There is a long-standing tradition of Arsenal players leaving North London in search of a more ambitious club, and a lot of the time said players end up at Stamford Bridge, whether that is directly or later on in their careers. Chelsea made Ashley Cole a Champions League winner, gave Cesc Fabregas not one but two of the Premier League titles he had craved for so long, and even handed Nicolas Anelka the chance to fire himself to a Golden Boot and win the league a season later. Could this conveyor belt of talent heading from North to South London continue this summer?
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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has seemingly become displeased at the lack of success Arsenal have achieved since he joined in January 2018. Despite netting 49 goals in only 75 Premier League games, an astonishing record of 0.65 goals per game, Aubameyang has been unable to help the Gunners qualify for the Champions League or win a trophy of any kind since arriving at the Emirates. Turning 31 years old this summer and still yet to win a league or European title, the clinical finisher could be forgiven for wanting to seal a move away from Arsenal this summer. With a long-term rebuilding project under way at the Emirates, and a young and inexperienced manager at the helm of a relatively weak squad, Aubameyang might have his head turned by a club with the means to secure some major silverware in the next few seasons. With his contract running out next summer, Aubameyang looks set to leave for a fee of around £50 million in the coming months, or else on a free in 2021. With some of the biggest clubs in Europe keeping an eye on the striker’s situation, Barcelona chief among them, would he consider a move to Stamford Bridge? Could he have a similar short term affect to Nicolas Anelka when he joined the Blues in 2008? And most importantly, where would he fit in?
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We have seen in the past that Arsenal have been willing to let their best talents leave in order to join domestic rivals, not only with Ashley Cole, but famously with Robin Van Persie moving to Manchester United at the peak of his powers, and Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré all leaving for Manchester City. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that Arsenal might allow their star man to join the Blues if we make an attractive offer this summer.
Aubameyang has been rumoured to be joining Barcelona all season, and although they may be a more appealing club than Chelsea currently for most players, the La Liga leaders have been heavily linked with Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martínez. The Argentinian seems a more sensible long term purchase for the Catalan giants, and given their huge expenditure over the past few years it seems unlikely that they would sign two centre forwards in the same window. Barça are looking to gradually replace ageing and injury prone talisman Luis Suaréz: are they really going to replace a 33 year old with a soon-to-be 31 year old? If Barcelona do plump for Martinez (8 years Aubameyang’s junior), there are not many remaining clubs who would target a forward of Aubameyang’s age and fewer still who could afford his hefty fee. Most of Europe’s elite already possess world class centre forwards: Real Madrid have Benzema, Bayern Munich have Lewandowski, PSG may soon have Icardi permanently and Juventus have Cristiano Ronaldo. Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham all have nailed on starting number 9s. This leaves Chelsea and Manchester United as the only realistic takers for Aubameyang, and given the Mancunian side’s strong links to a hugely expensive Jadon Sancho, Stamford Bridge seems to be the Gabonese goal-getter’s most likely destination.
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Aubameyang’s red-hot form since arriving in the Premier League has conveyed no signs of cooling down this season, as he has netted 17 times in 26 league games, the second highest tally this season (behind Jamie Vardy’s 19 goals). These goals have saved a massively underwhelming Arsenal side (who currently sit in 9th position in the table) from flirting with relegation: without Aubameyang’s 17 goals, which have clinched 14 points, the Gunners would be 18th. He is reasonably creative for a centre forward, with an average of 0.8 key passes and 0.5 dribbles every league game (similar to Abraham), although Aubameyang’s game is very much focussed on positioning and smart runs in behind the defence rather than progressing the ball or assisting teammates. With pace to burn he is highly effective on the counter attack and loves to cut inside defenders, causing all kinds of problems. Chelsea have been crying out for a cold-blooded finisher this season and Aubameyang is exactly that, hugely exceeding his expected goals tally of 12. For context, whilst Tammy Abraham has had a brilliant season, netting 13 league goals, he is performing as expected by the same metric. To outscore his expected goals so impressively shows that Aubameyang is able to finish half-chances as well as reliably tucking away big chances. Chelsea have created the second most big chances in the league this season, 81, and have scored only 51 times (the fourth highest total in the league). With Aubameyang playing for us, it could be a very different story next season.
Former Arsenal and Chelsea forward, Nicolas Anelka, scored 30 league goals in two league campaigns between 2008 and 2010, as the Blues finished as runners up and then as champions, the Frenchman playing a crucial role in a very successful period for us. Should Aubameyang join Chelsea this summer, he could have a similar effect, with his goals potentially pushing us up the table and closing the gap to Liverpool.
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Signing ageing players generally goes against Chelsea’s modus operandi under Roman Abramovich, but that has not always been the case. Some of our greatest players were signed once they had turned 30, the list including: Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli. I wrote an article about potentially signing Dries Mertens (32 years of age) recently, and it feels like we are being linked with a growing list of senior players. Could this be Lampard attempting to integrate some older heads into a very young squad, giving his players role models to follow? Given the impending exits of Willian and Pedro this summer, we will require some more experienced players. Aubameyang fits the bill.
The frequently asked question when Chelsea are linked with a centre forward is: ‘will they block Tammy?’. Not only could Aubameyang provide competition to our young number 9, he could also play on the left wing, something we have seen happen plenty of times this season at Arsenal, with 34.3% of his game time coming in this position. Aubameyang’s scoring ratio actually rises from 0.57 goals per game as a centre forward to a scarcely believable 0.83 when on the wing. If Lampard reverts to playing his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation next season, then playing the Gabonese international on the left could leave Pulisic and Ziyech competing for a place as a number 10 and Hudson-Odoi on the right. Aubameyang is a proven goal scorer in the league and would doubtlessly hit the ground running. £50 million may seem a lot to spend on a 30 year old but given his rate of scoring it could prove to be money well spent. Whether he shares game time with Tammy up top for a couple of seasons before handing the torch to the young Englishmen, or on the left wing, with his pace and ability to cut in and shoot accommodated, he could prove to be an astute signing. Aubameyang could follow in the footsteps of Ashley Cole, Cesc Fàbregas and Nicolas Anelka in moving to Stamford Bridge and playing a huge part in a trophy-laden era.
Photo credit: 101 Great Goals
Written by Daniel New