Arsenal should be looking to retain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s services this summer regardless of whether or not he commits to a new contract, says Paul Merson.
His current deal is due to come to an end once the 2020-21 campaign reaches its conclusion.
If no extension is agreed by that point, then Aubameyang will drop into the free agent pool.
Merson considers that to be no bad thing, given the Gabonese’s age, and feels Arsenal should be challenging their club captain to deliver Champions League football before moving on.
The former Gunners forward told Sky Sports: “I thought Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be about 31, 32 when he left, and if I was Arsenal I'd keep him in the summer.
“I'd keep him and say, you know what, give him what you can next year and get us into the Champions League and you can go for free. It's hard to buy goals, and he's a natural scorer.
“Gabriel Martinelli could be a top player and I like him, but if I keep Aubameyang I've got 15-20 goals, and that's some doing.
“To ask Martinelli to come in and do that, you couldn't ask that. We think these players are 22 or 23, but at 18 to do it in this league, I'm a big fan of his, it's just all about timing.”
Mikel Arteta is the man charged with the task of creating a happy camp in north London and guiding Arsenal back up the Premier League table.
He has made a positive impact so far, with Merson pleased to see the Gunners becoming harder to break down after years of being far too soft at their centre.
The ex-England international added: “Arteta's not going to come in and tell [Mesut] Ozil how to play a pass, but Arsenal have been the worst team in the Premier League without the ball over the last 10 years and that's what he's trying to change.
“Hard work is all it is. Ask any football fan what they want, and all they want is players to get on that pitch and work their socks off.
“I played against one of the best teams of all time in AC Milan. [Franco] Baresi, [Paolo] Maldini, all that lot. You couldn't believe how hard they worked. They were world-class players, but they worked even harder.”
Arsenal will be back in action on Sunday when they play host to Newcastle.