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Aubameyang & captaincy? Why it can't work with no Arsenal contract talks

COMMENT: More points dropped at home. More jeers from the home support. And against a struggling Southampton, no less. The question is: can he still lift them? Can he convince Arsenal's players to go forward with him... Unai Emery? Oh no, we're talking about the captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang...

There's a lot wrong at Arsenal today. It's not catastrophic. And the remedy could be as simple as a scrappy three points. But working their way through this slump can't be helped knowing their new skipper isn't buying into the project.

Aubameyang's popular amongst the players. As he is with the fans. And given his profile and the paucity (so they say) of alternatives, Emery's decision to hand him the club captaincy after Xhaka's meltdown does bear argument.

But with his deal ticking down. With the Catalan press full of talk of a 2020 Barcelona move. And with his own reluctance to consider new contract talks. What - as the prime leader of this football club - message is Aubameyang sending to teammates? To youth teamers? To even the fans? How can this Arsenal, which are not yet 18 months into their post-Wenger rebuild, work towards a future when the captain is looking elsewhere?

Come January, Aubameyang will have less than 18 months to run on his existing deal. And with Barcelona hovering, he's told club powerbrokers Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham to forget about scheduling any type of meeting regarding contract negotiations. He's not interested. At least, not until he knows if he will be playing Champions League football next season.

However, in Spain they go further. Aubameyang likes the idea of succeeding Luis Suarez as the club's new No9 - and a top four finish for the Gunners may not even be enough. Indeed, it could simply get down to Barca's willingness to pay big money for a player who will be 31 in June. Inside La Masia they're convinced: Arsenal's new captain has bigger ambitions.

Which is why Gunners fans can throw away that pinch of salt. Alfie Haaland wasn't on a sightseeing trip in London last week. He didn't just happen to be in the area and stumble through London Colney's gates. The father of Erling Haaland, RB Salzburg's uber-coveted striker, met with Arsenal's football directors Sanllehi and Edu with a specific purpose. And given all the chat last week in Barcelona about Aubameyang, anyone paying close attention can put two and two together and get near enough to four.

With his son a wanted man across Europe, a courtesy visit to Arsenal just doesn't fit into Alf-Inge's approach. Indeed, it doesn't fit the former Manchester City and Leeds United midfielder's persona. If there was no interest on the player's side, Haaland would not have been in North London last week.

But at Arsenal, we know that three into two doesn't go. Indeed, given Emery's favoured system, we know two into one doesn't go. Just ask Alexandre Lacazette. So why would Haaland be seriously considering Arsenal when even Lacazette isn't guaranteed a regular start?

Record after record. Hat-trick after hat-trick. Haaland has been this European season's revelation. All power and pace, direct and with the ability to finish from all angles and from distance, Haaland's best attributes does remind you of someone...

But he's still raw and Alf-Inge has recognised the next move must see his son maintain a regular start to continue his progress. If it had just been about money and prestige, Erling would already be a Juventus player - having personally turned down the Bianconeri last January. And it must be said, Alf-Inge hasn't made any high-profile trips to Vinovo this year.

So why Arsenal and not Juve? Could it be there's an opening about to be created? One that messrs Sanllehi and Edu are moving to fill - and one which is also attractive to the Haaland camp?

No matter the motivation, credit is due Arsenal's front office for convincing Alf-Inge to visit London Colney. The pitch clearly worked. And just as an aside - a development that deserves more from Arsenal's board than trying to shoehorn into the club's football management team another voice.

David O'Leary is a good Arsenal man. And he was an excellent manager. It's one of those frustrating aspects of this industry that someone can be lost to the game at the peak of his powers as O'Leary has.

But the push from inside boardroom to add the former Leeds United and Aston Villa manager to Sanllehi's team smacks of superfluous - even undermining - actions by certain directors.

To bring in O'Leary. To give him veto power. It'd just be undermining the work of a management team - with Edu in place - not six months old. And from the boardroom to the locker room, there's too much that happening inside Arsenal these days.

It's not been a conscious attempt by Aubameyang, but his contract status speaks volumes. For a team in transition. With a new culture attempting to be built. The dressing room's young players need a captain who is 'all in'.

It's a struggle to see how Aubameyang can lift his teammates when they know he's not 100 per cent on-board.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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