Once looking set to become the talisman of Mikel Arteta’s arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is now the symbol of a dysfunctional era the Gunners appear to be emerging from.
Aubameyang signed a new three-year deal with Arsenal in September 2020 – initially worth £250,000 a week plus generous add-ons – with the goal of “becoming an Arsenal legend and maybe leaving a legacy”. He certainly left a legacy, although it’s more complicated than anyone could have imagined at the time.
After a gradual deterioration in his relationship with Arteta, Aubameyang went from captain to shipwrecked. He was punished, ostracized and then allowed to join Barcelona on a free transfer in February, where he spent six months before returning to London, believing he could only play under one of his former bosses who still admired him, Thomas Tuchel for the German to be sacked by Chelsea six days later.
On Sunday, the Blues host Arsenal at Stamford Bridge with a 10-point gap between the two sides, meaning the 33-year-old will take on Arteta and the side that were thought to be without him for the first time would get better. Traces of this period are still visible. The tattoos definitely are. Such was the depth of emotion and the speed of transformation that Aubameyang is likely to wear Chelsea’s No 9 shirt this weekend, with a tattoo on his right arm (along with two of his children) bearing Arsenal’s No 14.
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Even body art was a bone of contention towards the end of his time at Arsenal. In February 2021, there were suggestions Aubameyang broke COVID-19 rules by getting a tattoo on his hand, one of several disciplinary issues that were beginning to erode his standing in the squad. Sources told ESPN at the time that there was not a major incident that prompted Arsenal to part ways with Aubameyang, but rather a series of minor breaches that undermined the professionalism Arteta demanded from his squad.
Among the various offenses, Aubameyang reportedly missed a drug test, showed up late for several meetings and, as one source put it, regularly requested time off from the group. Part of that was a compassionate holiday to visit his ailing mother, Margarita, but there was a view at the club that he was not showing enough commitment while also risking COVID-19 complications related to his extra travel. He is generally seen as a gregarious and popular character, although his flashy cars and flashy lifestyle can be divisive, especially to those who value humility and discipline.
When it came to breaking up, Arteta was ruthless. Last December, Aubameyang was stripped of his captaincy, forced to train alone and eventually left on a free transfer. Aubameyang was bitter. The footage was recently leaked from his early days at Barcelona, the 33-year-old gives a scathing assessment of Arteta.
“Big characters and big players… he can’t handle it,” Aubameyang said. “He needs some young players who don’t say anything.”
Aubameyang has since distanced himself from those comments, claiming: “I still had a lot of bad feelings inside me – Arsenal are doing great things this season and I wish all my old boys well, just not on November 6.”
Allowing Aubamayeng to leave came at a high cost. Arsenal did not sign a replacement and with only Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah the Gunners lacked firepower and narrowly missed qualifying for the Champions League.
Still, the club believed the longer-term cultural shift Arteta made was worth the short-term risk and this season, after a summer of wise investments, that view is reaping dividends. Arsenal sit at the top of the Premier League with Gabriel Jesus calling the shots for the Gunners, almost exactly the opposite of Aubameyang; Often the ex-Gabon international’s contribution has been a goal and little more, while Jesus presses relentlessly, creating space and opportunities for others through his relentless running and intelligent movement.
Jesus’ goal drought in seven games is a concern but offset by his contribution to the rest of the team. Aubameyang’s contribution was almost entirely measured in goals. He was the fastest player in Arsenal history to score 50 Premier League goals (in 79 games) and his flair was crucial in winning the 2020 FA Cup, a key reason why he signed such a lucrative contract later in the year received. But after signing that contract, he scored 13 goals in 43 league games as his influence waned. This made it a little easier for some Arsenal fans to stomach Aubameyang’s departure, but this weekend’s clash gives the striker a chance to prove suggestions of his permanent demise were premature.
There was once debate as to whether Aubameyang would be revived playing through the middle rather than on the left wing, where he was most effective for Arsenal, but Arteta was never fully convinced of the idea. He is expected to start as a centre-forward for Chelsea on Sunday.
Aubameyang had hoped that working with Tuchel again could trigger a period of calm after a turbulent year. Tuchel had spoken glowingly about Aubameyang when he was in the middle of a falling out with Arteta, recalling fondly their relationship at Borussia Dortmund, where the forward scored 79 goals in 95 games until joining the Gunners in 2018.
New Chelsea boss Potter has also spoken enthusiastically about Aubameyang’s attitude – particularly regarding his recovery from a horrific robbery at his family home in Barcelona that left him with a broken jaw – and was aware of his physical workload and left him fall to the bench for league games against Brentford and Brighton in the last fortnight. Aubameyang has scored just one league goal for Chelsea – against Crystal Palace on October 1 – and Potter will be looking for a response from his players after a 4-1 defeat at his former club Brighton last weekend.
Aubameyang is the latest in a long and expensive line of strikers aiming to break the so-called ‘Curse No. 9’ at Chelsea, which has seen Romelu Lukaku, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Morata, among others, underperform in recent years. Sources have told ESPN that Chelsea were keen on signing Aubameyang two years ago but Arsenal have pulled out all the stops to keep him on this new deal. This weekend, Aubameyang has a chance to remind everyone why he was once in such demand.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/english-premier-league/story/4788064/chelseas-aubameyang-has-much-to-prove-against-arsenal Chelsea’s Aubameyang has much to prove against Arsenal