Gabon are ranked 83rd in the world. They have never played in a World Cup. Their official verdict is that Arsenal are not ambitious enough; not big enough.
The African country’s most famous export is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the president of the Gabon FA believes he should move.
“Right now, he’s at Arsenal, and he’s won nothing here, so it’s a collective failing,” Pierre Alain Mounguengui said. “I don’t want to say that Arsenal aren’t ambitious, but Arsenal don’t have ambitions as high as some other clubs as far as Europe is concerned.”
The slight may sting, but the diagnosis is a sign of decline. Arsenal are ninth, on course for their lowest finish in a quarter of a century, set for a fourth season outside the European elite.
Aubameyang is the leading man who has spent his Gunners career off-Broadway. He is Arsenal’s best player since Ian Wright not to play in the Champions League; he, in turn, was the best since Liam Brady. He is the prolific anomaly, a man suited to better teams and better times.
Football’s eventual resumption presents a limited window to persuade him those times can come at the Emirates Stadium.
Rewind five weeks and Mikel Arteta felt Arsenal needed to discuss a new contract with their top scorer before the end of the season.
Aubameyang’s deal ends in 2021 and Arsenal risk losing a £56 million (Dh256m) signing for nothing.
Then the signs felt positive. Arsenal are the Premier League’s only unbeaten team in 2020, the Arteta revival powered in part by the captain who took his commitment too far when he was sent off at Crystal Palace, but who has delivered six goals.
A player whose character was impugned when his relationship with Borussia Dortmund broke down has passed tests; his visible devastation at missing a late chance against Olympiakos, knocking Arsenal out of the Europa League, was telling.
He risks missing out on much. Aubameyang turns 31 in June. A sprinter is running out of time.
One of the great goalscorers of his generation has scored 282 times, but has only won one German Cup and one French Cup.
It is a slender return, even if a former African Footballer of the Year has rather more individual honours, including Golden Boots in both Germany and England.
That goalscoring habit that and his excellent chance conversion rate – 17 goals from 27 shots on target in this season’s Premier League – mark him out as a player capable of flourishing with the best.
Arsenal, meanwhile, could be prey for predators and, if some of Europe’s elite have their budgets reduced, that might mean the more affordable Aubameyang becomes more of a target for them.
Arteta said last week he is planning for “two or three different scenarios” in the transfer market.
They could depend on which, if any, European competition Arsenal are in, but also the impact of coronavirus on their finances. But their position had already deteriorated: they made a £27m loss last season and their next accounts will include the club record purchase of Nicolas Pepe and a net outlay of around £90m.
Realistically, they will not be able to offload Mesut Ozil’s huge salary from their books. There will be no takers for him, unlike Aubameyang.
The collapse of the transfer market, along with his age and expiring contract, means Arsenal would get a fraction of Aubameyang’s earlier value.
Losing him could end their chances of a top-four finish next season before it has even begun. Arsenal may have a 10-game window to keep Aubameyang; without him, their ambitions would be set still lower.