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The Arsenal captain's curse: What now for Aubameyang and Arteta after derby-day dressing-down?

08:00 GMT 18/03/2021
Aubameyang Arteta
The forward is expected to return to the starting line-up against Olympiacos after being given a public dressing-down by his manager on Sunday

What is it with the Arsenal captaincy?

No matter who gets the armband in north London nowadays, controversy always seems to be waiting around the corner.

There was William Gallas, who was stripped of the captaincy in 2008 for criticising his own team-mates. Then, there was Cesc Fabregas, who basically went on strike in 2011 to force through his dream return to Barcelona.

Next up was Robin van Perise, who turned his back on Arsene Wenger and pushed through a move to Manchester United when he made it clear he wouldn't be signing a new contract in 2012.

A relatively serene period followed, in which Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker led the dressing room with the minimum of fuss, before what has become known as 'The Arsenal captain's curse' struck again, first with Laurent Koscielny, and then with Granit Xhaka.

Koscielny had been a textbook leader before he stunned former boss Unai Emery by refusing to travel on the 2019 pre-season tour of America. 

Xhaka was handed the armband following the French defender’s exit but he was stripped of the captaincy after just six weeks for telling the Arsenal fans to ‘f*ck off’ as they jeered him off the pitch at Emirates Stadium.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was next in line and led by example in his first season as skipper, firing the Gunners to FA Cup glory. 

But now, less than six months after his Wembley heroics, the 31-year-old finds himself as the latest Arsenal captain to be disciplined by his manager after stepping out of line.

Aubameyang won’t lose the armband due to his poor timekeeping, which saw him turn up late for Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham, but his leadership qualities will now come under genuine scrutiny for the first time since he became skipper.

“I made what I thought was the right decision,” Arteta explained after he dropped Aubameyang from the starting XI for the north London derby. "We have a process that we have to respect for every game and that's it.

"He was going to start the game, we had a disciplinary issue and we have drawn the line. We know how important Auba is for us, for the club. But it's been dealt with, so let's move on.”

Arteta is a manager who demands a lot from his players. When he first arrived in north London to replace Unai Emery, he spoke at length about his "non-negotiables" and how anyone who didn’t buy into his way of working would be shown the door.

So far, he’s been true to his word. Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi both discovered that to their cost and players such as Dani Ceballos and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have also found themselves on the naughty step at times for failing to abide by the Spaniard’s rules.

Aubameyang is merely the latest to learn that Arteta will take action if he feels it is necessary.

When asked why discipline and behavioural standards are so important to him, the former midfielder replied: “For me, they are the foundations and the platform that will allow us to build something medium and long term that is sustainable; that can bring us joy and happiness.

"Without discipline, I don't believe it would happen. That's why I keep talking about it and acting on it.”

Aubameyang has yet to comment on what happened at the weekend, with his post on social media on Sunday evening focusing purely on congratulating his team-mates for taking the north London bragging rights.

There have been suggestions he was left 'livid’ by the way he was treated by Arteta and the noise of his Ferrari engine echoing around the empty Emirates soon after full-time was unmistakable, as his fellow substitutes were going through the customary warm-down on the pitch.

But if Aubameyang was unhappy, then his anger should really have been directed at himself. After all, this was not the first time he has been guilty of tardiness this season and there was also the incident which saw Arsenal have to launch an investigation after the captain appeared to break Covid protocol rules by getting a new tattoo on his arm.

Arteta opted not to publicly call out his skipper on that occasion, but he clearly decided on Sunday that the time was right to have his say.

Given Arsenal’s hectic fixture list, and with Thursday night’s second leg of the last 16 Europa League tie with Olympiacos looming large, nobody would have really questioned the decision to leave Aubameyang on the bench against Spurs.

Arteta could easily have just said he was giving his captain a rest and kept the punishment in house, but the Arsenal boss chose to offer up the information himself when he told Sky Sports during his pre-match interview that Aubameyang was missing for disciplinary reasons.

It felt like a calculated move by Arteta, one that very much showed the changing room that he was boss. Aubameyang may be captain and Arsenal’s highest-paid star, but it’s Arteta who is the top dog and everyone must abide by his rules.

“Mikel Arteta would have got so much respect for that decision from the players,” former Arsenal star Paul Merson told Sky Sports News after Sunday’s game. ”I can't talk highly enough of what he's done.

“Can you imagine sitting in that team meeting and the manager saying, 'You know what, you're not playing because you've just done something wrong'? It would have got all the players talking.

“Fair play to Arteta, he's looked at young players like Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka who are the future of the club and sent a message to them that whatever Aubameyang did wasn't right.

"I think it was brilliant management – those kids will go on and be better players just for that decision alone. They will take that on and hopefully realise that they have to do the right things off the pitch as well as on it."

All eyes will now be on the starting XI Arteta names when Arsenal take on Olympiacos on Thursday night. With a commanding 3-1 lead from the first leg in Greece last week, the Gunners already have one foot placed firmly in the Europa League quarter-finals.

But with memories of last season’s shock home defeat by the Greek champions still fresh in everyone’s mind, Arteta will be taking nothing for granted against a side who have won on each of their last two visits to Emirates Stadium.

Aubameyang is expected to return and what happened in the build-up to the game against Spurs has now been resolved, according to Arteta. But Aubameyang knows he can't step out of line again.

There’s no suggestion that he was close to joining the likes of Gallas and Xhaka in losing the captaincy, but he's certainly been given a very public warning that although he may be main man in the changing room, it's Arteta who rules the roost in north London.

The Arsenanl skipper has now been warned. What happens next is down him him.