Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta left out club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from their win against Southampton on Saturday and confirmed just before the game kicked off that the decision was due to a disciplinary issue.
The Athletic reported that Aubameyang took a personal trip during the week with the permission of the squad but returned later than agreed.
A social media snap from the Gabonese striker showing him at a tattoo parlour in Barcelona later went viral. And when Arteta released his squad list, the rumour mills began operating at full capacity.
The striker did not train with the team on Friday before the game and Arteta let the journalists know that Aubameyang had to be dropped to discipline him.
“Unfortunately due to a disciplinary breach,” Arteta said in his presser on Friday, without explicitly spilling the beans on the matters.
“I think we have been very consistent that we have certain non-negotiables in the team that we have set ourselves as a club, and he’s not involved today.”
The Spaniard also noted that having the club captain not be available for important games like the one against Southampton was not the club’s intention.
“It’s not an easy situation and not a situation we want to have our club captain in,” Arteta added.
However, journalists kept pressing the former Everton midfielder on his decision to drop Aubameyang, who is the club’s second-highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season.
He refused to comment on the issue even when the report of Aubameyang returning from his trip late was brought up.
“Let’s talk about the game,” Arteta snaps at journalists
Arteta showed signs of irritation as journalists continued to press for more information on the Aubameyang situation.
“You’re not going to get anything else from me. Unfortunately it happened,” the 39-year-old manager said.
“I explained what happened and the reason he wasn’t involved and that’s where I’m going to stay on it.
“It was a disciplinary breach, and that’s why he was out of the squad.”
More questions arose about the possibility of Aubameyang losing the armband, but Arteta insisted that they talk about the game instead of Aubameyang.
“Let’s talk about the game. I tried to explain why it was, and I did it frankly. I’m not going to say anything else, I’m going to focus on the performance and the quality that was on the pitch,” he said.
It is not the first time Arsenal have had to enforce disciplinary measures on Aubameyang.
The 32-year-old was late to training the day before the North London derby and had to start the game on the bench. In February, he was also reprimanded by the club following a Covid-19 regulations breach.
Arteta keeping mum over Aubameyang transfer
Aubameyang also started the Everton game on the bench and was brought in for the last five minutes of the game, with Arteta preferring to bring in Eddie Nketiah earlier instead.
Rumours of the former Borussia Dortmund man’s exit from the Emirates have been in circulation for a while, and the Gunners boss was also asked ahead of the Southampton game if dropping Aubameyang was a sign of things to come.
“Really, we have never discussed something like this, and when players are under difficulty – or the team is under difficulty – what we have to be is supportive,” the Spanish manager said.
Arteta also added: “I have a very good relationship with my players. Everyone has to understand that I always do the best for this club and for this team.
“And often if that can benefit any individuals, I will always do it. The decisions are not personal, the decisions are just to get performance, and the best out of the team. That’s it.”