There’s a Mikel Arteta press conference later today, primarily to talk about the game against West Han on Wednesday, but in the absence of any further information before then, the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang situation will be first and foremost on the minds of those asking the questions.
We don’t know if the captain was back in training yesterday, and right now, what happens next depends on him. If he accepts he broke the rules, was punished, and now gets to come back and work hard for his place, this whole thing starts looking a bit like a storm in a teacup. Fair enough, it’s a reasonably big storm and a pretty large cup, but it doesn’t have to be more than that.
I don’t think a player being late is, in itself, sufficient for stripping him of the captaincy. Granit Xhaka lost it after throwing the armband down and telling the fans to do one as he was subbed off by a manager whose indecisiveness went a long way to toxifying that situation in the first place; William Gallas lost it because he publicly criticised teammates in an interview and basically the players couldn’t stand him, so Arsene Wenger had no choice. This is not in the same ballpark, but obviously the fact it’s his second ‘timekeeping’ indiscretion inside a year isn’t a great look.
So, it really all depends on what his reaction is. If he’s contrite and accepts that his late return had implications for Covid protocols and was not what was agreed, then this whole thing should blow over pretty quickly. If he’s aggrieved, or feels hard done by, and that informs his response, then we could be heading for some kind of a saga, and I really hope that’s not the case. We have enough to get on with without that.
How you view incidents like this is really a matter of personal choice. Some will appreciate the hard-line, no-nonsense approach to discipline, especially when you have a young team. You can’t allow senior players in particular to behave in a way which undermines the protocols and rules a manager has put in place for everyone. Not least the captain who, while not necessarily a ‘right hand man’, should be an example to the rest.
On the other hand, there are those who think this kind of stuff shouldn’t ever be public. When the Gallas stuff went down, then Chairman Peter Hill-Wood said, “If there is a problem of that sort it is very much better to be kept private. Baring all these things in public is really no help.”
Very much the old school way. It can even come down to who is involved. If it’s your favourite player being disciplined, it’ll feel much more personal than a player you don’t particularly care for. Aubameyang is a popular guy, although patience is running thin after a lean spell in front of goal and a drop in productivity after being awarded a big contract – a scenario which scratches at some wounds which are not fully healed yet among this fanbase.
Another thing to bear in mind is that we now have just 13 days before Aubameyang, along with others, departs for AFCON. I wonder will that play a part. If we’re going to be without him for 5/6 games in late December/early January, might Arteta think about a team which isn’t reliant on him for the next couple of weeks too?
Personally, I don’t think this is a side which can deliberately operate without its best goalscorers – and I fully accept that this has been a problem for Aubameyang (and others) this season. If there’s a tight game, if we need a goal, his presence – whether its off the bench or starting – could be important. It’s not as if we’re swimming with top class alternatives, so let’s be realistic about that when it comes to the next couple of weeks.
Let’s see what Arteta says today then, and go from there.
Tomorrow’s game now gives us a chance to go into the top four after Man Utd’s trip to Brentford was called off due to a Covid outbreak among staff and players at the visiting side. At the same time, the Premier League announced 42 positive cases this week, the most ever since they began testing. What precisely the implications for football itself might be remain to be seen, but obviously its a worry. Hopefully everyone who has tested positive remains healthy, and that’s the main thing, but this kind of disruption to the schedule will be a major concern.
Meanwhile, if you’re attending tomorrow night, be aware that further safety protocols will be in place following the British government’s announcement last week. They stipulate ‘that attendees to any venue with a capacity of at least 10,000 must bring either a valid Covid Pass or proof of a negative lateral flow/PCR test (taken within 48 hours) to gain entry. Failure to produce either when requested will result in entry being refused.’
Arsenal have emailed season ticket holders to say ‘spot-checks will also increase significantly on a matchday’, so chances are there will be delays. Get there as early as you can. For more on this – the club’s official guidance is here.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. You can find a brand new Arsecast Extra below, and we’ll have a West Ham preview podcast over on Patreon later today. Until then, take it easy.