Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s move to Barcelona looked set to become nothing more than a meme. The Gabon international traveled to Spain, reportedly without Arsenal’s knowledge, and with no deal agreed to take him to La Liga. Long-time fans of the deadline day circus were quick to bring out the Peter Odemwingie comparisons, recalling the time the former West Bromwich Albion striker turned up at Queens Park Rangers’ gates hoping to force through a move, despite no deal being agreed between the two clubs. But unlike the ill-fated Odemwingie, the deal did not fall through.
While it looked unlikely for a time, this strange piece of business has finally gone through. The transfer has been confirmed on the Arsenal end, with the Gunners bidding farewell to their 32-year-old forward on social media. Meanwhile, Aubameyang was training with his new teammates on Tuesday. As with any new Barcelona arrival these days, there is already an unfolding drama surrounding his registration. Barcelona have made four acquisitions in mid-season; Aubameyang, Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Dani Alves. They only have room in their permitted squad for three of these players. The club had been hoping to shift Ousmane Dembele to accommodate Aubameyang, but despite the winger being offered to all and sundry, no deal was reached. This puts the Blaugrana in a tricky position.
You would imagine the 21-year-old Torres, a much-ballyhooed acquisition from Manchester City, will not miss out. The Spain international has been earmarked as the marquee star to lead Barcelona back to prominence. Adama Traore also seems unlikely to make way. The powerful winger joined on-loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers this week, and it seems unlikely the Catalan giants would immediately sideline their new arrival. The odd man out could be Dani Alves, the 38-year-old right back who has returned to the club after five years. It would be harsh on a player who agreed a deal in November, but was not eligible to play until January. However, the idea of bringing in Aubameyang without being able to field him would be ridiculous, even for the turbulent modern Barcelona.
Assuming the former Arsenal captain is allowed onto the Nou Camp turf, the transfer looks to be an excellent piece of business. Aubameyang’s scoring record for Arsenal was superb, with the striker netting 92 times in 163 appearances for the Gunners. Goals have become a treasured commodity at the Nou Camp, with the fifth-placed Barca having scored less goals than Villarreal in seventh, and Valencia in tenth.
You can find the root of the problem in Barcelona’s list of scorers. Memphis Depay leads the way on eight league goals, and his career revival in the blue and red of Barcelona has been a bright spot through the club’s troubled recent history. The scoring drop-off after the Dutchman is stark. No other player has scored more than three La Liga goals this season. The fact Ansu Fati, who has played just five games this season due to injury, is the club’s joint-second top goalscorer this season speaks volumes.
Aubameyang will score goals, and should provide a focal point for the Barcelona attack. It seems like a long time ago now, but the 32-year-old was being lauded for his workrate as recently as this season, as Mikel Arteta’s frontline looked to have finally clicked. Aubameyang still has a lot to offer as a player, and in this depleted modern Barcelona, he finds himself at a club where he is arguably the star player.
This star status possibly contributed to Aubameyang’s undoing at the Emirates. As Arsenal captain, and the club’s highest paid player, there was always going to be increased pressure to conduct himself a certain way on and off the pitch. While the performances were often good, it was his extra-curricular conduct that hastened the end of the Gabon star’s tenure in North London. A December disagreement over how long Aubameyang was allowed to spend in France during a trip to see his mother proved to be the final straw for Arteta. Aubameyang was stripped of the captaincy, and a transfer such as this has looked an inevitability ever since.
Aubameyang and Arsenal have made a clean break that benefits both parties. The club get his sizeable pay packet off their wage bill, and avoid any future clashes between Arteta and what was an important dressing room figure. Barcelona land a top-level striker without paying a transfer fee, as long as they can resolve their registration issue. Aubameyang gets a chance that he perhaps would not have anticipated receiving at the age of 32. He is a central figure for Barcelona, a star player who will be relied upon to carry the side. As a piece of transfer business, this could be the best move Barcelona have made since their financial troubles began.