Since 1997 the Gunners have lost Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fàbregas and Thomas Vermaelen to the Catalans. Before his long-term injury, there was plenty of speculation Héctor Bellerín would follow the same well-worn path, too.
The brutal reality for Arsenal is they have become a stepping stone to the elite. The last check-point before a player ascends to the highest level of club football.
Thanks to their long-standing refusal to pay superstar wages and their subsequent failure to secure meaningful silverware, they cannot hold onto their best players.
Aubameyang could be the next to swap North London for Catalonia – if reports coming out of Spain are to be believed. Barcelona need a centre-forward and ideally this month after losing Luis Suárez to knee ligament damage for the best part of the rest of the season.
The Uruguayan just turned 33 and there was already a suspicion this could be his last season at the Camp Nou. Injury may hasten that process.
Remarkably, Goal claim the Catalans are only interested in taking the Gabonese forward on loan. It seems incredibly unlikely, verging on the ludicrous, that Arsenal would allow their talisman and captain to leave on a short-term basis when they’re still trying to make the top four.
However, a loan with an obligation to buy or a straight-up sale might not be the worst thing for the Gunners – as counter-intuitive as selling your best player halfway through the season sounds.
Even at 30, Aubameyang would command a significant transfer fee – more so in January. That would free up the cash for new head coach Mikel Arteta to patch-up his squad and stamp his mark on it too.
The Spaniard is not expected to be able to conduct any significant business this month with the Gunners’ coffers fairly low after a surprisingly expensive summer shopping spree.
However, with Kieran Tierney missing the rest of the season and Sead Kolašinac injured too, left-back is a concern. Yet, as things stand, Arsenal cannot even complete a €5million deal for Paris Saint-Germain‘s Layvin Kurzawa. Instead, they will have to strike a pre-contract agreement and wait until the summer to take him for free.
The £27million signing of William Saliba accounted for a significant portion of the Gunners’ summer outlay but the young defender returned to St. Étienne on loan for the season. The 18-year-old will finally arrive in North London this summer but with none of Sokratis, Luiz or Mustafi fit for purpose, the need for a top-class centre-half is evident and Bayern‘s Jerome Boateng has been linked.
Selling Aubameyang, then, should give Arteta the funds to fix those glaring holes in his squad. But there’s more to it than simply balancing the books.
Fitting Aubamayeng and Alexandre Lacazette into the same side has been a struggle for Arteta and predecessor Unai Emery. Although the pair flourished together last season, it was often felt the latter suffered at the hands of former Borussia Dortmund forward Aubameyang; forced into a subservient role.
Now there is the precocious Gabriel Martinelli to take into account. The 18-year-old Brazilian gave a stunning audition for the role of Arsenal’s starting striker by scoring a sensational goal at Chelsea in the week, carrying the ball from halfway before showing the composure to slot beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga.
It was only his first Premier League strike but, with ten in all competitions, the youngster is banging on the door.
Furthermore, there is the rather delicate matter of Aubameyang’s standing within the dressing room. Various reports have claimed the forward is not a universally popular figure with some squad members feeling the former Milan youngster is too selfish and not enough of a team player to be captain.
Matters have been exacerbated by his relationship with AFTV (formerly known as ArsenalFanTV) which is currently at the centre of a rather nasty and petty dispute being sections of the club’s support. The feeling is the YouTube channel, made famous by rants from a hysterical cast of match-going fans, is an unhelpful and negative influence around the Emirates which wields too much sway.
Aubameyang has largely avoided criticism from this particularly vociferous section of the Arsenal support thanks to his relationship with those behind the channel – most notably ‘Troopz’ – and this has not been well-received internally. It has been viewed as an act of self-preservation on Aubameyang’s part while Bellerín has not pulled any punches in his assessment of the channel.
“I don’t think there’s players who go on the internet to watch ArsenalFanTV,” Bellerín said in 2018. “It does sometimes pop up on your timeline. I see it sometimes, some friends say ‘oh have you heard what that guy on ArsenalFanTV said?’
“It’s so wrong for someone who claims to be a fan and their success is fed off a failure. How can that be a fan? There’s just people hustling, trying to make money their way, which everyone is entitled to do.”
Despite those factors, selling Aubameyang, at this point in the season, would not go down well with Arsenal supporters – even the rational, non-AFTV characters. Nor would it be a good look for the Gunners’ bid to end their Champions League exile.
No-one has more Premier League goals (14) or shots (55) for Arsenal than Aubameyang this season while his total expected goals (xG) is the highest at 9.1 and his xG + xA comes out at a team-high 11.2. Clearly he remains an integral part of the team.
But there are enough reasons that capitalising on Barcelona’s interest would make sense. Management is about big decisions, and for new Gunners coach Arteta, they wouldn’t come much bigger.