Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy, with Mikel Arteta calling it a very “painful” decision and “unpleasant” situation.
The forward will be omitted from the squad for Wednesday's game against West Ham and Arteta has not decided when he will be available for selection again after a disciplinary breach, when he returned late to England after a visit to France to see his mother. The Gabonese had previously been omitted from last season’s North London derby after turning up late.
Arteta did not deny that that Aubameyang, Arsenal’s best-paid player, could be sold in the January transfer window as he faces an uncertain future. Arteta is yet to name a replacement as he looks for their 11th club captain in under 15 years, instead relying on a group of senior players in the meantime.
Arsenal said in a statement: “We expect all our players, particularly our captain, to work to the rules and standards we have all set and agreed.”
Arteta, a former Arsenal captain himself, told Aubameyang of his demotion in person and added: “When we have to make that decision, it is because it is the right one to defend the interests of the football club. We have to be clear about the situation and I think it is better to put it out there to try and be transparent on what we have done.”
Arteta said his players supported the move to punish Aubameyang and added: “They accepted the decision and they have demanded that they want to take our culture, our demands and who do we want to be as a club and represent this football club to different level and when those standards are not met, you know you cannot participate in our daily basics.”
Asked about if Aubameyang, who has 18 months left on his lucrative deal, will stay, Arteta replied: “Unfortunately, it is a really tough one and obviously if I have to choose I wouldn’t like to be sitting here talking about it but we had to and the next [step] is for now he is not involved in the squad. All I can say is for now it has been a lot to digest and a really difficult decision to make. It needs a bit of time to heal.”
Arteta described his relationship with Aubameyang “really, really good since I have been here; that is why it is painful.”
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Arteta could turn back to Granit Xhaka, who lost the captaincy in 2019 after making an offensive gesture to Arsenal fans, after saying that he will use the leadership group in the squad before appointing a new skipper.
“Obviously, it is a really unpleasant situation and it is not the moment to make any rash decisions,” added Arteta. “That leadership group is very strong and it is working really well.”
Alexandre Lacazette captained Arsenal in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Southampton, before passing the armband to Xhaka when he was substituted. But Lacazette is in the final months of his contract and Xhaka could have joined Roma last summer. Hector Bellerin, who was vice-captain, is on loan at Real Betis while back-up defender Rob Holding is also in the leadership group. Kieran Tierney, Aaron Ramsdale and Martin Odegaard might be long-term options to take over.
Aubameyang scored twice in both the FA Cup semi-final and final when Arteta won his first trophy in 2020. However, he had his poorest goalscoring season for a decade last year, getting only 10 league goals. He has struck just four times in 14 Premier League matches this season and was dropped for the 3-2 defeat at Everton even before he was disciplined.