Arsenal and decisive action haven’t necessarily gone hand-in-hand in recent years.
But in agreeing to terminate the contract of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on transfer deadline day, the Gunners have not only offloaded a clearly unwanted player, they’ve backed Mikel Arteta and saved themselves a pile of cash.
The striker’s departure to Barcelona fits a recent pattern at the Emirates Stadium that can only be seen as a sensible plan of action.
First it was Mesut Ozil, who saw his contract terminated early in January last year so he could complete a move to Fenerbahce.
Then the mutual agreement last summer for Willian to return to his boyhood club Corinthians.
And now Aubameyang, just as the clock was ticking down towards the transfer deadline on Monday night.
These are no fringe players or unknowns. The situations vary slightly but each was, at least for a time, a prominent member of the Arsenal team. They are big names and huge earners. No doubt their exits irked some of the fanbase.
But Arsenal saw little point in any of them hanging around beyond their shelf life and rightly so. Ultimately, all had either underwhelmed with their performances or had outcast status after friction with the manager. There was no need to beg them to stay.
That’s because, for the first time in a good while, there is the feeling of forward momentum around Arsenal.
While recent results have seen Arteta’s side stall a little, and the cup exits were disappointing, they are still just two points off a finishing position that would see them return to the Champions League. That is the main target, after all.
There was no logic in allowing Aubameyang, who hasn’t played for the club since a late return from a visit to France in December saw Arteta strip him of the captaincy, to loiter around until his contract expired next summer.
Even if there hadn’t been the Africa Cup of Nations or the scare over ‘heart lesions’ following a bout of Covid – Aubameyang has since been given the all-clear – it’s highly unlikely he would be in the Arsenal side right now.
Arsenal could have worried about being light on strikers – and this may yet come back to haunt them – but if there was no chance of Aubameyang being reintegrated, what’s the point of him being around the club?
As Arteta tries to focus minds on that final push for the top four, the last thing he needs is the distraction of questions about Aubameyang training alone in exile.
There’s the obvious financial benefit. Arsenal were happy to let Aubameyang leave for nothing because they will save around £20million on his £350,000-a-week salary between now and the end of the season. According to The Times, they were even content to pay the striker nearly £7m to cut ties, knowing that they would still end up better off at the end of it.
But it offers Arteta a vote of confidence too. It was the manager who grew frustrated with Aubameyang’s breaches of discipline and who dropped him despite a scoring record of 92 goals in 163 games since 2018.
It suggests that the Spaniard will have the backing of the club’s hierarchy even if they miss out on the top four in May.
On paper, their squad looks weaker without Aubameyang, who would have remained more than capable of scoring goals had Arteta needed to swallow his pride and bring him back in.
But instead the manager has been given a clear vote of confidence and it signals that funds will be made available to sign a new striker in the summer.
The decision to rip up the contract of a player who cost the club £56million, a former captain who has scored at a frequent rate and who had netted seven times this season, isn’t taken lightly. But nobody is above the club and the project.
Things had gone badly wrong for Ozil, as well, when Arsenal terminated his contract six months early this time last year.
He never saw eye-to-eye with Arteta even though the manager appreciated Ozil’s contribution to three FA Cup wins during the German’s time with the club.
When football resumed after the three-month pandemic pause in 2020, Ozil was cut out and then didn’t make the Arsenal squad for the Premier League or the Europa League last season.
Arteta always insisted that Ozil had either lacked the physical condition or hadn’t taken his opportunities to get back into the team.
There was little point keeping a redundant player beyond January 2021 and Ozil reportedly gave up some of the £7m Arsenal owed him during the last six months of his contract to sign for Fenerbahce.
It was clear evidence that if you get on the wrong side of the ruthless Arteta, for whatever reason, it’s an awful long way back into favour.
Again though it was prudent of Arsenal to save some outlay on his £350,000-a-week wages following the financial impact of Covid, even if reports suggested they were still paying most of it until last summer.
Ozil shelters under an umbrella from the sun during Arsenal’s match at Southampton during Project Restart in June 2020 – Arteta had frozen him out the team
Willian’s departure towards the end of last summer’s transfer window came more out the blue.
He had two years remaining on his deal but wanted to return to his homeland.
Arsenal would have been well within their rights to force him to stay and honour his deal but instead there was an acknowledgement on both sides his move from Chelsea hadn’t been as successful as hoped.
Willian had scored only one goal in 37 Arsenal matches but had been a popular figure and gave up £20.5m on his £240,000-a-week deal to end his contract early.
Again, Arsenal saw little point in having a player stick around whose heart wasn’t really in it.
At a time when it often seems clubs make players see out their contracts just so they can’t join a rival – look at Jesse Lingard at Manchester United – Arsenal’s policy of terminating contracts seems a sensible one.
Now all they need to do is make sure their season ends on a high.