Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s hilarious drop of the FA Cup trophy acted as neat metaphor. In order for Arsenal to continue succeeding and lifting silverware, they mustn’t lose hold of their captain.
One penalty won and brilliantly converted, followed by a superb second half goal, proved just how vital he is for the future of the club. Any notion of life without him is a terrifying prospect that the club cannot afford to entertain. He must be kept at all costs.
Discussions so heavily centred around the future of the Gabonese forward have not clouded any judgement on Mikel Arteta, though. He has been widely praised from all corners, either by those who’ve worked alongside him or those who’ve heralded him from afar.
While the next steps in the Arsenal rebuild coming to fruition are reliant on Aubameyang signing a new contract, the reality is that the most important figure at the club is not the captain. It’s Arteta.
Before anyone gets ahead of themselves with some preconceived idea that this is in anyway against the 31-year-old, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The man is an elite striker. World class. Arsenal wouldn’t be anywhere without him.
Looking at it from a wider perspective, however, there is simply no denying that of all the assets the club has within its ranks, Arteta is most irreplaceable.
What he has achieved in such a short space of time in the unprecedented circumstances he’s faced is quite miraculous. Arsenal were in disarray. Devoid of life. Empty. Sinking.
A summer of expectation that included a new club record signing was supposed to be the catalyst for change. Unai Emery, with a full season under his belt, was to lead the charge up the table. Arsenal were going to stop being….Arsenal.
Fast forward to December and the toxicity was beyond recognition. He had to go and the club had to reset. Again.
Instilled with the task of averting the atrocity was Arteta, a man with no prior head coach experience. It goes without saying that the challenge he was presented with was among the toughest in Europe. Bravery springs to mind. Madness isn’t far off.
With the same set of players as his predecessor, he has transformed a culture and an environment in next to no time, the kind that could normally take years, not eight months.
You go back to that infamous Frankfurt match and see a group of players that stank of disinterest and misguidance. You go to Wembley and see two performances of heart and direction. The turnaround is quite stupendous, given the tools at his disposal.
Even when January came around he couldn’t adequately alter his squad. Two players came in, both injured, and have made a combined eight appearances in all competitions since.
His work with the players is exemplary, but his ability to connect with people, even those watching through a television screen, is arguably his finest attribute. He demands attention, forces you to listen, embedding his moral code and the eloquent use of his second language in such an effective way. He makes you believe every word he says.
That has clearly transferred into the players, but likewise the supporters. Everyone knows his philosophy, everyone can see his vision. Most importantly of all, everyone has bought into it.
Among all other aspects, this was the most crucial after Emery left. The club, players, supporters and board needed direction. They’ve got that now, and can’t let it slip.
What do I mean by slip? Well, all this talk of needing to convince Aubameyang that he is at the right club rings just as true for Arteta. If he isn’t adequately backed by the club, if he isn’t content with decisions made in the board room, it will be him who needs convincing to stay.
His managerial career is eight months old, yet his stock has risen exponentially and even in this early stage he’s proven himself to be invaluable to Arsenal. More so than anyone else.
Chinks in that seemingly impenetrable armour do exist, of course. Too many points dropped from winning positions and a failure to kill off games are a few of the areas that need addressing. At the moment, he’s doing all he can, but the work is very much in progress.
Securing an 14th FA Cup is the pick-me-up that everyone associated with the club desperately needed. It doesn’t mask over a woeful Premier League campaign, but it maintains the optimism that everyone felt and builds on it.
Aubameyang must sign. He simply must. Without him there is little to no hope of redemption. But if the man in the dugout wasn’t there, we can be fairly certain that Wembley would’ve been his Arsenal swansong. Not only that, but he wouldn’t have actually been there in the first place.
Arteta and Arsenal are now intrinsically connected. Give him the tools he needs to succeed and he will do just that. The message after the game was ‘always forward’. Without Arteta, it’s only backward.
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