Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s classy gesture to Bukayo Saka shows his true leadership at Arsenal

Leadership takes place in many different shapes and forms.

When it comes to football we tend to think of the great leaders of the game as the fist-shaking Tony Adams and the hard tackling Patrick Vieira, who captained Arsenal through some of their greatest periods as a club.

Many would argue that the Gunners’ current skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t hold a candle to that legendary duo, and if we’re basing leadership purely on the metric of blood and guts then that would be right.

But right now the game is changing and with the young squad currently in place at the Emirates, the Gabon striker’s influence on the dressing room is something that often goes under the radar.

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When young players come into the side many of them struggle with nerves and first time jitters. At this stage it is up to the experienced pros to guide them through what can be a baptism of fire.

Bukayo Saka, who is probably the most exciting youngster at Arsenal right now, revealed earlier this year how Aubameyang’s reassuring words had helped him in one of the most important moments of his early career.

“The game where I scored my first goal for Arsenal against Frankfurt, before the game he said to me, ‘Bukayo, you know you’re a very good player,” the 19-year-old recounted.

“If you’re there in front of goal and you want to shoot – shoot! I’m not going to say anything’.”

Small moments like these can be crucial for giving young players the sense of acceptance they need to truly shine at senior level.

People who have watched Saka from a young age have always spoken about the quiet self-belief that the Hale Ender possessed, but even he will have found the step up to senior level somewhat daunting.

In this instance it’s the inclusive gestures in which Aubameyang specialises, such as giving the 19-year-old the nickname ‘little chilli’ that are the hallmark of the Gabon forward’s different kind of leadership.

Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate for Arsenal. (Photo by Vasilis Sykas/MenReporterMedia/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrate for Arsenal. (Photo by Vasilis Sykas/MenReporterMedia/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

“It started from Auba,” Saka said when talking about how his London Colney pseudonym had come about.

“He said it in French. We’re doing one finishing drill one time in training and he kept saying it, and I kept scoring, I was shooting with so much power and he was calling me little chilli in French [petit piment].

“I didn’t know what it was. I asked him after and he told it means little chilli. From then on he kept calling me it and then it became a thing, and now it’s a big thing, a lot of people call me it, and make it my nickname.

“He got me the nice chain he promised he would get me if we won the FA Cup.

“It started from Auba, it’s a show of how great a character he is and how important he is for me and I’d say for the team in terms of the happiness and the vibes in the dressing room. I love it. It’s unique.”

To succeed at the top level though it cannot be all smiles and light though, and Saka admitted that when he needs to be, Aubameyang can be aggressively demanding of his teammates.

“Sometimes he would tell you, you would have to pass to him and if you make a mistake then he can be quite angry,” the 19-year-old told beIN Sports.

This rarely seen nastier side of the Gabon forward is something that has allowed him to gain the respect of his peers who still look to him a senior figure of importance behind the scenes.

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No matter his influence on the youngsters at the training ground, for some, Aubameyang’s more laid back approach to the captaincy at Arsenal will never quite sit right.

Instead the more traditional leadership of someone like Kieran Tierney would be their preference, and if he sticks around at the Emirates for long enough it’s likely the Scot will get his chance as Mikel Arteta seeks to re-shape his group of influential players in the dressing room as part of a summer overhaul.

But for now Aubameyang will continue to wear the armband at the Emirates Stadium and his effect on the Gunners’ increasingly youthful dressing room will be crucial as they seek to get back up to the heights of Champions League football next season.

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