FOR Aaron Ramsey, the message could hardly have been clearer.
Leave Arsenal in January or spend the rest of the season counting down the days to the end of your contract.
EPA6 Emile Smith Rowe opened the scoring for Arsenal against Vorskla Poltava
Reuters6 Smith Rowe celebrates after netting his third Gunners goal in his sixth outing
While the rest of Unai Emery’s superstars are back home preparing for Sunday’s North London derby, Ramsey is slowly being frozen out of the big picture.
Confirmation, were it needed, came this week when he was told he would be making the long-haul trip to war-threatened Ukraine for a meaningless Europa League tie.
The Welsh international who fancies himself as the next Gareth Bale knows he is on his way out after ten years in an Arsenal shirt.
But the club’s longest-serving player is determined to leave on his own terms after the offer of a new contract was suddenly withdrawn a couple of months ago.
AFP or licensors6 Aaron Ramsey coolly slotted home the penalty into the bottom right corner
AP:Associated Press6 Unai Emery will be delighted by what he saw from his young Arsenal side
Arsenal would like to sell him in the January transfer window and at least receive some kind of a fee for a player who has recently been linked with Bayern Munich and Juventus.
Ramsey, though, wants to go as a free agent next summer – even if it means putting up with another six months of the cold shoulder.
And to be fair to the 27-year-old midfielder, he is more than honouring his pledge to give his all to the cause for every minute he remains on the books.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Ramsey to throw his toys out of the pram when he found himself boarding the plane for snowy Kiev alongside the likes of Tyreece John-Jules, Jordi Osei-Tutu and Bukayo Saka.
AP:Associated Press6 Smith Rowe and Willock dazzled for Arsenal as they push for a regular starting spot
Yet he simply accepted Emery’s harsh decision and got on with the job of securing the win Arsenal needed to guarantee top spot in their Europa League group.
It was his 11th minute through ball to Eddie Nketiah which sent Arsenal on their way in an eerily-deserted Olympiyskyi Stadium.
And he put an unexpectedly straighgtforward tie to bed midway through the first-half when he converted a penalty which he had won through his own efforts.
The Ukrainian minnows were still sulking over UEFA’s last-minute decision to switch this match to the capital city after martial law had been declared by their government at the start of the week.
What should have been a stern test for Emery’s kids in a far-flung outpost on the Russian border was instantly turned into a soulless encounter with only a tiny smattering of supporters rattling around the 70,000-capacity national stadium.
Vorskla simply couldn’t be bothered to hide their disappointment at being denied the right to stage the biggest game in their history.
They barely reacted when Nketiah’s shot from Ramsey’s pass was blocked by keeper Bohdan Shust, allowing Emile Smith Rowe all the time he needed to convert the rebound.
Reuters6 It was a night to remember for Joe Willock who banged in his first senior goal
And they were already resigned to their fate by the time Ramsey went down in the box in a tangle of legs with Igor Perduta before stroking home the 27th minute spot-kick.
It was the first time in a while that Emery could have no complaints about his team’s first-half efforts.
And he had even more to smile about four minutes before the break when 19-year-old Joe Willock scored his first Arsenal goal from Mohamed Elneny’s assist.
Yet even with the result a foregone conclusion, Ramsey continued to put in the hard yards, coaxing and cajoling his young team-mates until he was finally subbed in the 68th minute.
Fellow senior players such as Petr Cech, Matteo Guendouzi and Rob Holding, were just as impressive in their commitment as Arsenal extended their unbeaten run to 18 games.
It means the final group game at home against Qarabag in two weeks’ time is now utterly futile.
Even Ramsey might get the night off for that one, although he probably shouldn’t hold his breath