Aubameyang to Chelsea is a short-term gamble, but it might just work
He’s 33 years old and left Arsenal under a cloud, but he’s also a proven goalscorer and time is limited. That’s why Chelsea are interested.
Well, the timing is certainly striking. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being linked to a return to the Premier League with Chelsea in the same week as the release of the episodes of All or Nothing: Arsenal detailing his departure from that club has raised a couple of questions about whether Chelsea are making the right decision.
Chelsea could do with a new striker. For all their frantic activity in this summer’s transfer market, it remains a position in which they have fewer players than they did last season. Romelu Lukaku ended has his miserable spell with the club and returned on loan to Inter, but it is the idea of Lukaku rather then the player himself they must replace. What they need is the guarantee of goals they thought Lukaku offered them this time last year.
Timo Werner has already returned to Leipzig and there is talk that Christian Pulisic could be on his way to Manchester United. And while Raheem Sterling is an outstanding player, he has never been – or really intended to be – a 20 goal-a-season striker. He was never – and was never intended to be – a direct replacement for Lukaku.
And so to Aubameyang. There’s no question Aubumeyang can be a 20 goal-a-season striker. He’s already done that seven times throughout his career in all competitions; twice for Arsenal, four times for Borussia Dortmund, and once for Saint-Etienne. He remains the fifth-highest goalscorer in the the Premier League in the time since he joined Arsenal, with only Mo Salah, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Sadio Mane ahead of him.
While malaria slowed him down in his last full season at The Emirates and heart lesions kept him out of the delayed AFCON 2021, Aubameyang didn’t take long to find his aim once he landed in Barcelona. He scored 13 goals in 23 games, 11 in 17 league games, with two coming in Barcelona’s startling 4-0 win away at Real Madrid in March. Having retired from international football in May, his schedule will be free from interference. The logic behind wanting his services should be obvious.
And although a return to the Premier League would be a surprise, that return coming at Chelsea may not be quite so much of one. The most successful spell of Aubameyang’s career came at Borussia Dortmund, during which he scored exactly 100 goals over his final two and a half seasons between 2015 and 2018 to persuade Arsenal to drop £56m on him at the end of the January transfer window.
His coach for most of that time was, of course, Thomas Tuchel. And it’s notable that Aubameyang left Dortmund just months after Tuchel left for PSG, despite the form he’d been in for the previous two and a half years. If anybody knows how to get the very best out of this particular player, it’s him.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the end of his time at Arsenal, Aubameyang has had an unsettled 12 months. On top of the Arsenal business, he may well not have been expecting to be pushed out of the Barcelona team by a player of Robert Lewandowski’s calibre rocking up this summer. We can only wonder whatever happened to Joan Laporta’s comment at the time of his arrival at Camp Nou that, ‘Once we have a more healthy financial situation, we will help you as you are helping Barca now.’ We can only speculate whether he came good on that.
The manner in which Aubameyang left Arsenal had already been under scrutiny because of All or Nothing, which featured Aubameyang leaving Arsenal under a cloud for Barcelona in the first place. Some had speculated that the documentary might reveal further reasons beyond ‘being late from training’, but none seemed to be forthcoming.
Aubameyang deserved sanction over his behaviour. Arsenal have a young team, and younger players do look up to and respect older players, especially those who hold the captaincy. This level of responsibility is inherent to the position Aubameyang held at the club; as a senior professional over the age of 30, he would already have known this.
It’s clear Mikel Arteta felt that he had to send a strong message to the rest of the squad that indiscipline of this nature would not be tolerated. Sometimes working relationships break down and have to end. Arsenal seemed a happier place once he’d left, and the player himself seemed happier in Barcelona.
It’s hardly forward-looking for Chelsea to be signing a 33-year old striker, but players last longer than they used to these days and regardless, with less than two weeks to go before the transfer window closes until after the World Cup, options are obviously thinner on the ground than they were earlier in the summer. It’d be stretching things a bit to say ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ when all involved in this story are so fabulously wealthy, but at this relatively late stage in the window opportunities are obviously limited.
Will it work? There are never any guarantees, and it rather comes down to which Aubameyang turns up. There’s a brilliant goalscorer in there, as we saw during the second half of last season in Catalunya, but both Aubameyang and Tuchel can be combustible characters at times, and they may not simply resume their effective working relationship several years on and in a different environment.
But the signs that Chelsea need a striker were visible in both of their first two Premier League matches of the season. Against Everton, they got over the line with a penalty kick. Against Spurs, they would surely have had the game killed off way before the last minute controversies with an experienced goalscorer in their team. And whatever the cloud under which he left Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Abuameyang fits that description.