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comment Why Aubameyang is at risk of becoming the new Ozil


Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang warming up before the UEFA Europa League match at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang warming up before the UEFA Europa League match at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mikel Artet

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mikel Artet


Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang warming up before the UEFA Europa League match at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Senior players need to lead by example and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has fallen short of what is expected of him this season.

Arsenal fans hoping Mikel Arteta can revive the club by ditching underachieving high earners and packing his side with young talent should remember one of football’s universal truths.

You win nothing without a core of committed, ultra-professional senior players. Think of it as a tweak to that memorable quip by Alan Hansen about Manchester United in 1995.

Hansen’s claim ‘you win nothing with kids’ is still generally derided. United fans took delight in claiming my esteemed Anfield predecessor got it badly wrong as Alex Ferguson won the double 12 months later with a side including academy graduates.

The reality is that Hansen’s broader point was right. The contribution of stalwarts such as Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin and Eric Cantona to that glorious Old Trafford season has been conveniently overlooked.

Every good side needs that nucleus of players who have been there and done it. They are the ones who set the dressing-room standards. They create and protect the culture, imparting every new signing or youth team prodigy with good habits. The most successful teams have that perfect blend. When a club is failing, the opposite is often true.

If senior players aren’t pulling their weight, they are a malignant influence who will contaminate the training ground and may leave a negative legacy for the generation which follows. That’s the biggest, most recurring problem Arteta is trying to fix right now. What was previously the club’s strength is a serious weakness now.

That’s why patience has run out among the club’s fanbase and they would prefer to see Arteta build around his exciting youngsters. Through the latter years of Arsène Wenger, into the reign of Unai Emery and now Arteta, there has been a massive erosion of trust in those who are supposed to be leading by example. We saw that with Mesut Ozil, who Arteta eventually eased out of the club.

Now it looks like history is repeating itself with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It is easy to apply retrospective wisdom when looking at the lucrative contract given to him and say it was an expensive mistake. It wasn’t at the time.

Aubameyang deserved to be rewarded for his performances. There was relief from fans when he committed his future. Had he left, there would have been criticism of the club and accusations of lack of ambition.

Since then he has been a shadow of the striker he was. That’s his responsibility, not that of the Arsenal board. He owes the club far more than he is delivering. Form can dip, but it’s the attitude and demeanour of Aubameyang during the course of this season which is most concerning. At times he has looked disinterested. Being benched for Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final was a clear signal of Arteta’s dissatisfaction.

Aubameyang’s recent performance against West Ham, when he was subbed after 81 minutes, was one of the poorest I’ve seen in the Premier League this season.

Everyone can see how Arteta wants Arsenal to play. He needs high fitness and energy levels from front to back, or his strategy falls apart as miserably as it did against Liverpool. FA Cup success last season was built around Aubameyang’s counter-attacking threat – his ability to find space, use his pace and demonstrate how world-class he can be.

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Arteta can tolerate an elite player occasionally being below his best. What is unacceptable is having to carry passengers who are not applying themselves in the same way as team-mates. That becomes a bigger problem when the culprit is a star player. Who in the Arsenal dressing-room has the authority or confidence to tell Aubameyang, the captain, he needs to work harder?

The captain should be the manager’s chief lieutenant, enforcing positive values and discipline – the one making sure the other players are on time, not displaying a casual attitude. It sends a terrible message about his mentality. Unless it is stamped out, young players see that and think they will get away with the same.

There were two ways for the player to react when called out by his manager. Aubameyang ought to have been embarrassed and sought to make amends at the earliest opportunity. He took option two. Instead of playing like he was sorry he delivered an apology of a performance in subsequent games, as if sulking for being publicly admonished. In fairness, his 12 minutes as a substitute against Slavia Prague were better. That has to be the case every game.

Aubameyang should see that armband as an opportunity to be the driving force beyond a renaissance and inspire the young players. He has been hiding behind them. That saddens me because he is a player I have loved watching in the Premier League, and at 31 it is hard to believe the skills we saw as recently as last season have deserted him.

Unless Aubameyang constantly steps up as he did when creating Nicolas Pepe’s goal on Thursday night, Arteta has the same problem as he faced with Ozil last summer. The more he plays him when he is producing nothing, the more it impedes the rebuilding process, while leaving him out risks other problems. From day one, Arteta’s challenge at Arsenal has been to restore the mindset which once typified the club, getting it back to what it was when Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira ran the dressing-room.

He can try to do that over the course of time by moulding the youngsters Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe to develop good habits.

But to do it quicker Arteta also needs reliable senior professionals. It is too much of a burden for youngsters to carry a club of Arsenal’s stature through a season. As we have already seen, they will suffer with inconsistency. Good older professionals will recognise that and help them. Too many of them are giving the impression they are coasting through the rest of their Arsenal contract.

The situation is best summed up by the fact the outside world currently has more admiration and respect for Arsenal’s teenagers and those in their early 20s than those who should be at their peak.

That’s the wrong way round for a healthy dressing-room. Until Arteta reverses that, the club faces a long wait to become a title contender again.

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