Arsenal fans have good reason to celebrate the news that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is on the verge of signing a new contract. He may not be the complete footballer, but he’s as close to the ideal forward as it gets.
The fastest player to 50 Premier League goals for the club, edging out none other than Thierry Henry, Aubameyang’s darting off-the-shoulder runs and ingenious finishes have already raised him up to the pantheon of great Arsenal strikers.
Can he do it in the big games? Ask Frank Lampard, who could only watch on miserably as Aubameyang downed Chelsea with two goals in the FA Cup final last month.
Can he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke? Trick question: Stoke were relegated in Aubameyang’s first season in England and he never got the chance to play them away, but he did score two goals against them at the Emirates. Going on the evidence we have, it’s a “yes”.
Arsenal have solved one of their most immediate problems going into the new season by convincing Aubameyang to sign a new contract. Heading into the final year of his current deal, the club were at risk of losing him for free having paid a then-club record £56m fee for him in 2018.
Not only would that have seemed hugely careless from a financial perspective – Arsenal could also have tried to get a fee for him this summer, but they would have been very unlikely to recoup their original outlay – it would also have left them in the unenviable position of attempting to recruit a direct replacement. Aubameyang has scored 71 goals from 110 appearances in all competitions. There aren’t many forwards with comparable numbers and, while there are a handful out there, their services are either unattainable or prohibitively expensive.
The other option would have been to take a calculated gamble on a rising star, or to heap even more responsibility onto the shoulders of youngsters like Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli. While that might have made sense from an economic point of view – Arsenal could certainly do with more young players who appreciate in value during their time at the club – it’s a risky process.
The likelihood of, say, Martinelli stepping up to match Aubameyang’s goal output over the next few seasons is low, even if he is a hugely exciting talent. Arsenal badly need those goals and Aubameyang has shown he’s the man to score them.
When it comes to the money involved, however, Arsenal may find that they have created other problems down the line. According to The Athletic, Aubameyang is about to sign a three-year contract which will see him become the highest earner at the club. As things stand the best-paid player is Mesut Ozil, who is himself heading into the final year of a contract worth £350,000 a week. Presumably, Aubameyang’s wages will either match or surpass that figure.
The ethics of football finance aside, that is an enormous amount of money. It’s not hard to see why, having reached a natural ceiling in terms of career progress and earned unimaginable wealth in the process, some players struggle to incentivise themselves in the same way after agreeing huge deals.
Many have pointed out that things have gone south for Ozil since he signed his current contract, which may or may not be a coincidence. While the reasons for his decline are complex, no doubt, the point still stands that being the highest earner at any club comes with its own pressure and requires delicate man management.
Judging by his efforts over the last few years in an otherwise substandard Arsenal team, Aubameyang is a self-motivated character. While his status as the best-paid player at the club has the potential to become a psychological burden, he comes across as the sort of person who laughs at his good fortune as opposed to brooding on it.
The only other worry is that, at 31 years of age, his new contract will take him up to 34 and, given his wages, it will be almost impossible to move him on before then if his form or fitness fades. Ultimately, though, Arsenal need him and have little choice but to take that chance. For the next three years, it will be up to him to justify the club’s decision.
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