Hero or villain – how will Aubameyang be remembered if he leaves Arsenal?

The Gunners skipper has just one year left on his contract and admits he has not yet decided whether he will stay at the Emirates Stadium
When Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leads Arsenal out onto the pitch at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night, he will be two weeks away from entering the final year of his contract.

And by the time the now-prolonged Premier League season comes to an end and the FA Cup final brings down the curtain on the English domestic campaign on August 1, the Gabon international will have just 10 months left on the deal he signed when he arrived from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

It leaves Arsenal in a terrible position, with the prospect of Aubameyang leaving the club – either for a cut price deal this summer or on a free transfer in 2021 – growing more real with each day that passes.

“Recently I have not received an offer to extend,” Aubameyang said while discussing his future during an interview with Telefoot over the weekend.

“We have had exchanges with the club, for a fair few months now. And they know very well why so far nothing has happened.

“They have the keys. It’s up to them to do their work and after that we will see how things go.

“It is a turning point in my career, and I will be very frank with everyone, it will certainly be a very difficult decision to make. I still have not decided. It will maybe be the most important decision of my career.”

There was a slight chance Aubameyang could have left in January, with Chelsea and Barcelona showing interest, but Arsenal were adamant that nothing less than £50 million ($63m) would do. Neither club were willing to pay that much for the striker.

So Aubameyang stayed put and, at that time, the Arsenal hierarchy would have been thinking that should they not be able to convince the former AC Milan star to sign a new contract, they would have at least been able to recoup around £35m ($44m) for him in the summer.

But with football now plunged firmly into a financial crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, the prospect of any club offering that type of money for a 31-year-old striker with 10 months left on his contract is slim.

That leaves Arsenal with a big decision to make.

If Aubameyang makes it clear once the season comes to an end that he will not be signing an extension, they must decide whether to sell for a fraction of his worth, or allow him to leave on a free transfer next summer.

And should they opt to try and cash-in, that would mean that Wednesday night’s game at Manchester City could be the first of Aubameyang’s swansong at Arsenal. The Gunners’ top scorer and captain could have just 10 Premier League games left at the club.

So how would he be remembered if this is the start of his final hurrah? What would Aubameyang’s legacy be in north London if he were to leave at the end of the season?

Well, his legacy would certainly be goals. There have been plenty of them, and they have come at a hugely impressive rate.

Aubameyang has scored 61 times in 97 appearances in all competitions since making the move from Germany. In the Premier League he has 49 from just 75 appearances. Only Mohamed Salah (50) has more in the same time frame.

He averages 0.66 goals per game in the top flight, putting him above some of the Premier League’s most legendary forwards, including Robin van Persie (0.51), Didier Drogba (0.41), Alan Shearer (0.59), Ruud van Nistelrooy (0.63) and Wayne Rooney (0.42).

Perhaps more impressive, is the fact he averages a league goal every 123 minutes in England – only three players – Thierry Henry, Harry Kane and Sergio Aguero – have better ratios since the Premier League began in 1993.

And when you consider Aubameyang has been scoring at that rate in an Arsenal side which has struggled since his arrival, it makes his record even more impressive.

The Gunners finished fifth in 2017-18, sixth in 2018-19 and now sit ninth ahead of the league’s resumption this time around. Aubameyang may have brought goals with him since he signed, but he has not brought success. In fact, Arsenal look further away from challenging for top honours than they have in a long time.

So few could blame the frontman for moving on, should he decide not to put pen to paper on a new deal in north London. He is 31 now and knows this will more than likely be his last big move. If the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain do come knocking, Arsenal fans could have few complaints if Aubameyang does opt for a move elsewhere.

Many may point to similarities with the Van Persie situation in 2012. Like Aubameyang, the Dutchman had one year left on his contract when he left the Emirates Stadium to join Manchester United.

He was Arsenal’s captain at the time, again like Aubameyang, and had just come off a season which had seen him score 44 goals in 57 games for club and country.

But despite those goals, Van Persie was vilified and remains hated by large swathes of the Arsenal fanbase today. The moment he publicly decided to quit Arsenal, his legacy was tarnished.

There are differences between the two, however, which mean Aubameyang should not be viewed in the same way as Van Persie.

Van Persie left just at a time when he had started to fulfil his potential at Arsenal. He had endured several injury-ravaged campaigns prior to his final two seasons at the club and his temperament was called into question more than once due to his off-field behaviour.

Many clubs would have cut their losses, but Arsenal – and perhaps more importantly Arsene Wenger – stood by him and gave him the platform to eventually become a world class striker.

So for Van Persie to then leave when Wenger needed him the most was exceptionally tough to take, and you can understand why many connected with the club still view his departure as an act of betrayal.

For Aubameyang, however, it is different. He does not owe Arsenal anything. He arrived when he was 28 and has delivered what was expected of him. He won the Premier League’s Golden Boot in his first full season in north London and has an opportunity to win it again this time around.

The club brought him in when he was at his peak to score goals, and that is exactly what he has done. It is not Aubameyang’s fault that the players he has around him have not been able to take advantage of that, or that the club have failed to address the need to improve the defence in the transfer market.

Off the pitch, Aubameyang has been excellent as well. He arrived with question marks over his attitude, but has kept himself in excellent shape, has rarely missed a game and is a hugely popular member of the squad – as was highlighted when his team-mates voted overwhelmingly for him to be named captain.

So if talks over a new deal fail to find an agreement and Aubameyang does leave at the end of the season his legacy at Arsenal will be one of a missed opportunity.

On his part, he would have done all he could to get the club back competing at the top level again. Unfortunately those around him in the team and those above him making the decisions in the corridors of power at the Emirates will have been unable to live up to his standards.