By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insists he was not the “problem” which caused Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave for Barcelona – but instead was trying to be the solution to ongoing issues with the striker.
Aubameyang left the Emirates Stadium last week after becoming the latest player to agree a contract termination with the club, allowing him to sign for the Catalan giants on a free transfer.
The 32-year-old had not played for Arsenal since December after he was dropped and stripped of the club captaincy by Arteta as a disciplinary measure after returning late from an agreed break.
Mr Debut! pic.twitter.com/4tIGeBP9nv
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 6, 2022
Asked at his unveiling as a Barcelona player what had happened in north London, Aubameyang replied: “I think it was a problem just with him (Arteta).
“I can’t really tell you much. He wasn’t happy and that was it. I can’t say anything else because that’s what happened. I wasn’t very happy and I’m better this way.”
Arteta, though, countered those claims as he addressed the media on the eve of Arsenal’s Premier League trip to Wolves.
“You ask the question directly to me, so I respond. I am extremely grateful for what Auba has done at the club, for his contribution since I have been here and the way I see myself in that relationship is the solution, not the problem,” he said.
“What I am saying is that I’ve been this solution, 100 per cent, I can look in the eye of anybody.
“I do lot of things wrong, for sure. But the intention all the time is the best – and not for me, it is for the club and for the team.”
It is not the first time Arteta has won a battle of wills with the club’s top earner after Mesut Ozil was ostracised from the first-team before he left for Fenerbahce in January 2021 after his contract was terminated.
Such decisions may raise eyebrows but Arteta believes they are in the best long-term interests of the club.
“I don’t send (a message),” he said.
“It is not me here, it is the club and we make the decisions to defend the club, to try and improve the club as much as possible to respect the values and traditions of this club.
“Obviously you talk much more about the difficult decisions than the positive ones. But there are far more positive decisions than difficult ones .
“But those ones (terminating contracts), at the end, I think they will become very, very positive as well but today that is probably difficult to see.”
Asked if the club were now past the point where they had to release players from their contracts, Arteta added: “Hopefully, but the turn-around of the squad, when we had that many things to do and we have already seen the amount of changes and the contractual situations that are very much attached to those players are really difficult to handle.
“If we want to thin the squad to have the capacity to evolve and improve it you have to make those decisions when you have the opportunity.
“Sometimes you want to do it and you don’t have (the opportunity), sometimes you have but the player doesn’t want to do so.
“We believe it was the right thing to do. But as always only results will tell when you are right or wrong. That ball has to be in the net.”
The onus on scoring those goals to keep alive Arsenal’s top-four ambitions in the absence of Aubameyang now fall on Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah.
Both men have less than six months remaining on their respective contracts but Arteta has backed them to fill the void – despite scoring just three Premier League goals between them so far this season.
“Auba’s trajectory at the club and the importance of his goals is unquestionable,” Arteta said, also confirming Lacazette will captain the side for the time being.
“But we have other players, and we believe we have other qualities in different ways to try to accomplish the amount of goals that we need in the team. That’s what we are going to try to do.”