Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left out of Arsenal’s squad for Saturday’s 3-0 win over Southampton due to what Mikel Arteta described as a “disciplinarily breach”.
Asked why Aubameyang – who did not train with the Arsenal squad on Friday – was omitted, Arteta said: “I think we have been very consistent that we have certain non-negotiables in the team that we have set ourselves as a club, and he’s not involved today.”
It is not the first time Aubameyang has fallen foul of Arteta’s “non-negotiables” – he was also dropped from the north London derby in March after reporting late for a team meeting – and he is not the first Arsenal captain to have courted controversy or fallen out of favour. In fact, the club’s captaincy has been dogged by difficulties for more than a decade.
The problems began when Arsene Wenger handed the armband to William Gallas following Thierry Henry’s departure in August 2007. It was not a popular decision among supporters and it went down poorly in the dressing room too. “We had learned of his appointment in the papers and we all shook our heads,” wrote Jens Lehmann in his autobiography.
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Arsenal started the season strongly, but it all unravelled during a fateful 2-2 draw with Birmingham City in February, when Gallas reacted furiously to Gael Clichy’s late concession of a penalty and staged a sit-down protest in the centre circle at St Andrew’s after the final whistle.
His behaviour was heavily criticised, with Lehmann likening the defender to a “sulky child” and revealing he clashed with Gilberto Silva in the dressing room afterwards. Gallas kept hold of the captaincy initially, but was stripped of the armband after criticising team-mates in November 2008.
Cesc Fabregas played for eight years under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal
Wenger went for youth over experience with his next appointment as he named Cesc Fabregas as Arsenal captain. The 21-year-old embodied the club’s new emphasis on youth and seemed to relish the responsibility, his performances in 2009/10, when he contributed 15 goals and 13 assists in the Premier League, earning him a place in the PFA Team of the Year.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, though, Fabregas became increasingly frustrated by a lack of silverware, and the pull of boyhood club Barcelona eventually proved too strong. His departure in 2011 was emotional but some supporters were upset by what they perceived to be a lack of loyalty.
Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie left Arsenal for Manchester United
Robin van Persie’s captaincy was a similar story – although it left a far more bitter aftertaste. The Dutchman, who finally seemed to have put his injury issues behind him in the previous campaign, produced the best season of his career as Arsenal’s captain in 2011/12, scoring 30 Premier League goals and scooping the domestic player of the year awards.
But it soon became apparent that he was unwilling to sign a new contract, leaving Arsenal with little choice but to cash in before losing him for nothing a year later. His decision to join Manchester United, and the publication of an ill-judged statement, was met with predictable fury by supporters.
Thomas Vermaelen spent five seasons at Arsenal
The decision to name Thomas Vermaelen as captain seemed logical at the time but the Belgian’s form suffered after he took the armband in the 2012/13 season, eventually costing him his place in the side as Wenger favoured a centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
Vermaelen remained club captain in the following season, but he struggled to recapture his best form and his efforts to win back his place in the team were not helped by injury issues. He departed for Barcelona in 2014 having only made 21 appearances in his final campaign in north London.
Mikel Arteta bid an emotional farewell to Arsenal as a player in 2016
Before he was manager, Mikel Arteta was captain. The Spaniard helped Arsenal through a difficult period following his arrival from Everton in 2011, but his captaincy, confirmed after Vermaelen’s departure in August of 2014, was blighted by injury.
The Spaniard only made 11 starts in the 2014/15 season due to a calf injury, and while he did sign a one-year contract extension ahead of the following campaign, his fitness problems persisted, limiting him to only two starts in all competitions all season.
He made his final appearance as a substitute on the final day of the campaign before accepting a job on Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff at Manchester City. Little did anyone know that only three years after his emotional goodbye at the Emirates Stadium, Arteta would be returning as manager.
Per Mertesacker is now the head of Arsenal’s academy
Arsenal fans were left scratching their heads when Wenger opted to hand the armband to Per Mertesacker in the summer of 2016, despite the centre-back being sidelined by a serious knee injury.
The German was a fan favourite who had been a loyal servant to the club, but his injury problems meant that, in two years as Arsenal’s captain, he only made 14 appearances. That total included a man-of-the-match showing in the 2017 FA Cup final win over Chelsea, but Mertesacker retired a year later before taking over as the head of the club’s academy.
Laurent Koscielny forced through a move to Bordeaux in the summer of 2019
Like Mertesacker, centre-back Laurent Koscielny was injured when he was appointed as captain in August of 2018 but he did at least return to fitness in the second half of the campaign, helping Unai Emery’s side reach the Europa League final and putting his body on the line to help the team.
The Frenchman was viewed as a model professional after almost a decade of distinguished service, but he reacted angrily when a transfer request was rejected in July 2019, refusing to join the club’s pre-season tour and eventually forcing through a move to Bordeaux.
Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy in November 2019
After a lengthy delay, Emery confirmed Granit Xhaka as Arsenal’s new captain in September 2019, six weeks into the new campaign. The Swiss international won a players’ vote for the armband, but his captaincy proved the most disastrous yet.
Xhaka, who had already been jeered by his own fans earlier in the season, reacted angrily to being substituted during a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in October, cupping his ear to the crowd, removing his shirt and storming straight down the tunnel at the Emirates Stadium.
Xhaka has since rebuilt his relationship with the club’s fans but one of Emery’s last actions before his sacking was to strip him of the captaincy, meaning his official ownership of the armband lasted less than two months.
Emery named Aubameyang as Arsenal’s new captain after taking the armband off Xhaka and Arteta decided to stick with the striker after taking over as manager a few weeks later.
The decision seemed to pay off initially, with Aubameyang leading Arsenal to FA Cup glory in August 2020 and scoring his 28th and 29th goals of the season in the final, but his form dipped after he signed a new long-term contract a few weeks after that.
The 32-year-old scored only 15 goals last season, his lowest total since the 2010/11 campaign, and if his form was not enough of a worry, disciplinary issues began to arise too. Aubameyang kept hold of the armband after his indiscretion against Tottenham last season, but it remains to be seen what happens this time.
The curse of the Arsenal captaincy continues.