Arsenal may feel their captain’s armband is cursed. Pierre‑Emerick Aubameyang is the 10th player to have received, and relinquished, the role since Patrick Vieira’s departure in 2005 and it is hard to make a case that any of its bearers have been particularly successful. The long line of short-lived leaders speaks succinctly of the uncertainty that has dogged the club in recent years and Mikel Arteta will be exasperated that the issue of leadership has reared its head again over the past week.
Arteta might consider himself one of the few modern-day Arsenal captains whose tenure, between 2014 and 2016, did not end in rancour or plain disappointment, although he was out through injury for long periods of it. It was evident on Tuesday, though, that history lessons would cut little ice. “I think it is more than enough to discuss only that matter,” he said, making clear he would talk only about Aubameyang’s axing and not the ignominious trend it underlines. The immediate problem is stark: captain or not, what does Arteta do with his squad’s highest-paid player and one genuine global star?
That question had begun to rear its head even before Arteta dropped him for repeated disciplinary breaches, centring on problems with punctuality. “Without a question of a doubt,” he retorted to the question of whether, had Aubameyang been scoring goals at will, he would have found it as easy to take such drastic action. But the issue was moot. Aubameyang has found the net 21 times in his past 53 appearances, going back to the start of 2020-21, and this season’s tally of seven is bloated by a hat-trick against West Brom’s youngsters in the Carabao Cup. It is a record few mid‑table strikers would sniff at, but Arsenal have come to expect significantly more from their prize asset.
Now they risk being burdened with a high-earning 32-year-old who may find, a few weeks from now, that Arsenal have simply moved on. Unless he is recalled to face Leeds or Norwich in the next 12 days, Aubameyang will not be available again until Gabon complete their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations. That takes him beyond the top flight’s “winter break” and into February, effectively meaning he misses their next seven Premier League games.