What should Arsenal do with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Charlie Nicholas and Alan Smith's verdicts

Aubameyang's contract at the Emirates Stadium is set to expire in the summer of 2021

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Arsenal have a huge decision looming regarding the future of talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Depending on what happens to player contracts and the transfer window following the coronavirus pandemic, Aubameyang's contract at the Emirates Stadium is set to expire in the summer of 2021.

Can the Gunners convince the 30-year-old to sign a new deal? Or do they sell up to avoid the risk of losing another star name on a free transfer?

Sky Sports pundits Charlie Nicholas and Alan Smith discuss the difficult decision facing Arsenal and give their verdict on what their former club should do...

How important is Aubameyang to Arsenal?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after giving Arsenal a 3-2 lead against Everton
Image: Aubameyang has scored 17 Premier League goals so far this season

SMITH SAYS: "He's been so important to this Arsenal side simply because of his goals output. He's got a fantastic scoring ratio and is one of the best finishers in the Premier League. In my opinion, he's one of the best finishers in the game at the moment.

"He's got that scoring knack and can score all types of goals. There aren't many of those types of players around and if you can find one, they cost an awful lot of money. That's what makes the situation with Aubameyang very difficult for Arsenal.

"In an ideal world, you wouldn't want to lose a player like that."

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NICHOLAS SAYS: "This guy is a goal machine, his record tells you that. The evidence says the last thing you want to do is lose a player like Aubameyang. He is a magical goalscorer.

"The only way his sale might be acceptable is if it funded a rebuild. Arsenal have been trying to rebuild for five years, maybe even more, and they have never come close to achieving that. They dropped out of the Champions League and have lost revenue.

"They do not want to lose Aubameyang in terms of what he brings to the table, but Arsenal have failed abysmally when it has come to players running down a contract. You only have to look back at Aaron Ramsey leaving the club last summer to know how bad they've been in this area.

"Arsenal might be able to make selling him work if they got the rebuild right, but the reality is that he is absolutely vital to the team."

Should Arsenal break the bank to keep Aubameyang - or risk another Mesut Ozil situation?

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on December 05, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Image: Mesut Ozil signed a new Arsenal deal in January 2018, earning him around £350,000 per week as the club's highest-paid player

SMITH SAYS: "It's a fine balance in terms of keeping the squad together there but the first question you've got to ask is, does he want to stay?

"If he's determined to play Champions League football it might be that he's determined to leave Arsenal. Him and his agent will maybe already have indicated whether they do want to move on but is he determined to move on? That could depend on who wants to buy him. He may be able to join a club in the Champions League but depending on the club, he may not see it as a step up compared to a club like Arsenal.

"As far as the money is concerned, the Mesut Ozil situation has created a lot of controversy. He's the top earner at Arsenal by some distance and there are big games where he hasn't produced his best performances by a long way. There have been times when his body language is poor and he's been jogging about, and that is what creates unrest in a dressing room, especially if they don't think he's putting a shift in.

"Now if you've got a player like Aubameyang scoring goals, people, to a certain extent, accept he should get paid more money than other players. His goals are the reason he is getting paid the big bucks. The top money is a bit easier to justify if you are scoring regularly, like Aubameyang does."

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NICHOLAS SAYS: "While I do believe that Arsenal need to fund a rebuild, my preference would be to offer Aubameyang what he wants.

"Everyone will flag up his wages and I have been told differing scenarios, especially with Mesut Ozil. Is it possible Ozil could move on? Could this then help fund wages for Aubameyang and others? If they can get Ozil off the wage bill without getting anything for him, it will not be too much of a detriment.

"There are differing ways of doing this, but more than anything, I would want Arsenal to renew Aubameyang's contract for three or four years, if they can. They must give Aubameyang exactly what he wants. There simply aren't many other players like him at that level."

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
4:54
Gary Neville analyses Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goal record since his arrival in the Premier League and feels that the Arsenal striker should be included as an elite player in the division

How big a consideration is Aubameyang's age?

SMITH SAYS: "His age definitely comes into it because the re-sale value won't be too high if they sign him on a three-year deal. It's always a concern and it may be that Arsenal are thinking they can get good money for him now and it will free them up and give more spending power to go out and refresh the squad, especially if he's determined to leave.

"It's a really tricky situation but the club won't want to get caught in another situation where a player has run down his contract. You have to consider the fact that you can't stop a player running his contract down. He can dig his heels in and say: 'I'm leaving at the end of my current deal.'

"Sometimes there is nothing the club can do about it because the power is with the player, but there does seem a determination at the club now. It seems the club have a more organised structure to prevent this kind of thing happening.

"Before, Arsene Wenger maybe took on an awful lot of the workload, but it is spread out a bit now with Edu, Raul Sanllehi and the like. You'd hope the club don't get caught out again in the future."

If Arsenal sold Aubameyang, who could replace him? Does the rise of Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah influence the decision?

SMITH SAYS: "It's asking a lot of Nketiah or Martinelli, as talented as they both are, to step into the shoes of a tried-and-tested goalscorer like Aubameyang, who has been playing at the top level for a lot of years.

"If Aubameyang did leave I'm sure they would be looking to bring some experience in but they are restricted by their finances. They've also got Alexandre Lacazette but his goal output has tailed off this season compared to his first at the club, so that would be a concern.

"But there's no question they've got talent inside the club. I'm a big fan of Martinelli in particular. I think he's got a great attitude and a wonderful eye for goal as we've seen on a number of occasions already. There's definitely a lot to come from him but you have to be careful you don't put too much responsibility on young shoulders. They need to be nurtured."

