Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been dismissed as Arsenal captain. In a statement released late morning on Tuesday, the club announced that the Gabonese forward had been stripped of the armband and would also be absent for the club’s next match, at home to West Ham.
Since the departure of club legend Patrick Vieria, Arsenal seem to have suffered on the captaincy front.
William Gallas was stripped of the armband after publicly admonishing his teammates, Cesc Fàbregas left for Barcelona, along with Thomas Vermaelen, Robin van Persie deflected to Manchester United, Laurent Koscielny forced a move to Bordeaux and Granit Xhaka stormed off the field in a towering temper following a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.
Currently, only Thierry Henry, Per Mertesacker and current manager Mikel Arteta have been able to wear the armband with pride and, regardless of recent feelings to any of them, have always represented the club with class, honour and with genuine pride at leading the club.
The decision to strip Aubameyang of the captaincy will come as a heavy blow, but Arsenal will be all too aware of his past behaviour and Mikel Arteta is keen to send a message to the fans of the standards that the club expects from its players.
In the build-up to Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Southampton, Mikel Arteta informed the media that the Gabonese forward’s exclusion from the matchday squad was not down to an injury, as first feared, but rather to a disciplinary breach.
This is not the first time that Aubameyang has run afoul of Arteta and his “non-negotiables”. The striker was relegated to an unused substitute in the team’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur last season, following a late arrival to the Emirates Stadium for the match.
Arteta has, for all his other perceived faults, been very consistent in his laying down of the law. Mesut Özil and Mattéo Guendouzi were both notable absentees following the resumption of English football in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Özil’s reasons are still yet to be revealed, while Guendouzi’s was in response to his lack of professionalism away to Brighton and Hove Albion and his lack of a mea culpa.
Both players likely assumed that Arteta would soon back down and coming running back with his tail between his legs, however, both were shocked to see Arteta persist with neither included in the team and going onto lift the FA Cup without either’s involvement.
Aubameyang seems to be meeting the same fate.
The forward has always been known for his somewhat brazen personality, a personality that led him to numerous disciplinary issues at Borussia Dortmund, however, since joining Arsenal in January of 2018, he has seemed rather more relaxed and has been almost a model professional for the team.
However, in the post-Unai Emery era, Aubameyang has found himself slipping back into bad habits.
The aforementioned incident pre-North London Derby was only a minor infringement, with the now ex Arsenal captain arriving late for a pre-match meeting. His exclusion from the starting XI and the fact that he was not, at any point, called upon to take part in the match, felt like a very big call from Mikel Arteta, but as with Guendouzi and Özil, Arteta was once again proven to be right as Arsenal won 2-1.
Saturday’s indiscretion was reported to be as a result of a late return from a club-sanctioned personal holiday. Aubameyang returned to the club too late and was left out.
The problem was not that Aubameyang had returned late, though that is an issue in and of itself, nor is it the fact that he has once again, as captain, failed to keep to the standards that the club has for him and his teammates, the issue was more of how much better Arsenal looked with him out of the team.
A worrying sign, given that Aubameyang currently collects a sum of around £350,000-a-week in wages and still has a year remaining on his current deal.
But the fact remains that Arsenal looked very content without the Gabonese forward in the team. The left-hand flank was occupied by Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli, neither of whom looked uncomfortable to do the things that Aubameyang has looked increasingly reticent to try.
Even upfront, Alexandre Lacazette, who himself is not famed for his goalscoring output since he joined the club, looked very comfortable drifting between the spaces, pulling the defence out of position and generally creating space for his teammates.
If this was a glimpse at an Aubameyang-less Arsenal, then they faired pretty well.
Granted, Southampton were hardly at their very best and losing a player of Aubameyang’s quality will only have its upsides for so long before his qualities begin to be missed, but the point was more that Arsenal don’t necessarily need to be shackled to Aubameyang just because he’s there and on a big contract.
Thankfully, Arsenal no longer operate the “five captains” policy that was adopted by Unai Emery, which saw Granit Xhaka, Héctor Bellerín, Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Özil all wait in line for the coveted honour.
But what does this mean for the future?
The obvious choice to take over from Aubameyang is Kieran Tierney, but the full-back’s spotty injury record is perhaps a potential blockade to the armband.
Another potential option is Martin Ødegaard. The Norwegian’s recent form has been crucial for the club and he is already the captain of the Norway national side, even for one so young.
Other candidates could include Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães or Aaron Ramsdale, even striker Alexandre Lacazette, who currently serves as the club’s vice-captain could be in with a fair shout too.
It seems unlikely that midfielder Granit Xhaka would be in line to take the armband, given his infamous on-field spat with the fans in the final days of Unai Emery’s tenure.
Youngsters like Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka or Emile Smith Rowe are perhaps a little too young to take over the armband. Many will be quick to point out that Cesc Fàbregas was only 21 when he was entrusted with the role by Arsène Wenger, but the situations are a little different.
Smith Rowe and Saka have both only recently committed themselves to long-term deals with the club and both have only been out of the academy for a short period, while Martinelli is not ever-present enough to merit the distinction either. There is also the fact that giving any of them the captaincy so early on would likely pile a huge amount of pressure onto very young shoulders.
A sideways move isn’t to be ruled out; Takehiro Tomiyasu has been an impressive addition to the team and leads by example every week, meanwhile, Albert Sambi Lokonga was the Anderlecht captain until his summer move, though that seems a very far-left idea.
Héctor Bellerín would also be a natural choice for the role, but he is currently on loan at Real Betis and his future is equally uncertain when he returns.
Whomever Mikel Arteta decides to appoint as the next Arsenal captain will be aware that Arteta, who was himself the club’s captain during his tenure with the club, will be watching them with baleful eyes, ensuring that they keep to the standards set down by the club.
As for the fans, it would be nice for the club to appoint a captain who doesn’t run afoul of the club and it’s principles in the pursuit of a more personal goal.