After a difficult start to the Premier League campaign, Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just appeared to be getting back to his best form in the past couple of weeks.
The 31-year-old broke an almost month-long goal duck with a strike against Newcastle in the FA Cup third round, and then followed it up with an impressive brace against the same opposition just a week later.
So when he was missing from the Gunners’ FA Cup fourth round tie against Southampton at St Mary’s at the weekend, it was a damaging blow to the north Londoners, who bowed out of competition with a 1-0 defeat.
And now, ahead of their return clash against Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, this time in the Premier League, Mikel Arteta has been handed a big blow.
The club confirmed via their official website that Aubameyang will once again be missing from the squad due to “personal family reasons”, and Arteta himself admitted recently that he is unsure of when the Gabon international could make his return.
Speaking in his post-match press conference after the FA Cup defeat to the Saints, the Gunners boss said: “I don’t know (when he will return). He needs to address that issue, we’ll see how it evolves. We’re here and we have to support him and he needs to take the time that is needed because that is a priority at the moment.”
Even without his recent return to form, the £36m-rated gem is the man who wears the armband for the Gunners, and the player who others rally behind.
Granit Xhaka said after the recent 3-0 Newcastle win: “Everyone knows how important he is for us – not only on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. Of course, every player has these moments where it is not going well for them. But he has kept going and training hard.”
His goal-scoring record over the years is second-to-none – after all, he was the Premier League Golden Boot winner a couple of seasons ago and just missed out last year – and when he’s on song, he’s a devastating threat.
For him to be missing will really worry Arteta, who not only has he lost his most potent goal threat, but also his leader on the pitch. It also has the added consequence of raising the burden on Gabriel Martinelli, who has only just returned from a lengthy injury and played an hour against Southampton at the weekend.
Throwing back him into the starting line-up on Tuesday night would further risk the Brazilian re-injuring himself or suffering an untimely setback.
Aubameyang’s absence is a major blow ahead of a crucial game in the Premier League.