Chelsea flop & Arsenal outcast Aubameyang is neither finished nor cursed - just a victim of his own poor decisions
One wonders if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is now a superstitious sort.
At the Emirates, some supporters will tell you that the forward fell foul of the 'Arsenal captain's curse', while Chelsea supporters will tell you his Stamford Bridge career was doomed from the moment he donned the No.9 jersey.
Whatever the truth, for the second winter window in a row, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is facing an uncertain future.
This time last year, Aubameyang was in the midst of a bitter divorce from Arsenal.
In little over a month, he went from captain to outcast, allowed to join Barcelona at the start of February just over five weeks after being stripped of the armband for his "latest disciplinary breach".
Now, some pundits are already wondering if he will ever play for Chelsea again after both starting and finishing Thursday's Premier League clash with Manchester City on the bench.
Aubameyang was introduced in place of the injured Raheem Sterling after just under five minutes of play. Yet he was then replaced himself midway through the second half.
During his 63 minutes on the field, he managed just 13 touches of the ball – only one of which came in the City area – and failed to register a single shot.
Even worse, former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton was among those to accuse him of a lack of effort.
"Aubameyang looked like he didn't want to be here this evening," he told BBC Sport. "I thought he was woeful, hopeless and didn't give anywhere near enough.
"He looked disinterested and I suspect Graham Potter will be thinking, 'Blimey, he is never going to play under me again!'"
In reality, though, Aubameyang could even start against City in Sunday's FA Cup third-round clash at the Etihad.
It's not as if Chelsea have many other options.
Kai Havertz continues to flatter to deceive when played through the middle (and anywhere else for that matter), while wingers Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic have just joined Armando Broja, the club's only other orthodox centre-forward, in the treatment room.
There's also the fact that Potter did his best to defend Aubameyang after his ineffective outing in midweek.
The striker was visibly frustrated by his withdrawal but his manager insisted, "It was a normal reaction.
"He came on after a couple of minutes, hadn’t played for a while, and put in an absolute shift for us, given Manchester City make you run a lot.
"I thought he did everything he could for the team. He was just tiring a little bit."
Of course, even that doesn't bode well.
Aubameyang could be forgiven for a lack of match sharpness, given how little game time he's seen in recent months, but he shouldn't be tired. It's not as if he was worn out by the World Cup, after all.
The circumstances surrounding his current situation at Stamford Bridge may be very different to his acrimonious Emirates exit but it once again feels as if Aubameyang would benefit from another January transfer.
However, that appears impossible right now, given FIFA rules prohibit European players from lining out for three clubs in the same season, and Aubameyang made one Liga appearance for Barcelona at the start of the current campaign.
There is also no point in Chelsea letting him leave now anyway. They are not exactly well-stocked in the striking department and there are not exactly many world-class No.9s on the market right now.
The Blues have, of course, already signed one forward, David Datro Fofana, since the winter window opened, but the Ivorian is not expected to be thrust straight into the starting line-up.
As it stands, then, if Aubameyang were somehow allowed to leave, the under-pressure Potter wouldn't have one senior centre-forward at his disposal, given Borja is unlikely to play again this season.
It's hardly an ideal situation for a manager in charge of a side that sits 10th in the Premier League standings having scored a miserable 20 goals in 17 games, and won just one of their last eight games in all competitions.
Aubameyang was obviously meant to be the answer to the Blues' goalscoring problems, and the thing is, he could have been.
Chelsea may be currently copping a lot of flak for their recruitment strategy, and rightly so.
But we're also seeing a lot of revisionism in relation to Aubameyang's arrival, with the likes of Harry Redknapp and David Seaman claiming he was doomed to fail at Stamford Bridge.
That is simply not the case, though. At the time, Aubameyang's acquisition made sense, as several esteemed pundits acknowledged.
At just £10.3 million ($12.4m), he looked a shrewd signing. Even Mateo Kovacic publicly admitted that Aubameyang was precisely the kind of "proper striker, and goalscorer, that we have been missing".
Arsenal may have been right to get rid of him last January but that doesn't mean that Chelsea were wrong to sign him during the summer.
Seaman suggested that it was telling that Barcelona were willing to let him go but their reasoning was two-fold: the arrival of Robert Lewandowski, and their desperate need to balance the books.
Xavi certainly wasn't happy to see Aubameyang leave.
