Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have been the latest Arsenal player that truly roused the excitement of the fans upon arrival, but his departure represents one of a few the club have let go through the back door in recent seasons.
The Gabon striker has left for Barcelona on a free transfer after exactly four years at Emirates Stadium in which he scored 92 goals in 163 games and captained the club to their 14th FA Cup crown.
But the breakdown in his relationship with boss Mikel Arteta after at least three disciplinary breaches means Arsenal fans will always be left with a bitter taste in the mouth when discussing his career in north London.
Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has joined Barcelona after four years at Arsenal
Of course there was nothing but unreserved joy among the fanbase when Arsenal sealed a £58million move for Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund on deadline day in January 2018, representing Arsene Wenger’s last ever signing.
The striker’s impact – unsurprisingly given that he managed at least 15 goals in each season at Dortmund – was instant, getting off the mark on his debut in a 5-1 victory at home against Everton.
He went on to score another nine Premier League goals in 12 appearances in the second half of the 2017-18 season, and the standard had been set after his impeccable adaption to English football.
That level however was raised the following season with Unai Emery now in charge in what was undeniably his best goalscoring campaign, albeit arguably not his most significant.
The Gabon international joined the Gunners in 2018 as Arsene Wenger’s final ever signing
A return of 22 Premier League goals in 36 games saw him share the Golden Boot with Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
The Gunners failed to make the Champions League places yet again, but it demonstrated the levels at which Aubameyang was operating at, with no Arsenal striker since Robin van Persie in the 2011-12 season having won the Golden Boot.
The Gabon striker would end up with 31 goals in all competitions, with a further eight goals in the Europa League – including a stunning hat-trick in the second leg of the semi-final at Valencia – seeing Arsenal make the final before their Baku hiding against Chelsea.
And even as Arsenal’s and his form dipped in the first half of the 2019-20 season prior to Emery’s sacking, his role remained crucial.
Aubameyang was made club captain after Granit Xhaka’s foul-mouthed rant at the fans against Crystal Palace, and he seemed to raise morale at the club through his close friendship with Alexandre Lacazette.
Aubameyang won the Golden Boot in his first full season after leaving Borussia Dortmund
A strong connection with the fans and taking the likes of Matteo Guendouzi and current club record signing Nicolas Pepe under his wing demonstrated that while he was not the most vocal player, he was critical for the squad and the fanbase.
Then with Freddie Ljungberg and subsequently Mikel Arteta’s arrival saw a swift upturn in his form, and by the end of the season he had matched his Premier League tally of the previous season. But come the end of the season there were two reasons why that went under the radar.
The first was that Aubameyang’s contract was about to enter its final year, and without Champions League football in 2020-21 the club’s chances of holding on to their talisman appeared bleak.
Luckily, the second reason played a huge part in the first. Aubameyang played a significant role in leading Arsenal to a 14th FA Cup in the summer of 2020, scoring the two goals in the semi-final to knock out holders Manchester City before another brace helped them come from behind to beat Chelsea in the final.
Fans fondly remember his issues with lifting the trophy, taking the base with him and then dropping the lid at the first attempt. But he laughed it off with his infectious smile at Wembley, leading to hope he had finally found the club where he would spend the rest of his career.
He subsequently led Arsenal to a 14th FA Cup crown after scoring a brace in the Wembley final
He would lift the trophy as captain, and represents his only piece of silverware at the club
That hope appeared to become reality when a new three-year, £350,000-per-week deal was confirmed the following month, after which the Gabon striker spoke of wanting to follow in record goalscorer Thierry Henry’s footsteps and create a ‘legacy’ at the club and become a legend.
But just as Mesut Ozil before him, the bumper new contract appeared to mark the beginning of the end for the player – rather than the start of a new era – and a number of lows.
An abundance of chances were no longer being created for him at the start of the 2020-21 season due to creativity issues in midfield and he often found himself out wide more than in the penalty box.
As Arsenal slumped to as low as 15th in the table, Aubameyang scored just three Premier League goals between September 2020 and the start of the new year, and even put through his own net in a 1-0 home defeat by Burnley.
His form somewhat improved in 2021 but he still lacked the regularity of scoring in consecutive games which had characterised his first two-and-a-half years at Arsenal. And when on-field issues appeared, so too did they off the field.
Aubameyang led a relaxed life off the field at Arsenal and often shows off his cars on social media
He signed a new three-year, £350,000-per-week contract at the club in September 2020
Aubameyang was dropped to the bench for the north London derby victory in March last year for ‘disciplinary reasons’, allegedly referring to arriving late for a squad meeting. Arteta had sent out his first and ultimately only warning shot.
Contracting malaria and Arsenal’s inconsistency also played their part in a poor year for Aubameyang, whose 10 league goals represented his worst league return in a full campaign since his split term at Monaco and Saint-Etienne during the 2010-11 season.
There were however hopes that with a rejuvenated squad through the additions of younger talent last summer, Aubameyang would be able to recharge and guide a refreshed side in a hopefully transformative campaign.
The possibility of that was enhanced with his goal in the north London derby in September, replicating Henry’s infamous knee slide in front of the Spurs fans and later declaring he hoped his children would follow the likes of Emile Smith Rowe by joining the academy and making it into the first team.
But it signalled a downturn in form soon after as Arsenal dropped as low as 15th in the table
He was then dropped to the bench against Spurs last year after a disciplinary breach
But ultimately the Spurs game was just a flash in the pan. He scored just four league goals this season and he went goalless in his final six Premier League appearances for Arsenal, while his shortcomings in terms of being a vocal captain were also called into question.
This time there was no excuse for a lack of creativity. Martin Odegaard has emerged as another leading figure at Arsenal and Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka have provided plenty of opportunities for their team-mates.
Moreover, when Aubameyang was not demonstrating leadership through his goals and performances, very rarely did he represent a leader in any other aspect, often only fronting up for interviews when the team had won bar the defeat at Man City.
Instead, pundits suggested a rift between him and Arteta had developed after being substituted in a defeat at Manchester United when the Gunners were trailing, and then later Gary Neville believed the duo’s relationship had turned ‘sour’ after he missed a gilt-edged chance to net a last-gasp equaliser at Everton.
There was hope of an upturn in form this season after netting against Tottenham in September
But he lost form again and his final touch for the club was a glaring miss late on at Everton
But that effort would be his last touch in a Gunners shirt, and despite having pre-empted a breakdown in their relationship, few pundits would have predicted what happened next.
Arteta revealed in mid-December an indefinite omission from the squad for Aubameyang following a third disciplinary breach under his leadership, having returned late from a trip to France to visit his sick mother.
The Gabonese international was subsequently stripped of the captaincy and forced to train away from the group. Many hoped the Africa Cup of Nations would help clear the air and lead to the duo perhaps rebuilding their relationship in the second half of this season.
Instead, the January transfer window has offered a swifter resolution and the player the chance to end his nightmare, albeit as another big name to have left Arsenal without much of a farewell.
Aubameyang kept the club going when they were not an attractive team to play for, and yet his departure without reaching a century of goals for the club appears unjust, albeit necessary in the circumstances if the Gunners’ rebuild is to continue this summer.
Arteta then stripped him of the captaincy after another disciplinary breach, sealing his fate at the club