Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang contract saga concludes with happy ending but the coup comes at a cost for Arsenal

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang contract saga concludes with happy ending but the coup comes at a cost for Arsenal
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang contract saga concludes with happy ending but the coup comes at a cost for Arsenal

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - “Signing for this special club was never in doubt,” proclaimed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But plenty doubted amid the uncertainty that abounded in a dark winter. Yet Mikel Arteta has radiated confidence recently and his captain committed his future to Arsenal on Tuesday. A saga had a happy ending.

It felt a triumph that derived from Arteta’s persuasive powers and the evidence of improvement in his reign, which in turn was powered by Aubameyang. The one indisputably world-class player at the Emirates Stadium is tied down until 2023.

At his current rate of progress, Aubameyang could be behind only Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Cliff Bastin on the leaderboard of Arsenal’s all-time goalscorers by then.

It remains salient that only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Aubameyang have scored 20 league goals in the top five divisions in Europe in each of the last five seasons and the Gabonese has often done it in inferior sides. He would get in the Barcelona team now but is staying at officially England’s eighth best side.

But a coup comes with a cost. Aubameyang’s contract is reportedly worth £250,000 (Dh1.2 million) a week. Willian earns a six-figure sum a week. Each is formidably fit and the top scorer remains electric. Neither is showing any signs of decline. But they are 31 and 32 and will that still be the case when each remains on the books in 2023? In their quest to return to the Champions League, have they traded short-term gain for potential long-term pain by mortgaging the future?

Arsenal already represent the cautionary tale about a supersized contract. Mesut Ozil will carry on collecting £350,000 a week until next summer even though he has not featured since March and, one game into his Gunners career, Willian already has as many assists for the club in the last 13 months.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Emiliano Martinez left for Aston Villa. Like Aubameyang, the Argentine was one of the heroes of Arsenal’s FA Cup win. His departure reflected a desire to play first-team football, but also illustrated that Arsenal are having to claw back some of the money they are spending.

His £20m fee could be very excessive, considering a perennial understudy’s summer excellence could be too small a sample size to determine his quality, or a bargain, as Martinez had the division’s best save percentage last season.

But Arsenal, who made a £27m loss in 2018/19 when their matchday revenue was £96m, leaving them vulnerable in a world without crowds, face awkward decisions. They would have hoped to fund deals by losing Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi, but both linger, obdurately unsold.

Likewise, both Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Sead Kolasinac remain Gunners, even though defensive arrivals render them surplus to requirements. Sometimes the unwanted are unsellable.

And so a delicate balancing act could entail losing assets beyond Martinez. Arsenal were considering sacrificing the Wolves target Ainsley Maitland-Niles before an inspired showing in the Community Shield prompted a rethink.

Hector Bellerin is the first-choice right-back, another product of the youth system and Aubameyang’s potential successor as captain, but Paris Saint-Germain’s interest and the reality he would command a decent fee means the Spaniard could be sold.

Aubameyang’s striking sidekick and close friend Alexandre Lacazette is another in the select group with admirers and value and if there is a logic to trading him to Atletico Madrid for Thomas Partey, it would leave Arsenal more reliant on Aubameyang for goals.

It would feel a shame, too, if Lucas Torreira were to go, even if he is one of the few who has not benefited from Arteta’s arrival. Aubameyang has assumed responsibility wonderfully of late, but he may need to take on even more soon.

Updated: September 16, 2020 03:21 PM

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