Mikel Arteta admits the decision to strip Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the Arsenal captaincy has left him “sad”, not least because he views one of the key responsibilities of a coach is to get the best from his players.
Following a second disciplinary breach within 10 months, the Gabon international has had the armband taken off him and now faces a spell on the sidelines while the club tries to figure out if its relationship with its highest-paid player can be rehabilitated.
While Arteta went public with the news ahead of last weekend’s win over Southampton, he’s steadfastly refused to discuss the specifics of the incidents that have led to such drastic action and what was said behind closed doors to the player.
One thing is clear, the beaming smiles that were on show for the cameras when Arteta watched Aubameyang pen his contract in September 2020 are a distant memory.
“I feel really sad,” said Arteta when asked where his relationship with Aubameyang now stands.
“I wouldn’t like to be in this position not with him or any player to make these kind of decisions because at the end, the formula of a coach is when you try to help a player to become a better person, to be happy, to be fulfilled as a player and to enjoy on that pitch.
“At the moment, with that decision, Auba is not going to be able to do that. For me, it’s just a sadness.”
It’s not the first time that a player has fallen foul of Arteta’s rules since the Spaniard took over. Matteo Guendouzi was frozen out following a spate of incidents and there was a clash of personalities with Mesut Ozil that saw the German excluded from the squad.
While many might question his man-management track record, there’s no doubting the consistency with which Arteta has demanded his players adhere to the fabled “non-negotiables”.
On that, he said: “I’m here to make the right decisions every day and to defend the club and to be consistent is something that we want to do on and off the field. We have to be consistent in our decision making.
He added: “What I expect from any person representing this football club and badge is passion, that they give absolutely 100 per cent, that they put the club in front of any personal interests and are able to fulfil the badge that we have on that chest.
“Apart from that, you can listen to individuals, you can understand different cultures but that commitment, that passion has to be there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t [with Aubameyang].”
Although the latest coming together between high-profile star and the club’s management has set the football fraternity’s collective tongues wagging, the boss maintains he’s making progress on fixing the club’s culture, something he felt had been seriously eroded in the time between him leaving as a player and returning as coach.
“We have come very, very far,” said Arteta. “You can probably only see that when you’re around here but you can see it also in the energy and the togetherness around the team when they play together. But, we’re still not there. We’ve had another incident and that reflects that we’re still not there.”
As things stand, Arteta has decided not to appoint a new captain and instead says he’ll rely on the existing “leadership group”. Granit Xhaka (stripped of the captaincy under Unai Emery), Alex Lacazette and Rob Holding are amongst those who’ve worn the armband already this season and it’s expected they will continue to share the duty, although the boss wouldn’t name those he’ll be leaning on.
“Auba won’t be part of that leadership group,” said Arteta. “I can’t tell you who is in that list now.
“The decision that we have taken as a club is very clear, it’s because we believe that he has failed to be committed at the level that we all expect and agreed. It’s as simple as that.”