Barcelona’s ‘gift from heaven’ – Did Arsenal make a massive mistake letting Aubameyang leave for nothing?
“A gift from heaven.”
That is how Barcelona boss Xavi described Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earlier this month following his sensational start to life in Spain.
And when you consider the Gabon international has kicked off his Barca career with eight goals in 11 appearances, it is no surprise to hear that everyone at Camp Nou is delighted by the way their January capture has settled.
It was a win that generated headlines around the world and Xavi’s “gift from heaven” was at the heart of it.
“Hello from the finished player,” Aubameyang posted on social media after the victory, in what appeared to be a clear message to those who believed his best days were behind him following his difficulties at Arsenal during the first half of the season.
The 30-year-old has been reborn in Spain. His smile is back and the goals are flowing.
So, did Arsenal make a massive mistake letting him go in January? The simple answer is no.
The fact is this is one of those rare occasions when a transfer works out perfectly for all concerned.
Aubameyang has his mojo back, Barcelona have landed themselves a top striker and Arsenal have improved immeasurably in his absence.
It’s been a win-win for everyone involved.
Whether that stays the case at Arsenal remains to be seen, because questions will undoubtedly be asked about the wisdom of allowing Aubameyang to leave should they go on to miss out on Champions League qualification during the final 10 games of the season.
However, for now, there is a steadfast belief around the north London club that the decision was the correct one.
“I’m extremely grateful for what Auba has done,” Mikel Arteta said soon after Aubameyang’s departure.
“The way I see myself in that relationship is the solution, not the problem. I’ve been the solution, 100 per cent. I can look in the eye of anybody.
“The intention all the time is the best and not for me, it’s for the club and the team.
“You have to make a decision that the best thing to do was let him move on and now he plays for Barcelona. It ended up the best possible way for everyone, I think.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to think of many transfers that end up pleasing all parties.
It was clear going into the transfer window that his time with the Gunners had come to an end.
He had already been banished by Arteta following the latest in a long line of disciplinary breaches and so hadn’t featured since the 2-1 defeat at Everton on December 6.
So, when January arrived, it was just a case of trying to find the striker a new club.
It looked like Arsenal’s attempts to find a bidder were going to prove unsuccessful as the month progressed, only for Barcelona to enter the equation with just days remaining.
As the deadline approached, the talks intensified.
When the deal was eventually announced, there was plenty of surprise that Arsenal had ended up releasing Aubameyang from his contract 18 months early and given him away on a free transfer.
But the Gunners were more than satisfied with that outcome.
They may not have received any transfer fee for their former captain, but they had saved up to £18 million ($24m) in wages and rid themselves of a problem they thought they would have to revisit in the summer.
“We wish him the best and we move on without any regrets,” Arteta said. “I prefer to look at all the beautiful things and good times that we had.
“It’s important to learn and look back at what you could have done better, especially from my side.
“I think [the squad has been] very understanding, they knew what was happening and it’s a good solution for everyone.”
For whatever reason, it was clear that Aubameyang had lost his spark at Arsenal.
His form prior to his exit was patchy at best and big chances were being wasted that you would usually expect him to take with ease.
In his last 40 games for the Gunners in all competitions, he failed to score in 28 of them.
And those around him were also struggling to find the net when he was the player at the head of Arteta’s attack.
However, things have changed dramatically since Arsenal’s defeat at Goodison Park in December, which was Aubameyang’s final appearance.
Arteta’s side have taken 31 points from a possible 39 in the Premier League, losing just twice – to Manchester City and Liverpool.
Arsenal averaged just 1.2 goals per game prior to Aubameyang’s final appearance at Everton. Since then, with Alexandre Lacazette playing as the central striker, they average 2.0.
They are also averaging more shots (16.8 compared to 14.0), more shots on target (5.4 to 4.8) and more touches in the opposition box (31.8 to 23.1).
Possession has increased to 54.0 per cent compared to 49.1% and, most importantly, they are now averaging 2.4 points per game, compared to just 1.5 previously.
The upturn in form and results is clear for all to see and the statistics paint a similar picture when you look at Aubameyang’s personal output before and after his move.
In all competitions this season, he was averaging 0.6 goals per 90 minutes for Arsenal, but that has gone up to 1.1 with Barcelona.
He is taking more shots (4.0 compared to 3.2), having more touches in the opposition box (6.7 compared to 4.7) and his shot conversion rate has increased from just 18% to 28.1%.
But it’s not just what he’s doing on the pitch at Barcelona that has caught the eye, he has also surprised everyone behind the scenes as well.
Staff at the Spanish giants have been hugely impressed with how he adapted his new surroundings, the way he is approaching training and the work he is putting in.
The switch has given Aubameyang a new lease of life and Barcelona are now reaping the benefits of having one of Europe’s most prolific strikers leading their attack.
“Sometimes everyone benefits from a separation,” Aubameyang said on social media earlier this month. “[The] most important [thing] is that everyone is happy now.”
Given the way things have worked out, you won’t hear anyone at Arsenal or Barcelona disagreeing.