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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy and will be unavailable for Wednesday's game against West Ham, the club have announced.

Aubameyang had been dropped from the squad for Arsenal's Premier League win over Southampton on Saturday after reporting back late from a club sanctioned trip to France. This was the third occasion in 2021 in which the striker's timekeeping was in question at the Emirates Stadium; last season he missed the north London derby after being caught in traffic while on another occasion he returned late from a period of compassionate leave.

It has also been suggested that Aubameyang may have failed to obey COVID-19 protocols on his return to the United Kingdom. Having arrived for training last Thursday, he was sent away from London Colney on Friday and has not reported to the club's training ground since.

A brief club statement said: "We expect all our players, particularly our captain, to work to the rules and standards we have all set and agreed. We are fully focused on tomorrow's match."

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Sources close to Arsenal have indicated that there have been no further incidents since Aubameyang was dropped on Saturday. The decision to strip him of his captaincy is viewed internally as a culmination of these numerous disciplinary breaches. Speaking in his pre-match press conference Mikel Arteta did not set a timescale on when the Gabon international might be considered for the first team again.

"We have made this decision, that is unfortunately a really tough one. If I had to choose obviously I wouldn't like to be sitting here talking about it but we had to do it," said Arteta. "The next [decision] is that for now he's not involved in the squad.

"We need a bit of time. What I can tell you now is to make the decision that we made is because it was really hurting. It's still like this. He needs a little bit of time to heal. For now he's not involved in the squad.

"Since I've been here my relationship with him has been really, really good. That is what is painful."

Arteta did not formally name a replacement skipper but confirmed that the first team's "leadership group" would take up the role. Its entire membership is not entirely clear but it is known to include vice captain Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding. The Arsenal manager did note that its membership could change but these three are expected to wear the armband in most games going forward.

"In the last game it was Laca, we have Granit as well," Arteta said. "We will follow that. It's a really unpleasant situation and it's not the moment to make a rash decision. 

"That leadership group is really strong. It's the one that communicates with myself and the club in a really clear and strong way. We are going to continue like that, that's one of the decisions we made to make that group a little bit better and try to educate them, get the right feedback all the time and try to build a strong culture around the club. It's working. We'll continue to do that."

Lacazette, a close dressing room ally of Aubameyang, is out of contract at the end of the season with Arsenal yet to engage him in talks over an extension. Asked how Aubameyang had reacted to the decision, Arteta said that the forward "had to accept the decision", one he insisted would "without a shadow of a doubt" be no different even if the club's best paid player were at his free scoring best.

This is the second occasion in just over two years that Arsenal have been forced into a midseason change of captaincy. Just prior to Arteta's appointment, Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy, which was then handed to Aubameyang, after the Swiss midfielder swore at supporters as he was substituted in a draw against Crystal Palace in October 2019. Xhaka has since captained the club though, and the early indications are that he could step up to be Lacazette's vice captain.

Arsenal have had something of a curious relationship with the captain's armband in recent years. In the second half of Arsene Wenger's lengthy tenure it was used as something of a sop to convince wantaway players such as Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas to stay at the club. And on one occasion in April 2017 the Gunners manager forgot to name a captain for the second half of a draw with Manchester City after Laurent Koscielny was substituted through injury.

Since Patrick Vieira left for Juventus in 2006 Arsenal have had 12 captains with none serving three full seasons. Aside from the trio of players who quit, three more -- Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker -- were plagued by injuries whilst Laurent Koscielny, who had had fitness issues of his own, refused to travel on a preseason tour in a bid to force a move out of the club. William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy after criticising teammates in an interview.