Firstly, there was the fact that he had scored 11 times in 17 Liga games last season, including a double in a 4-0 win at Real Madrid that lifted the entire club.
Secondly, for all his bad behaviour at the tail end of his time at Arsenal, he conducted himself impeccably at Camp Nou.
"I feel bad because he helped us a lot," Xavi admitted. "He is an example on and off the pitch, he made a big difference, just look at his numbers.
"As a person, he is a jewel, always training with a smile on his face. It’s a shame because these are the kind of players you want to have in your squad but it was a good opportunity for him and for the club as well.
"We needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together, we are all happy but I feel bad as a coach to lose a player like Aubameyang.
"He was an example for the entire club and all the players."
It is, of course, impossible to overlook the way in which Arteta's Arsenal have benefited from Aubameyang's departure, particularly in terms of uniting the dressing room.
Contrary to what the Gabonese subsequently stated, he was the problem – not the solution.
However, as his short spell in Spain underlined, the 33-year-old still had much to offer, on and off the field.
It was a gamble worth taking. And it might have paid off had Aubameyang been given more time with Thomas Tuchel.
Indeed, the main reason why so many felt Aubameyang might once again flourish at Stamford Bridge was the presence of his former boss at Borussia Dortmund.
The striker enjoyed the most productive period of his career under the German coach, scoring 79 goals in 95 games during Tuchel's tenure.
"Hopefully he can be that good again," Tuchel enthused after Aubameyang's transfer from Barca was confirmed on September 1.
"we know what we get, he delivers goals and speed and work rate against the ball so it's a big package he can bring to our group."
Tuchel was sacked just six days after Aubameyang's arrival, which remains a staggering decision.
Chelsea's new owners had backed the manager with a record-breaking £250m ($300m) outlay during the summer transfer window, even jettisoning Romelu Lukaku, the most expensive player in the club's history, at Tuchel's behest, only to ditch him after just seven games.
Of course, it's worth remembering that despite his "sadness" at Tuchel's abrupt dismissal, Aubameyang still managed to score three times in his first five appearances Potter, who also praised the forward for the way in which he dealt with the trauma he suffered during and after the armed burglary of his Barcelona home just before his transfer to Chelsea.
However, it quickly became clear that Aubameyang was at odds with Chelsea's Potter project which – for now at least – is focused on rejuvenating their squad with young players suited to the Englishman's style of play, as illustrated by the January signings of Fofana, Andrey Santos and Benoit Badiashile.
He's now gone 10 games, and nearly three months, without a goal.
Context, as always, is key, though. Aubemeyang hasn't performed anywhere near his best, that's beyond dispute, but it's not as if he's playing for a free-scoring side.
No Chelsea player has scored more than four league goals so far this season. The service to the front line has been atrocious.
Consider the fact that Aubameyang's shooting accuracy across 16 games in all competitions (63.16) is superior to that of Erling Haaland (61.11) – the difference is the conversion rate (13.04%) to (31.76).
But that can be mainly attributed to the quality of the chances with which they're being presented.
Aubameyang has only had five big chances in 16 games this season (Liverpool's Darwin Nunez has missed 21 alone!) but he's converted 40% of them – that's a similar strike-rate to Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski (both 41.67%).
As former Chelsea forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink said, "It's not as if he's become a bad player overnight."
Aubameyang only has himself to blame for finding himself in this position, of course.
He admitted after signing a contract extension at Arsenal in 2020 that Mikel Arteta had convinced him to stay by pointing out that he could "leave and go for trophies at other clubs" or "you can stay here and have a legacy."
He has completely sullied that legacy with his actions over the past year.
He betrayed a total lack of leadership in leaving Arteta with no option but to reluctantly show him the door at the Emirates.
It was not an easy decision for the Spaniard. Aubameyang had been integral to two FA Cup triumphs. They had formed a close bond. Their parting was painful.
"I feel really sad," Arteta admitted after Aubameyang's transfer to Barcelona.
But his former skipper added insult to injury by criticising Arteta in a video leaked online, and then further irked the Arsenal faithful by partaking in an all-advised promotional video ahead of a London derby with his old club in November in which he declared himself a "blue".
So, for all Aubameyang's bad luck, for all the talk of unfortunate timing, he's found himself in a mess all of his own making.
He could be leading the line for the league leaders right now – instead, he's the reserve striker at a club without any fit forwards.
Aubameyang, then, is not cursed. He's just the victim of his own poor choices.