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Barcelona bound Why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's departure leaves Arsenal weaker but manager Mikel Arteta stronger


Arsenal have offloaded Aubameyang to Barcelona

Arsenal have offloaded Aubameyang to Barcelona

Arsenal have offloaded Aubameyang to Barcelona

Whether their supporters agree with the strategy or not, there can be no questioning Arsenal’s commitment to rebuilding the club under Mikel Arteta. The ultimate proof that long-term progress has been prioritised over short-term success arrived on Monday night, when Arsenal’s executives signed off on the permanent transfer of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona.

It is hard to think of a decision that better summarises the Arteta project in north London, where the culture of the club takes precedence.

The decision to allow Aubameyang to leave, without signing a replacement, could feasibly cost Arsenal a place in next season’s Champions League. Arsenal would have been well aware of this possibility when they waved goodbye to their former captain, but this is the gamble they have taken, for what they hope will be the greater good of the club.

The Arsenal squad is weaker than at the start of January, in large part because Aubameyang is no longer there, but also because they allowed players such as Calum Chambers, Folarin Balogun, Pablo Mari, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac to leave. Less depth, fewer options.

Many fans are not impressed. Arteta will instead go into the second half of the season with Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah as his only strikers. Their combined goal tally in the league this season? Three.

This is the price Arsenal were willing to pay instead of trying to repair the relationship between Arteta and Aubameyang. Where did it all go wrong? Perhaps it is best to start with the captain’s armband that indirectly led to his exit, for it should not be forgotten that Aubameyang was never meant to wear it. It was not a role he asked for, and not a position which many thought would suit him. The captaincy only fell his way because of a vote among Arsenal’s players, who had chosen him as Granit Xhaka’s deputy under Unai Emery. When Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy a few months later, the responsibility was handed to Aubameyang.

The first cracks between Arsenal and Aubameyang appeared a few months after he signed a lucrative new contract in September 2020. As the youthful spirit of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe returned some energy to the side, Aubameyang appeared increasingly removed from the new direction they were heading.

This was not always his fault: he missed a run of games because of his mother’s health, and then contracted malaria. But he was also dropped from the north London derby after turning up late. There were other incidents, including a lockdown tattoo, which prompted Arsenal to “remind him of his responsibilities”, and a missed Covid-19 test.

When Arteta subsequently withdrew the armband, the club statement made pointed reference to the 32-year-old’s “latest” disciplinary breach. In August 2020, after Aubameyang’s goals had won the FA Cup, the striker posted on social media. It was a picture of him with Arteta, arms around each other. Aubameyang captioned it with the words: “My manager!” That relationship is now broken, and there will be no way back for a player who was supposed to lead the club into a bright new era, but instead leaves it under the darkest of clouds.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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