Where would Arsenal be without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this season? Well, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be in the Europa League final, with the 29-year-old scoring four times over the semi final victory over Valencia. Without his 22 goals in 30 starts the Gunners’ chance of a top four finish likely would have vanished long before it did.
Indeed, Aubameyang is Arsenal’s main man, their defining talent.
Alexandre Lacazette is a similarly accomplished forward, but the Frenchman doesn’t set the tone at the Emirates Stadium like Aubameyang does. When the past two decades of Gooner history is looked back upon, a few names will illustrate the times – Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry, Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Aubameyang.
The thread that links those names, however, is that they all eventually left North London. Aubameyang, according to reports, could join them in that this summer, with Real Madrid reported to be weighing up a move for the Arsenal striker. Zinedine Zidane is plotting an overhaul of his squad at the Santiago Bernabeu and is willing to spend bigger to capture the Premier League’s joint-top scorer. Somewhere around £80 million is the mooted fee.
Arsenal’s reflex reaction might be to reject any such offer out of hand. Aubameyang is, as already detailed, their top scorer and difference maker. There is already enough work to be done at the Emirates Stadium this summer without having to find a replacement for the Gabonese international. And yet they should take time to consider.
At 29 years old, Aubameyang’s value will only go one way from here. If Arsenal are as tied to their new shrewder, more calculated transfer policy as we are led to believe, this summer presents them with a prime opportunity to achieve maximum sell-on value for one of their assets. Even in the current inflated market, £80 million would be an overblown for a player who will turn 30 next month.
From the player’s perspective, a move away might also appeal more than he is willing to publicly admit. There’s no doubting the connection Aubameyang feels with Arsenal, but for all his brilliance he has achieved very little in terms of tangible silverware over the course of his career, winning just a German and French Cup in over a decade as a professional.
Even if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the Europa League final, sending them into next season’s Champions League, Real Madrid would provide Aubameyang with a stronger platform to win major honours than the Gunners. Things might be a mess at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Real’s route back to the top of the European game is still clearer than Arsenal’s.
Of course, £80 million for Aubameyang would only represent good business if the money was reinvested in the Gunners’ squad. Even in the event of his departure, Arsenal’s need would be greater in defence than in attack. That money would come in handy as Unai Emery reinforces his backline, especially as Arsenal seem unwilling to open the chequebook very often.
The project of Arsenal’s restoration will be a long one. In a sense, their rebuild will be conducted more in the manner of a basketball team or an American sports side that has to trade and barter their way back to the top. Regardless of whether their fans believe they should have the financial clout to spend big, Arsenal look unlikely to spend in the manner that Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs have in recent years.
It’s with this context in mind that Real Madrid’s apparent interest for Aubameyang must be weighed up. Selling the 29-year-old would be in line with the ideology and strategy now in place at the Emirates Stadium. It might go against the grain of orthodox thought, against the desires of their own fans, but Real Might may give Arsenal a chance to move forward, even if it means taking a step backwards first.