Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was an unexpected absence from Arsenal training at the end of last week and was dropped from the squad entirely against Southampton for disciplinary issues according to Mikel Arteta. Details were slow to emerge, but The Athletic has provided a coherent story of what happened.
On Wednesday, Aubameyang traveled to France to visit his mother and bring her back to England with him with the club’s permission. Earlier this year, she was seriously ill, and the Arsenal captain was granted time away from the team to be with her and help care for her.
According to The Athletic, Arsenal expected Aubameyang would return on Wednesday night and train on Thursday. Aubameyang did not return on Wednesday night but did return on Thursday morning at was on time for training. Unfortunately, that was an issue for COVID protocols. Under the current rules, individuals must return a negative PCR test while isolating before they can return to the workplace after travel.
Aubameyang took a PCR test in France, but it seems that since the result did not come back before he traveled / while he was isolating, it was not sufficient for him to train with the club. He trained on his own of Friday. The picture of him getting a tattoo later that day that circulated on Instagram is reportedly unrelated to his suspension.
We’ve heard Mikel Arteta’s side of things: there was a “disciplinary issue” with Aubameyang, there are “non-negotiables” expected of players, and he was suspended. We’ve heard the club’s side of things too, or at least presumably so, from The Athletic.
We have yet to hear Aubameyang’s side of it. Why did he fly back on Thursday morning instead of Wednesday night? What was his understanding of the COVID protocols he would have to pass to train on Thursday? What was his understanding of the club’s expectations for his trip? There are a number of places where things might have been poorly communicated or gotten lost in the shuffle, especially considering the hodgepodge of rules and regulations that international players have faced throughout the pandemic.
It could be that his not-well mother was too tired to travel on Wednesday night. It could be that Aubameyang thought the only requirement from the club was that he be on-time for training on Thursday. It could be that Aubameyang was cavalier about the requirements, knew what he was supposed to do, and simply didn’t do it. It could be any number of different things, and it’s useless to speculate.
There is also little to be gained from trying to read into how Mikel Arteta chose to handle the situation — that is calling it a “disciplinary issue” and not giving any more details. For all we know, Arteta and Aubameyang agreed that is how it would be handled publicly. Or the two of them are a pin-drop away from blows. Again, there is nothing to be gained from speculating.
Arteta did not give any additional information as to how long the suspension would be. He might play against West Ham, he might not. As Mikel Arteta acknowledged in his Friday press conference (before the news of Aubameyang’s issue broke), the Arsenal captain is mired in a scoring drought. Whenever he next plays, the Gunners could really do with him rediscovering his scoring form. It’s tough to be successful as a club when the guy who is paid to be scoring the bulk of your goals isn’t finding the back of the net.
The $64,000 question is whether this recent disciplinary issue will lead to Aubameyang being stripped of the captaincy. I don’t think he will be. But it would be a bit hypocritical of me to speculate about the various reasons why he might or might not be. It’s just the feeling I’m getting, driven in large part by the tone taken in The Athletic post, which often functions as a mouthpiece for the club.
This feels like much ado about nothing. The click-happy media, ravenous Arsenal Twitter, and the 24-hour news cycle trying to manufacture controversy between Mikel Arteta / Arsenal and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. We’ll see if I’m right.