BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund was hoping for a quiet start to the year after a turbulent 2017 but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has ensured the drama continues.
Aubameyang's relationship with the German club has deteriorated to such an extent that he was suspended by Dortmund last weekend and the Gabon striker is being linked with a move to the English Premier League this month.
Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger hinted there had been contact on Thursday when he said: "These kind of things, it's better when it's secret."
Wenger's remarks drew immediate criticism from Dortmund, with sporting director Michael Zorc saying: "We find it lacks respect to talk about players from other clubs. There is no contact with Arsenal."
Aubameyang, who has scored 98 goals in 143 league games since joining Dortmund from Saint-Etienne in 2013, missed a team meeting last weekend.
Zorc said he didn't know what the striker was thinking. It was the third time in just over a year that Dortmund has suspended the player.
Aubameyang was dropped in November for inviting a film crew to the club and then turning up late for training. Former coach Thomas Tuchel also banned him 12 months earlier for taking an unsanctioned trip to Milan.
"From the point of view of indiscipline, missing appointments, there comes a point when it's no longer tolerated and that's where we are today," Zorc said after the latest suspension on Sunday.
On Monday, English teammate Jadon Sancho published an Instagram video during which Aubameyang asked him to "bring me to London one day," a post that has since been deleted.
The Aubameyang saga has prolonged the sense of upheaval at the club after a testing year in 2017. There was a bomb attack on the team bus in April, while Tuchel was fired in May and chief scout Sven Mislintat left for London club Arsenal last month.
On the field, Dortmund's best-ever start to a season was followed by a dramatic collapse that effectively ended its title hopes and led to the dismissal of new coach Peter Bosz in December.
Aubameyang has scored 13 league goals this season but he has been inconsistent and a loss of form coincided with Dortmund's slump. The team failed to score without him when they were held to a 0-0 home draw by Wolfsburg on Sunday.
While Zorc has been highly critical of Aubameyang, new coach Peter Stoeger has been more conciliatory and has left the door open for the 28-year-old forward to reclaim his place in the side.
"I told him what I expect," Stoeger said ahead of Friday's trip to Hertha Berlin. "He himself decides if he's considered. Right now I have the impression that everything's OK. We don't have talks every day. As long as he's a Dortmund player, I'll be counting on him.
"It's relatively harmonious with us at the moment. It's a lot quieter than it seems. If someone learns from their mistakes they're welcome. Aubameyang brings his qualities."
Kicker magazine has reported that Dortmund values its striker at 70 million euros ($85.6 million).