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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doesn’t owe you anything

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He messed up. He was disciplined. You need to move on.

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

If you hadn’t heard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped from the Arsenal starting lineup for the North London Derby against Tottenham for showing up late and, consequently, missing a pregame team meeting. From pictures on Twitter, it looks as if Aubameyang got caught in traffic. Said Mikel Arteta of the decision:

“We had a disciplinary issue, we’ve drawn the line, we move on. We keep it internal. We have a process that we have to respect for every game, and that’s it.”

According to The Athletic, it wasn’t the first time that Aubameyang had been late. He’d also missed a COVID-19 test earlier this season and had been “reminded of his responsibilities” after he breached regulations to get a new tattoo. After the match, Aubameyang was quick to leave the stadium and did not join the other unused substitutes in the usual warm-down.

You know what I think of all that?

Who cares.

People make mistakes. People get stuck in traffic. People are late to work. Shit happens. That’s why we have rules and consequences for breaking them. We know that Mikel Arteta is a stickler for his “non-negotiables” and that he’s a disciplinarian. He stuck to his guns. Aubameyang broke a rule, Arteta handled it internally, PEA suffered the consequences, and they’ve moved on.

Or at least everybody at the club seems to have. Aubameyang looks to have done so, posting “North London is Red and that’s it” to his Instagram, indicating that he moving is past it. Mikel Arteta intimated that he’s moved on as well and reaffirmed Aubameyang’s central role at the club. I don’t expect any further fallout.

“He [Aubameyang] is an incredible guy and one of the most important players in the team. He is our captain and these things happen. We have lots going on in our lives and people finding it hard with the restrictions. I will never tell anything that happens in the dressing room.”

So why are the pundits still banging on about it? Why are some corners of the Arsenal internet clamoring for a public apology?

Some of the explanation, at least on the talking head side of things, is simple: they have air to fill and manufacturing a controversy does that. We’ve seen time and again that it doesn’t matter how contrived or forced the issue is, give them a sniff, and they’ll speculate for days.

In fairness, some of it is reasonable and borderline useful. At least the parts where respected former players like Lee Dixon and Ray Parlour offered their two cents on whether benching Aubameyang was the correct move. Both guys said, in essence, that Arteta made the right call because no player is bigger than the team, he’s got to send a message, he can’t make exceptions, and so on. Those sentiments have been mostly echoed around the footballing world. It’s facile, and we don’t really need former pros to tell us things that are pretty plain to see, but I don’t begrudge commentators / outlets doing their jobs.

But expecting Aubameyang, Arteta, and the club to air their dirty laundry in public? Thinking that any of them owe us, the fans, anything more than they’ve already said?

Nah. Miss me with that noise.

For starters, it didn’t hurt the team on the pitch. Go enjoy the big NLD win. You can simply choose not to care any further about it. Do that.

But we need to peel this onion a bit more. Because I think it’s an example of a growing, misplaced sense of fan entitlement. We don’t “deserve” apologies, or explanations, or access. We sometimes get those things, but they aren’t a right. Arsenal is a business. The players are private citizens.

We have this romanticized notion of “the club belongs to the community” or that “the fans are stewards of the club” or something along those lines. No, not really.

Sure, there is a complicated give-and-take relationship between fans and players and between supporters and clubs. I don’t think clubs are soulless, money-obsessed monsters. I think some, maybe even a lot of what they do is motivated by wanting to do the right thing and put good into the world. There’s definitely something there, but I also think we do overestimate our own importance in the equation. Which is fine, we’re humans. We’re egocentric. It’s how we’re wired. As I said, it’s complicated; you can’t reduce any of it to a tidy, dictionary definition.

In this particular case, none of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mikel Arteta, or Arsenal have ANY responsibility towards us, the fans. They have obligations to each other. They have contracts and rules that govern those relationships. The precise nature of those obligations is none of our business. Sometimes they might share some of that information with us or give us some insight into the inner workings, but again, they’re under absolutely no requirement to do so.

We also need to ask ourselves how upset we really, truly are by Aubameyang showing up late and getting benched. Is it really that personally offensive to us? Or are we performatively overreacting because that’s how the public discourse these days tends to go? Or maybe we feel like we “should” be upset about it even if it hasn’t actually triggered the emotions. Perhaps it’s in the “fall from grace” vein of things. We do love to see the rich, famous, and powerful humbled.

I’d also suggest that we examine if this is the type of thing that’s even worth getting bent out of shape about given ****gestures around at the world*** (yes, I know we can be upset about multiple things at once).

But the takeaway here is to be self-aware and honestly assess what we’re feeling / thinking and why, because I suspect that if we look closer, we may surprise ourselves.

Shifting the spotlight back onto the football media, I think we’ve also got to ask whether they’d be making such a fuss if it wasn’t Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a Black, non-English player who is known for driving flashy cars and wearing fancy clothes. A guy with an (undeserved) reputation, at least according to some, for being a “problem” whatever the heck that means.

Like, say it was Harry Kane, Golden Boy of the Three Lions crest. Would it even be a blip?

We have plenty of examples of, shall we say, uneven coverage and disparate treatment of foreign and non-white players in the footballing media (not limited to the British or football press, by any stretch, but that’s what we’re talking about right now). See e.g., Marcus Rashford being told to shut up and play when he advocates for feeding hungry children, Raheem Sterling’s tattoo, or the way Phil Foden buying a house for his mother was written about in comparison to how Tosin Adarabioyo doing the same thing was.

Or how about “pace and power” — the phrase (among others) studied and shown to be used in punditry in a way that skews across racial lines, even when the description isn’t an accurate one.

And we shouldn’t limit it to sports — look no further than the contents of the Meghan Markle interview and the subsequent fallout, including the business with our least favorite living Arsenal supporter, Piers Morgan.

Be it conscious or unconscious bias, we do not always treat Black players the same way as their white counterparts.

So it’s incumbent upon us when something like this becomes “A Story” to question whether there is racism and / or racial bias in play. I think there definitely are racist undertones at work here. But I’m not really interested in litigating that either in this post or in the comments.

Instead, I’d like to focus on it as a teachable moment. The takeaway is learning to identify situations like the coverage of and discourse around Aubameyang’s lateness as being of the sort where we should raise a hand, say “hey wait a minute, let’s think about this more,” and then do some rigorous examination. Think of it as training your bias warning system.

I’ve made it a point to tweet something like this before every Premier League match when the players take a knee:

Being more sensitive to and aware of situations where racism and racial bias might be operating is an example of something we can all do to make the world a more equitable place. We should rigorously examine ourselves and the public discourse to ensure that we remove it when it’s present or call it out when we see it.

I know I can seem soapbox-y at times and that might not be precisely what you want from your Arsenal blog. But this Aubameyang story struck a chord. It’s important — to me, our friends, neighbors, and society, everyone.

The players still think it’s important: they’re still taking the knee and raising a fist. I’d encourage you to read this about Wilfriend Zaha and his recent decision to stop kneeling. Doing things like checking yourself and the media you consume helps make the kneeling not a routine, empty gesture. The kneeling is a reminder that there is still plenty of work to do. So let’s do the work.

Back to Aubameyang. Here at TSF we try to live by the “don’t tell anybody how to fan” mantra. But to paraphrase Pirates of the Caribbean, sometimes rules are more like guidelines. This is one of those times. Get over this Aubameyang stuff. It’s a non-story.

Yes, the irony of writing more than 1500 words about a non-story isn’t lost on me.