Rarely has Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s importance to Arsenal been better illustrated than inside an empty Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
The Gabonese forward entered the FA Cup final against city rivals Chelsea with a reputation as one of the best forwards in the Premier League – and while others shrank under the spotlight, Aubameyang came up big with the match-winning brace.
He reaffirmed his reputation and some, scoring either side of half-time as Mikel Arteta’s men ended a difficult domestic season with silverware.
Christian Pulisic – who has had an impressive end to the season – had given the Blues an early lead but Aubameyang would show he is as cool as they come when presented with a chance to equalise from the spot.
Willy Caballaro, in for Kepa Arrizabalaga and known as a penalty specialist, was helpless, diving to the right as the ball flew in to the corner to his left.
He then truly proved why he deserves to be regarded among the world’s elite, netting the winner with a sublime finish in the second half. The 31-year-old received the ball on the left hand side of the box and proceeded to turn Kurt Zouma inside out before lifting the ball brilliantly over Caballero.
It capped what has been another stellar season for Arsenal’s undisputed main man, the striker having found the net 29 times in 44 appearances in all competitions.
In fact since his arrival in January 2018, no Premier League player has scored more goals than Aubameyang.
Saturday’s brace took him to 70 in 109 games, two more than next highest Mohamed Salah.
Those numbers are remarkable and one can only wonder where his club would be without him.
But life without him is something Arsenal fans fear is a very realistic possibility in the not too distant future.
Aubameyang has just one year remaining on his current deal and he must now decide what he is to do with his final years at the top level.
He will be 32 by the time his contract is set to expire, meaning now could be his last chance to push through a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Inter Milan are all interested and eyeing a bargain free transfer next summer.
If he is set on leaving then this window will be Arsenal’s last chance to get significant money for him but you have to believe they will do everything in their power to keep him.
And there are a number of factors in play when it comes to doing that.
Firstly, money talks. Aubameyang wants upwards of £250,000-per-week before even considering signing a contract extension.
That would represent a £70,000-a-week increase, something which seems reasonable especially when you consider outcast Mesut Ozil is still making £350,000-per-week.
However, Arsenal are in a precarious financial situation after what will be four consecutive campaigns without Champions League football and the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Club chiefs will have evaluated the risk and reward and it’s hard to think of a better way to to spend their limited money than satisfying Aubameyang.
Replacing him will be far more expensive and keeping him will be crucial to the north London side’s hopes of making it back into the Champions League, which will in turn boost revenue and ease those growing financial concerns.
But Aubameyang is not a man solely driven by wealth.
This is a player in his prime who knows he should be playing in Europe’s premier competition every single. As it stands he won’t be for at least another year if he stays at the Emirates.
He’ll be very aware that he is desired by Europe’s top sides, teams who have very realistic chances of competing for and winning major honours.
Arsenal, meanwhile, finished eighth in the Premier League, their lowest position since 1995 and while the FA Cup success is reason for optimism, the club are miles off other domestic honours.
The London club have been on a downwards trajectory but there is now real hope under new manager Arteta.
And that could be key, the strong end to this season perhaps giving Aubameyang the confidence that this team can become a real force again in the not too distant future.
If Arteta can convince him that is the case then he may well be happy to commit to a club where he has thrived since day one.
To really convince him, Arsenal must recruit.
They have some good players, and some exciting youngsters, but there are clear problems, particularly in midfield.
No-one will be more aware of what the team needs than Aubameyang and Arteta will have to deliver in the market.
Make him believe this team can legitimately challenge and that could well be enough.