their attacking options. Whether that plan now will now have to be brought forward remains to be seen.

Arteta also has to decide on who replaces Aubameyang as captain.

The leadership group, which contains players such as Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding, will share the armband for now, a scenario that is likely to remain in place until the end of the season.

Mikel Arteta quote

But a long-term successor does need to be found.

Given Xhaka’s rocky relationship with the Arsenal fans and that fact he himself was stripped of the armband in November 2019, it is almost impossible to see him getting the nod on a permanent basis.

Many believe Kieran Tierney could be the man, and the left-back does tick a lot of boxes having worn the armband when he was at Celtic, but his poor injury record raises doubts about how often he would be available.

Gabriel Maghales, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly influential at centre-back and is enjoying a fine season.

But while the Brazilian defender’s English has improved, he is far from fluent, which many would view as a major drawback for a captain in the Premier League.

Another option is Martin Odegaard, who is captain of Norway, but he has only just arrived in north London on a permanent basis.

And that only really leaves Lacazette.

The France striker is currently vice-captain, but with his contract up at the end of the season, he would only be a short-term option. 

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“It is not the moment to [make] any rash decision,” Arteta said, when quizzed on who the next captain could be.

Giving himself some time to think about a long-term successor to Aubameyang feels like the correct call, but given Arsenal have had 10 captains since Patrick Vieira left in 2005, this is a decision you feel Arteta has to get right.

Arsenal's young manager has made a massive call. He will know that he will now be judged on what happens next.