When Arsenal took the decision to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave for Barcelona in January, few could have predicted he’d be facing the Gunners in Chelsea colours inside 11 months.
Alas, that’s what will happen on Sunday when Mikel Arteta takes his table-topping side to Stamford Bridge.
The narrative writes itself. One-time hero haunts former club with an inevitable goal. We’ve been here before; Robin Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexis Sanchez are three examples from the last decade alone.
In Aubameyang’s case, he arguably has even more of an axe to grind. Stripped of the captaincy, sent into exile and unceremoniously dumped; it’s a high-profile story that everyone has had to live through twice. Once in real-time and then again as part of Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary.
Despite being reticent to go into the nitty gritty of why he wanted to be rid of the striker, Arteta is well aware that Aubameyang, who has found his scoring boots in the interim, will be pumped for revenge.
“Very dangerous,” said the boss ahead of the reunion. “If Auba has something, it’s the ability to put the ball in the back of the net and he’s going to be doing that until the day that he decides he’s had enough of football.
“We will have to look first of all at what Chelsea do and try to put a plan together to avoid that.”
While Arsenal fell short of finishing fourth last season – in no small part down to a shortage of goals – the decision to part ways with the club’s leading scorer and top earner appears to have paid dividends in the mid-term.
The Gunners look like a more cohesive attacking unit and have been able to redirect wages to the recruitment of replacements, including Gabriel Jesus, who have hit the ground running.
“Well, it’s a decision that we had to take and there are different parties involved,” said Arteta.
“At the end of the day, when someone is not with us anymore and being a player and having the role that he had at the club and how important he was, you always wish everybody the best.
“When someone makes that decision to move somewhere else, they need to enjoy their profession and he seems to be happy.”
One thing is clear, Auba’s exit sent shockwaves through the Arsenal camp. If anyone in the squad thought the non-negotiables were in fact negotiable, this was a stark reminder to the contrary.
Speaking after last night’s 1-0 win over FC Zurich, Mo Elneny, a senior statesman in the camp, said Arteta’s ruthlessness had united the club.
“I think so, because now everyone was scared!” he told the Evening Standard.
“Everyone is scared with their position because this happened to Aubameyang. Of course, if anyone is not the captain of the team, does a small mistake, they are going to have the same problem, and no one needs that problem.”
He added: “Everyone looked at themselves because Mikel did that to the captain of the team. What is he going to do with another player?
“This showed that now we can’t play around, now we have to be calm with the team and the way the team is going we have to stick with the team, not do something different. We agree with what Mikel decided because he is our boss and we just have to agree what his vision is for [us].
“We don’t allow big egos. This is the dressing room we have now. Everyone loves each other and everyone works for each other. This is what actually makes our squad really strong, because we don’t have egos in the team.”