Until Aubameyang claimed his second of the night after 76 minutes, Arsenal were relying on UEFA’s away goals rule to secure their progress into the last eight. Aubameyang gave them an outright aggregate win. He celebrated by plucking a Black Panther mask from behind a hoarding, pulling it on and performing the crossed armed Wakanda Forever salute.
He had the costume ready for the match with Manchester United, too, but when he scored couldn’t find it. Aren’t super heroes meant to have x-ray vision for that sort of stuff? No matter. Wakanda is a fictional sub-Saharan African state invented by Marvel Comics, and the birthplace of their first black superhero. Since Black Panther became a hugely successful film, the Wakanda Forever sign has come to signify black excellence.
Aubameyang, born in France of Gabonese heritage, certainly represents that. This was his 32nd goal in 53 appearances for Arsenal, and in his last 13 home games, he has been directly involved in 15 goals: scoring 11, with four assists. He was the difference again on Thursday night, getting Arsenal off to the flyer they needed, then picking off Rennes in the second half just when they had started to look dangerous.
Aubameyang clearly has a thing for superheroes – and masks. He was Spider-Man in a celebration at Saint-Etienne and Batman with Borussia Dortmund, but Black Panther looks to be the one that will stick, not least as it is a named shared by the Gabonese national team.
‘I needed a mask that represents me,’ Aubameyang said after. That, of course is not strictly true – Lionel Messi doesn’t appear to have one and he seems to be doing all right – but celebrating with costumery is certainly more fun than acting all moody or running around with a scowl or a finger to the lips telling everyone to shut up. Maybe more players should try it, although it did earn him a humorless booking from referee Andris Treimanis. Bet that never happens to Black Panther, either.
It is a celebration we can expect to see quite a lot of, too, while Aubameyang is in this nick. He is a great poacher of goals, in and around the six-yard box, as well as an able creator. He was in the right place at the right time to convert two tap ins here, and his cross made Arsenal’s second for Ainsley Maitland-Niles. It was a superb display.
One hopes that even those whose protests led to Arsene Wenger’s exit last season, will acknowledge that the former manager left them with one very good striker. That alone is a decent foundation.
For Arsenal it means the Champions League safety blanket – potential back door qualification as Europa League winners – remains, even if they may not need it given their current position, in fourth. Still, it has revitalised this competition, as Arsenal and Chelsea’s commitment has shown. Michel Platini had to leave us with at least one good idea.