African Arsenal Stars Face Match Blackout as AFCON Inches Closer

Arsenal last week announced that Gabon star attacker, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has been sacked as the captain of the club. 

Although the decision was expected at some point, the manner it took has been befuddling. For many people around Arsenal, Aubameyang’s disciplinary record was becoming a battle to defeat. And the club revealed this in their terse statement, starting with “following the latest incident”. 

What has followed his dismissal as captain has been rather unexplainable with further punishments coming his way. After being banished to train alone, reports have also suggested he won’t play a match or train with the Arsenal first team until after the African Cup of Nations. These are dire realities for a man who for a while carried the team on his shoulders and was about the only positive presence they could call upon. 

A year is a long time in football and from the man Arsenal had to painstakingly convince to sign a new bumper contract, Aubameyang has become just another player on the club’s payroll, albeit misfiring. The rapid downturn of events for the Gabonese suggest there may be more to the story than just a player struggling with the ability to arrive on time. 

How Aubameyang is being treated at Arsenal has triggered mixed reactions from the fan base but there’s little to hold in defence of the attacker, especially as they have looked even more convincing in his absence from the first team. His four goals in fourteen games before his current debacle also did little to help raise some objection to his ostracism.

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Aubameyang is Gabon’s captain and by far their biggest international star and one who’s expected to be the driving force of the team at the AFCON. His current ordeals at Arsenal may be devastating for his confidence and form going into the AFCON and this will in no little way affect The Panthers chances of equalling or surpassing their quarterfinal feat in 2012, when they co-hosted alongside Equatorial Guinea. 

Nicolas Pepe: An Elephant In The Room 

When Arsenal signed Pepe two seasons ago from Lille in a £72m club record deal, the world thought they had a gem in their hands. Pepe had come off a strong season with the French club and had his most brilliant year yet before the Gunners came knocking. 

However, since his arrival at the Emirates, he has only flattered to deceive despite being the club’s top scorer last season with 16 goals in all competitions. This season has however seen Pepe find minutes hard to come by after regular appearances earlier on.

His form dwindled sharply and he had little to no impact in games before his eventual spell on the bench. In his eight games for Arsenal this season, the Ivorian has recorded one assist and no goal and hardly imposed himself or proved enough quality for Arsenal to rely on.

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On his best days, Pepe’s quality is clear for all to see but those days are hardly seen. He can play football when he’s in his elements but that comes too sparingly at Arsenal and his lack of minutes may affect his form at the African Cup of Nations. 

He’s one of a talented crop of Ivorian players who are looking to put the horror of missing out of the next round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers behind them and stands as one of their most exciting players. While his struggles at Arsenal may not affect his place with Ivory Coast, as he’s expected to make the final squad, it may tell badly on his form. 

Solving the Pepe topic at Arsenal has been an issue manager Mikel Arteta has had to treat in recent weeks, and the problem may soon spill over to Ivory Coast.  

Mohammed El Neny – A Pharaoh Down The Pyramid 

In El-Neny’s five years at Arsenal, he has hardly been a regular and played his highest number of games (23) last season in the Premier League. The current season has however been different with the Egyptian just managing five games under his belt so far. 

He’s headed for a January exit from the Emirates but his current lack of playing time further affects his chances in Egypt. Some months ago, he had a spat with the former coach of the Egypt national team who didn’t start him in a qualifying game and that seemed like fighting for a ‘license to start’ at home when he hardly gets minutes in his club. 

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Thomas Partey – The Black Star

Partey is the only African player at Arsenal getting good game time and may be missed when he leaves for the AFCON. His fitness issues notwithstanding, and amid his struggles to impose himself on games this season, the Ghanaian is still one of the most important players at the Emirates. 

Before now, the Gunners looked set to sweat without their African quartet available for some games in January but with recent events, Partey is the only player whose absence may be felt when he joins Ghana for the continental showpiece. 

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