Mikel Arteta had a clear message for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before Saturday’s FA Cup final, but that was beyond making the runs in behind that eventually beat Chelsea. The Arsenal manager has been setting out a vision for the team, and telling him how great that can be with Aubameyang in it. It is said to be working.
Arteta, as he made clear in the sweet aftermath of that victory, is confident Aubameyang will stay. The player certainly feels much better about everything than he did a few months ago under Unai Emery. Arteta is a persuasive figure. He also knows that you can’t be a serious club with ambition, and not be able to afford to keep your best player just when you’re getting going.
Arteta is adamant Aubameyang shouldn’t be sold, so is instead selling him an idea.
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That isn’t the only factor that may keep the striker at Arsenal, and the more unpalatable realities of professional sport can’t be overlooked.
One club source says Aubameyang’s age – 31 – may keep him there. There are not too many clubs that are going to pay such high wages in a financially constrained time.
Arsenal, however, still have to meet the player’s demands.
That has at least got much easier, due to easing of the club’s own finances through qualifying for the Europa League. That was genuinely very big for Arsenal. Arteta didn’t even say it to the players before the game, because he didn’t want to put unnecessary pressure on them. One influential director was just texting people his relief afterwards. This does significantly alter their financial power. It makes Arteta’s plans that bit easier to execute. They can look to some of the better-quality transfer options they have, having already weighed up a lot in the last week. Philippe Coutinho’s wages now don’t look so insurmountable.
The situation would be helped if they got Mesut Ozil’s mega money off the wage bill. Another source maintains that will be the biggest issue of Arsenal’s summer.
Arteta was conspicuously magnanimous enough to credit both Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi after the win over Chelsea, despite neither being present. When he was asked the relevance of their absence, Arteta just answered “let’s enjoy the day”.
This wasn’t the time for harsh words, but it is clear he wants both gone. Guendouzi has a few options – including Barcelona and Juventus – but there aren’t too many for Ozil. That is a remarkable thing to say about a mere 31-year-old who was recently the best playmaker in the world, but that’s how pronounced his decline has been. Some figures around the club just roll their eyes when he’s mentioned. Any club Ozil would want to go to do not want to pay his huge wages, and there are now real doubts about his commitment. At present, it looks like a subsidised loan – perhaps to Fenerbahce – or a move to the Middle East are the only possible solutions.
He is a long way from being the main man in that team.
That is now Aubameyang’s status. The striker’s own ego – there’s really no other word – influences this too. Some sources feel it could actually appeal to Aubameyang’s ego to now walk out a hero, especially given his fair belief he should be in a Champions League team. But he also wants to be the star of any team, and that is also what Arteta has been appealing to.
It is striking just how much more force and punch he gives the Spaniard’s approach. He allows possession with sucker punches. As Manchester City found, in what must now be described as another Arteta masterclass, he can very suddenly burst through you. He gives the side an outlet to go long, and instantly turn defence into a chance.
Frank Lampard even mentioned this after the game.
“We were very clear with the players, Arsenal play long balls behind you. They play football as well, but they have that option.”
That option is currently one of the best strikers in Europe. He has scored the four goals that fired Arsenal’s fine semi-final win over City, and then the final victory.
“He’s a top class player,” Lampard said. “The second goal is the sort of speed and quality of a player of his level, that wins games like this.”
It greatly enhances Arteta’s entire plan. The Spaniard now has a more concrete vision for his team, and can see what players go where. Aubameyang is at the forefront of that. The hope – and belief – is he sees himself there too.