Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was an unused substitute in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday’s north London derby, having been left out of the starting lineup for disciplinary reasons.
Mikel Arteta dropped the bombshell in his pre-match interview with Sky Sports, and once the game started, it was reported the 31-year-old had failed to adhere to the pre-match protocol.
The decision to leave the captain out of the side was huge but one that was vindicated when Alexandre Lacazette, his replacement, turned in a solid display, winning and converting a penalty that ultimately gave the Gunners all three points.
Arteta wouldn’t confirm the details regarding Aubameyang’s ‘breach’ of the pre-match protocol despite being asked whether the player’s punctuality had been the issue, but made it clear that a line had been drawn under the situation.
The Gabonese striker looked visibly frustrated during his warm-up and according to The Athletic, while fitness coach Shad Forsythe took the rest of the unused substitutes through a warm down, Aubameyang left the stadium.
Earlier this season, he was disciplined having missed a COVID-19 test ahead of a European trip and had to be ‘reminded of his responsibilities’ when he was found to have had broken rules to get a tattoo. Regardless of his status at the club, the Arsenal boss simply couldn’t allow another incident to slide.
Given all that has gone on, is Aubameyang worthy of holding the Arsenal captaincy?
Granit Xhaka was stripped of the armband in November 2019 following an angry exchange with fans at the Emirates. Shortly afterwards, Aubameyang was handed the captaincy but even putting the ill-discipline aside, you could certainly make a case that says it was the wrong call.
It is not known whether any guarantees regarding the captaincy were given when Aubameyang signed his new contract last summer but regardless, stripping him of it now feels impossible. There are several players within the group who you could describe as more natural leaders, some of which are David Luiz, Kieran Tierney, and even Xhaka.
However, after making Aubameyang the club’s highest-paid player and working extremely hard behind the scenes to persuade him to stay, appointing a new captain would surely damage his relationship with the club and Arteta.
A lack of discipline has highlighted concerns among the fanbase regarding his suitability to the role that were, in truth, already bubbling under the surface. After the Xhaka experiment failed, the armband, was not for the first time handed to the player seen as the club’s standout performer and not necessarily the right man for the job.
Particularly during Arsene Wenger’s tenure, the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry were arguably given it in order to try and keep them at the club even if there were others perhaps more suited to the role.
Being a captain is about leading by example on the field but beyond that, it is about setting the standards off it, and given Aubameyang has failed to meet the standards set on numerous occasions this season, there is bound to be some concern.
Arteta was brave in publicly outing his skipper and in doing so sent a message to the rest of the dressing room. However, it takes an even braver man to strip him of the honour completely. The repercussions of something that huge would likely cause disharmony behind the scenes given Aubameyang’s popularity among his peers.
Making him captain has shown itself to have been an error by Arteta’s predecessor but it is one that he is unable to rectify without sending shockwaves through the camp.