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NICHOLAS SAYS: "It depends how you want to balance the team.

"Nketiah does not claim too many assists, but he runs off the ball and into space, and he is a very good finisher. He is more a No 9 that needs to learn the trade, and is still way behind Alexandre Lacazette. Martinelli does have the potential to become an exceptional player. The signs with him are pretty similar. because he runs well with the ball and makes good runs off the ball too.

"He is young, but that does not matter as he's already shown plenty this season. He got a bit lucky with the N'Golo Kante slip at Chelsea for his goal, but it is that type of thing that he will bring you. Look at how he finished that opportunity, you can see a cool, clinical and ruthless customer in front of goal.

"Jurgen Klopp was raving about him for a reason. The potential is there, but he is not at Aubameyang's level yet. I am hopeful he will get there, but he cannot be relied on just yet. There's also Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, who hasn't come good yet, so there is potential to replace from within, but it's a risk."

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What if he doesn't want to sign? Can Arsenal risk losing him on a free?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will only have one year left on his current contract at the end of the season 1:12
Charlie Nicholas says Arsenal must make a quick decision on the future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to avoid losing him on a free transfer.

NICHOLAS SAYS: "No. The Aaron Ramsey situation was ridiculous. I remember when we were talking about Ramsey with 18 months to go. Ramsey had won over a lot of Arsenal fans at that point, but he was not everybody's favourite. A lot were saying let him go.

"I said the same thing then as what I will now. Even asking for something over the top, it would not be massively over what Arsenal thought would be something feasible. Ramsey probably wanted to stay, so why could they not pay him what other teams were paying their players? They could not afford it and could have given into it, but I do not see why Arsenal keep running contracts down.

"Manchester United were cute enough to get players over the line like Nemanja Matic and manipulate the system where they can keep these type of players for another year. If they want to leave, there is still value and you are still getting money back. It goes into replacing some of these players.

"However, Arsenal are stuck with the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac. Will they get any value back? No. What they do with contracts is baffling."

Could this be another Robin van Persie situation?

 at Old Trafford on May 12, 2013 in Manchester, England.
Image: Robin van Persie win the title at Manchester United after leaving Arsenal

SMITH SAYS: "It will obviously hurt a lot more if he goes to another Premier League club and helps them win the Premier League like Robin van Persie did at Manchester United.

"You'd want to avoid selling him to a rival, to an English club and selling him abroad would be more palatable because he'd be out of people's consciousness to a certain extent. They wouldn't be seeing him every week which would help.

"It's definitely another consideration though because it would be painful for the fans if he went to a Liverpool or a Manchester City, or whoever, and his goals helped them to more success."

NICHOLAS SAYS: "It depends what people put down as a risk. If he was to go to Manchester United, does it help Arsenal? No, not at all.

"If Aubameyang wants to leave, you ideally want him out of the Premier League. However, he is of a mind and age that I can see the dangers and understand comparisons with Van Persie. However, I think he will be thinking about what happened to Alexis Sanchez rather than Van Persie.

Alexis Sanchez suffered a suspected hamstring injury against Reading
Image: Alexis Sanchez struggled at Manchester United before moving to Inter Milan on loan last summer

"Would he want to be a part of a superstar reload at Manchester United? Is there a great appeal to that? If it was Liverpool or Man City I would get it, but Manchester United are miles away from the top two. I do not see the appeal of moving to Old Trafford.

"Would he win the title with United in the next few years? I don't think so. He might not even be in the Champions League if he was to join so what is the real appeal? Is it salary? I don't think he is that type.

"Van Persie jumped to a massive salary, but Manchester United are not the same calibre as what they were then. Would he be the cutting edge for them? Maybe. But, like Arsenal, I think they have other issues to address.

"If Arsenal were to get £100m for him to go there, I would take that. Arsenal were once the challengers to United for the title, but now neither of them are. If Man United offer £100m for Aubameyang, sell him."

Where else could he go?

+++ during the Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund at Commerzbank-Arena on November 30, 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Image: Could Jurgen Klopp, who managed Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund, make a move for the Gunners captain?

NICHOLAS SAYS: "I don't see Liverpool or Man City signing him. Would he get into Liverpool's side? No. Manchester City could be an option if they were looking to replace Sergio Aguero.

"Would Aubameyang say that he has done Germany and England? Could it be time to move to Spain? He is a similar age to Thierry Henry when he went to Barcelona to play with Lionel Messi and Xavi, before winning titles and Champions Leagues.

"I could see him moving to the Nou Camp, but Real Madrid could also be an option."

The final verdict...

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Image: Aubameyang has scored 61 goals for Arsenal since joining in January 2018

SMITH SAYS: "When players' contracts actually finish with the present health crisis is obviously a factor but the best outcome for the club would be to get him to sign a new deal. They would have a committed player who always gets you goals.

"He's a fit lad, so he's still got a good two or three years left at the top level. A new deal would be the ideal situation because he can help Arsenal, with additions to the team elsewhere, get back to the big time. Persuading the player that his future lies at Arsenal would be the best outcome."

NICHOLAS SAYS: "My preference would be for Aubameyang to stay. The problem, however is that as much as I would like to get my way, I have a feeling Arsenal will not keep him.

"If it means offloading Ozil and others to fund his new contract and the rebuilding of the team, I would have no problem with that. But if Ozil stays, I feel they will sell him, because they cannot afford another Aaron Ramsey saga."

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