Gabriel Agbonlahor will be omitted from Aston Villa's squad for the Premier League visit of Chelsea on 2 April. The 29-year-old forward, scorer of just one solitary goal in 18 appearances during a torrid campaign to date, has been made unavailable for selection by the club as they carry out an internal investigation into his conduct.
Such an inquest is believed to relate to a recent break in Dubai, where Agbonlahor was pictured in The Sun appearing to smoke a shisha pipe. Although not illegal, such behaviour is obviously frowned upon in professional sport. Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe were criticised for their involvement in a similar incident back in April 2015, while Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was pictured holding a pipe on a night out in February 2015.
"Gabby Agbonlahor will not be involved in Saturday's early afternoon clash with Chelsea," Villa confirmed via their official Twitter account. "An internal investigation is currently under way. While this is being conducted, Gabby Agbonlahor will not feature."
The episode involving Agbonlahor has come during a difficult week for Villa after manager Remi Garde departed by mutual consent just 147 days into his reign on Tuesday (29 March) with the famous old club lying bottom of the league and 12 points adrift of safety with seven matches remaining. The ex-Lyon boss won just three of his 23 fixtures at the helm – two in the league – and has been temporarily replaced by Eric Black, the first-team coach he brought to Villa Park from Rotherham United earlier this year.
"There's an internal investigation, the club have taken that decision," Black said of Agbonlahor's absence at his maiden pre-match press conference as quoted by the Express and Star. "I've taken the decision from the footballing side to remove him from the squad just for this game, purely because I don't want anything to distract the players and their surroundings for the game. I want that to be purely their focus for the Chelsea game. I will speak to him again on Monday morning and I will take it from there. He will be back reporting for training on Monday."
When asked to expand further, he added: "It's the things you have seen in the media. I won't go into details because the investigation is still on-going and once those results have come in and the club have made a decision you will find out."
A sliver of hope amongst the persistent gloom for Villa comes in the return to fitness of Adama Traore and Jack Grealish. The young duo have been sidelined since January with foot and ankle problems respectively, although both are now back in full first-team training.
"Jack Grealish and Adama have trained, whether they are in the 18 or not I have to make that call," Black said. "One or two are coming back. I've got 22 players training today so we'll have a look at it and assess it."