Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cut a disconsolate figure as he shrugged his way through a post-match interview following Arsenal’s dismal draw with Southampton on Saturday. The Gabonese striker is typically the epitome of joviality, but there was no sign of that trademark toothy grin. The Gunners’ performance had been utterly abject and there was little that he could say in response to the questions.
Aubameyang is Arsenal’s only world-class player right now and the chances of holding onto him are growing slimmer with each passing week. Unai Emery installed him as Arsenal skipper after stripping Granit Xhaka of the captaincy following the Swiss midfielder’s high-profile bust-up with the fans. Yet that status will not be enough to keep him at The Emirates if Arsenal keep playing so badly.
Emery must bear the brunt of the criticism for his negative tactics, bizarre team selections and obvious communication issues. His failings are piling up, and cheapening the kudos of being made Arsenal captain is one of his key blunders.
The Boos Are Deserved
He fell out with Laurent Koscielny in the summer and the club waved goodbye to the Frenchman, who was named club captain after Pet Mertesacker’s retirement in 2018. Instead of choosing the strongest candidate to succeed Koscielny, Emery opted for a closed voting process in which the squad went for Xhaka. It was an unmitigated disaster. Now Xhaka may never play for the club again, and Aubameyang has been handed the armband in what looks like an act of desperation.
It shows just how far Arsenal have fallen since the days of Tony Adams and then Patrick Vieira leading the club to glory. Adams pulled no punches as he dissected Emery’s failings in the wake of Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the struggling Saints. “I don’t want any coach losing his job but the club’s not going forward, it’s not progressing,” he said. “The boos are deserved. It was a terrible, terrible performance, very disjointed, no defending in sight, [Emery] changed his system three times – he’s not doing himself any favours.”
There could be no argument with that assessment. Adams went on to say that Arsenal are far worse off after losing Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey in the summer. He referred to Koscielny as Arsenal’s best player, while Ramsey has moved to Serie A champions Juventus, where he is earning a fat salary and playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. It raises questions about the club’s ability to keep hold of their key stars.
Can Arsenal Hold on to Aubameyang?
The litmus test will be Aubameyang. He is a hugely influential figure in the Arsenal squad, and his goals have offered the only glimmer of hope in an otherwise miserable 2019/20 campaign thus far, so losing him would represent a hammer blow for the club’s ambitions. Yet rumours abound that Auba wants out. He has stalled on signing a new deal and he is reportedly waiting for a bigger club to come along and snap him up.
Aubameyang will have just one year left on his deal in the summer, and Arsenal would be forced to sell him or risk losing him for nothing in 2021. It is therefore imperative that they tie him down to a new contract, but currently there is not much keeping him in North London.
There is a chance that the Gunners can hold onto Aubameyang and strike partner Alexandre Lacazette, but only if they can quickly prove they have what it takes to challenge for trophies. That may require a change of manager.
Noisy Neighbours Show Arsenal the Way Forward
Local rivals Tottenham just brutally dispensed with Mauricio Pochettino following an alarming slump in form. The Argentinean led Spurs to several consecutive top-four finishes, established them as a big club in the Premier League and took them to the Champions League final in May. Yet results went south and Daniel Levy acted swiftly and decisively, axing Poch and bringing in Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese’s reign began with a 3-2 victory over West Ham on Saturday, while Arsenal were left to endure their fifth game without a win. They are now 19 points behind league leaders Liverpool and eight points off a top four berth, while they could fall into the bottom half of the table soon. The Premier League football odds make Arsenal massive outsiders to secure a Champions League place. The need to urgently remove Emery from his post is growing clearer with every game.
He has now managed 51 Premier League games and in that time Arsenal have secured fewer points than they did in Arsene Wenger’s final 51 matches. They have scored fewer goals and conceded more. The Gunners are shambolic at the back, but their failings in attack are perhaps even more concerning. Even when Arsenal stopped competing for the Premier League title, The Emirates was still an attractive destination for a striker, as you would generally be guaranteed great service and the chance to lead an ambitious, attacking team. That is no longer the case.
If you were being kind, you would describe Arsenal’s current brand of football as conservative. Many fans are aghast at what they perceive to be negative tactics, as Arsenal’s opponents consistently have more shots on goal than them. On Saturday they were hosting a team that sat 19th in the table. Southampton were on a three-match losing streak, they recently losing 9-0 to Leicester and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked, ahead of Emery. Yet the Spaniard decided to play three centre-backs, two holding midfielders and wing-backs, while leaving Nicolas Pepe on the bench.
It is as though he is scared of losing. World-class strikers like Aubameyang surely do not want to play in teams that approach games in such a fearful fashion. The Arsenal of late Wengerdom would suffer the odd drubbing, but they typically played attractive, free-flowing football, created plenty of chances and tried to entertain the fans. The Unai Emery era is growing increasingly dull, and it might take a change of manager to galvanise the squad.
The Need to Extend Deals
Behind the scenes, Arsenal have started to get their act together, with a strong backroom team in place. The summer recruitment drive was impressive, and they also cleared out a lot of deadwood. The challenge is to ensure that players no longer get down to the final year of their contract, as was the case with Ramsey, Koscielny, Alexis Sanchez, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and many more key players. They entered the 2019/20 campaign with just one senior player running down his contract, and that was the unheralded Matt Macey, but they now need to extend the deals that are expiring in 2021.
That will be a difficult feat to achieve if the results and performances continue to be this dire. Arsenal are slipping into mediocrity under Emery, having taken just three points from their last five games, and superstars like Aubameyang will be desperate to abandon ship if this continues. The board needs to act boldly and decisively in a bid to rescue Arsenal’s season, as there is no light at the end of the tunnel right now. If that does not happen, there is no chance of the Gunners holding onto their best players.