As Arsenal scrabble around for goals on the pitch and goal scorers off it, so the fall from grace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becomes harder to truly comprehend. The lowest scorers in the Premier League's top six have one of Europe's most consistent scorers of the last decade on their books and yet, because he returned to England a day later than promised, he is cast out by Mikel Arteta.
Aubameyang could not have saved them from the most torrid of Januarys. He was at the Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon until he was sent back to London for medical checks after a post-COVID scan revealed "heart lesions." Those tests gave the striker the all clear; having not played since Dec. 6, he can now take to the football pitch.
In whose colors that will be is not yet clear. For the fourth year in a row, Arsenal are spending January trying to shift their highest earning player, the veteran they were planning to build around, to anywhere that will take him.
Whether they will be successful remains unclear. So far the only offer Arsenal have on the table for Aubameyang comes from Al Nassr, as CBS Sports first revealed on Wednesday. Their Riyadh rivals Al Hilal are also keen, though they have not progressed their interest to a formal offer. Al Nassr's offer is appealing to the Gunners: a sizeable loan fee, a mandatory purchase clause and the forward's $340,000-a-week wages covered in the meantime.
Sources close to the situation indicate that Aubameyang would prefer to remain in Europe. So far Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille, AC Milan, Juventus and Sevilla have all expressed an interest in the Arsenal outcast. At least one Premier League club is also considering entering the fray. However, only PSG could theoretically pay the entirety of his salary. If formal offers do come from any of these, they are unlikely to be on as favorable terms as the Saudis'. Such is their desire to move on, the Gunners would be prepared to seriously consider a loan without an option
Meanwhile, work continues on securing Aubameyang's replacement, whether he leaves or not. A lengthy charm offensive for Dušan Vlahovic has not won the Serbian over so far — though if he were to commit, Arsenal and Fiorentina are poised to swiftly agree the specifics of the transfer — meaning renewed interest in Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad. Technical director Edu Gaspar and manager Mikel Arteta are desperate to not leave striking business to the summer with a berth in the Premier League's top four seemingly up for grabs. That means accepting that some long-term targets will not be on the market; CBS Sports understands there has, for instance, been no contact between Arsenal and Lille over Jonathan David, a player they have long admired.
They believe that Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, the $136 million strike duo signed in Arsene Wenger's final days, are not up to the task of getting them fourth. A return of 30 league goals since the start of last season, six of them penalties, suggests they might have a point. Equally, if clubs that are Arsenal's footballing contemporaries are taking a look at Aubameyang, it raises the question as to what they are seeing that Arteta is not. Since being stripped of the captaincy, the mention of the 32-year-old's name in any media environment has been guaranteed to raise the manager's hackles.
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Speaking after Sunday's goalless draw with Burnley, Arteta did all he could to maneuver elsewhere a question over whether Arsenal's struggles in front of goal — and he was entitled to note that in December there were no such issues — might impact the former skipper's future. He declined to confirm whether Aubameyang would be on the plane for the winter camp in Dubai when they fly off on Thursday. If the club get their way, he will be close to securing an exit by then.
The breakdown of their relationship is all the more curious when player and manager had formed such a tightknit bond during the previous 18 months. Sources close to Aubameyang have long insisted that it was Arteta's presence at the Emirates Stadium that convinced him to sign a new contract in the summer of 2020. As the forward struggled in front of goal in the months that followed, Arteta's support was steadfast.