If only Kurt Zouma knew how easy it would be to make Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang disappear. Had he thought to ask him about his Arsenal future just as he dropped that slippery shoulder, he might have changed the course of history.
Aubameyang raced through the post-match interviews much as he did the Chelsea defence, leaving a trail of interrogators holding a mic at thin air. The man of the match was an accommodating fellow when talking us through the joys of winning the FA Cup. Whether he will be back to defend it was the question the moment demanded.
Aubameyang’s silence on the matter leaves the Arsenal diaspora balancing euphoria and dread. Whatever the cost of extending a contract that has a year to run Arsenal must pay it. That assumes the issue troubling him is money. Aubameyang turned 31 in June. Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League, ten points behind the collapsing Chelsea team they beat at Wembley. The club’s 14th FA Cup triumph guaranteed Arsenal European football with passage into the Europa League. But the Champions League lite is not where Aubameyang wants to be. He did not leave Dortmund two years ago to potter about in mid table or in Europe’s lesser league.
Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta, right, peppered the post-match discussion with optimistic soundbites. We have spoken, he knows he is loved by the players, we want to build the team around him, that sort of thing.
Arteta has made an obvious difference at Arsenal. If Aubameyang were 21 glowing projections about the future might be persuasive. Sunny vistas become less compelling with age. Older ears are more attuned to the present.
Though Arsenal can point to an FA Cup success plus victories over Liverpool and Manchester City in the past month, the reality is they were bossed about the park by the Premier League juggernauts and had Chelsea’s own superstar Christian Pulisic stayed upright ten seconds longer the sliding door through which Aubameyang dinked Arsenal to victory at Wembley might never have opened.
Aubameyang’s reticence has about it the whiff of a done deal, at least in his own head, reminding this observer of the 2008 evasions of Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s genius then was to persuade Ronaldo to stay for one season more. The difference being Ronaldo was just 23 and had a suitor prepared to wait in Real Madrid. The clock is ticking for Aubameyang. If he wants to dot the latter days of his career with moments even more substantial than this, the reality is his prospects are better served elsewhere.
What might Chelsea give to have Aubameyang leading the line for a season or two? Ahead inside five minutes thanks to a finish by Pulisic that matched Aubameyang’s for quality, Chelsea were ultimately undone by a season-long frailty in attack as much as defence. Frank Lampard’s juggling of Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud was an exercise in papering cracks. The arrival of Timo Werner and pursuit of Kai Havertz is proof of that.
The loss of Willian beforehand and Pulisic after 46 minutes deprived Chelsea of innovation. The early departure of skipper Cesar Azpilicueta destabilised an already unconvincing back line and the dismissal of Mateo Kovacic to a ridiculous red card 17 minutes from time, was a kick in the teeth that summed up Chelsea’s day. This was a match too far them, and it’s not over yet. At least the trip to Munich in the Champions League is not invested with hope.
Lampard impressed in defeat with an honest appraisal that acknowledged his team’s failings and the brilliance of Arsenal’s talismanic skipper. For all Lampard’s disappointment Arteta would snap his hand off for a crack at next season with the resources available to the Chelsea coach.
Arteta was his usual ball of Pepisms in the technical area, a ceaseless giver of instructions through a kind of signing. Thus through a sequence of pointy hand gestures, accompanied by exhortations and dramatic, striding thrusts redolent of flamenco dancers, did he convey his instructions.
Not that Aubameyang was paying much attention. You can’t teach what he has, the gift of freezing opponents in time and slipping into another dimension.
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