Why Stripping Aubameyang of the Arsenal Captaincy is the Wrong Decision
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
The curse of the Arsenal Captain’s Armband continues.
Off the back of what has been described by Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta as a “disciplinary breach,” Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been stripped of his role as club captain. It’s a decision nobody associated with Arsenal hoped would ever have to be made.
Aubameyang was made Arsenal captain amidst a similarly chaotic backdrop. Former club captain Granit Xhaka infamously left the field in tantrum after being substituted by then Head Coach Unai Emery. It was a point of no return for the Swiss international.
Clearly, Mikel Arteta feels Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has entered a comparable stage in his captaincy. Of course, Aubameyang’s most recent misdemeanour hasn’t been his only off-field issue as club captain, perhaps thus contributing to Arteta’s decision.
Yet, in comparison to Xhaka’s actions leading to captaincy stripping, Aubameyang’s issues of conduct have been far less grievous. The issues at hand are linked to punctuality rather than disrespect to the Arsenal badge. Despite these acts of delinquency reportedly occurring relatively regularly, they do not equate to telling the Arsenal faithful to “F*ck off.”
So, can Arteta justify his decision to take the captain’s armband away from Aubameyang? Only those particularly close to the situation can tell us that. There are unanswered questions which leave Arsenal fans in limbo. How many times have these misdemeanours concerning punctuality occurred? Has something else happened behind closed doors that the press doesn’t know about?
I guess we’ll never know. Until Amazon Release their All or Nothing series on Arsenal’s 21/22 season, of course. Those producers must be licking their lips right now.
Anyway, back to Aubameayng. When looking beyond the surface level facts, the decision to strip the Gabonese International of the club captaincy appears wrong. Granted, punctuality problems don’t reflect well on a figure who appeared as an example-setting captain rather than a true leader of men. It’s easy to understand why Mikel Arteta would be irritated by such actions. However, one can only hope Arteta hasn’t underestimated Aubameyang’s dressing room influence.
Whatever one thinks of his on-field contribution since his contract renewal in September 2020, it’d be impossible to argue against the notion that Aubamayang is a popular figure at Arsenal. Him and Alex Lacazette are a well-liked duo in the Arsenal dressing room, and they thus exert a large degree of influence over the squad.
From a manager's point of view, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is therefore a character who needs to be kept happy. If he is happy, his positive influence spreads across the dressing room. By upsetting a character of such rank, Arteta enters dangerous territory.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The decision is, on the other hand, an opportunity for Arteta to portray his ascendancy by reprimanding his captain. Nevertheless, the risk may outweigh the reward - and that is why the decision appears as both reckless and naïve from the Arsenal manager.
Apart from during his scintillating run of form during the club’s 2020 FA Cup run, Aubameyang’s captaincy of Arsenal has always felt to be something of a token captaincy. He’s the one who dons the armband on a match day, but the likes of the departed David Luiz; Granit Xhaka, Martin Ødegaard; and more recently Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel have been the team’s true leaders.
It can thus be argued that taking the captaincy away from Aubameyang was far from a necessity, especially from a PR viewpoint. The decision feels like another plot twist in the Soap Opera that is Arsenal Football Club. Attention is shifted away from the genuinely competitive team Arsenal have on their hands right now, and instead once again towards a non-footballing issue.
Despite numerous lows accompanying them, Arsenal fans have enjoyed some serious highs this season. An emphatic north London derby win, controlled victories over notorious bogey teams Leicester and Aston Villa; and most recently a 3-0 triumph over Southampton which saw Arsenal display arguably their best attacking football to date under Mikel Arteta. Arsenal fans are generally happy, and good football has produced this happiness.
So, the questions must be asked. Why bring down the overwhelmingly positive mood around the club? And arguably more pertinently, why risk disrupting what has been widely reported to be a very happy Arsenal dressing room this season? Regardless of the “non-negotiables” Arteta holds so dearly, it’s poor management from the Spaniard.
Aubameyang could’ve kept his token captaincy till the end of the season. The armband could have then been passed on naturally to a successor who would be prepped for the captaincy for the remainder of the 21/22 campaign. Instead, Arteta must now make a snap decision which will undoubtedly divide opinion.
Could Mikel Arteta have just triggered the beginning of his own downfall? It remains to be seen. That said, one thing is for certain, if Mikel Arteta loses this dressing room amid his gloomy record as Arsenal manager, he won’t be in the job much longer. One suspects a now disgruntled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will have a crucial role to play in that aspect for as long as he stays in north London.