Chelsea and Graham Potter hurt by mystery Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang exile as player cull begins

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s exile is getting harder to explain, as Chelsea continue to draw blanks.

No public or private explanation has been given by Graham Potter, club officials or the owners over why Aubameyang has been frozen out.

The striker has not played since a late substitute appearance at Liverpool exactly a month ago, and he has not been on the bench for the past four matches.

He was also cut from the 25-man Champions League squad for the knockout stage in a decision that boss Potter has insisted was his own.

Mild-mannered and non-confrontational, it seems out of character for Potter to alienate Aubameyang.

Chelsea have managed just one goal in their past five games, and the decision to leave him in the cold is made all the stranger because Potter has said the 33-year-old “has done nothing wrong”, is “working hard” and has stressed that he is not in a “terminal” situation.

Out in the cold: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not played for Chelsea for exactly one month (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Out in the cold: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not played for Chelsea for exactly one month (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Aubameyang fell out with Mikel Arteta at the end of his time at Arsenal, but multiple sources inside Chelsea have confirmed there have been no such issues this time.

He was shocked to be left out of the Champions League squad, but is said to have handled it with grace.

Without him, Chelsea travelled to Borussia Dortmund without a recognised forward on their 12-man bench, starting Kai Havertz ahead of Joao Felix, Mykhailo Mudryk and Hakim Ziyech.

In a dominant period in the second half, the Blues could have done with an alternative striking option. But, having chosen injured duo Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante in their squad ahead of Aubameyang, had to turn to Mason Mount and Marc Cucurella off the bench as they chased an equaliser in a 1-0 defeat.

Against Southampton on Saturday, 20-year-old January signing David Datro Fofana was selected to lead the line, before he was taken off at half-time after struggling. Starting a raw talent signed from the Norwegian league ahead of a proven goalscorer was odd when Potter desperately needed a win to ease the pressure on him.

Chelsea lost 1-0, but Potter retains the support of the board ahead of Sunday’s derby at Tottenham. Aubameyang does not appear to have a future at Chelsea, and the suspicion is the club wants to play players who do.

It is hard not to feel sympathy for the striker, who got his career back on track at Barcelona after he left Arsenal. He scored 11 goals in 17 LaLiga matches and was excited to link up with his former manager Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, before the German was sacked one game after he joined.

With Chelsea scoring so few goals, you have to question the decision to make Aubameyang the first victim of the player cull

His attitude at Chelsea has never been questioned, he is training well and he scored three goals in his first four games under Potter, including goals home and away against AC Milan.

It would be wrong to ignore his struggles in recent months, and on his last start, against his old club Arsenal in November, he had just eight touches before being subbed at half-time. With his future increasingly looking to be away from Stamford Bridge, MLS team Los Angeles FC agreed a fee with Chelsea for Aubameyang earlier this month.

Aubameyang was left in the dark over talks, only seeing media reports, until the deal was agreed. He immediately turned down the move to wait to join a leading European club. He believes he is still a top-level player and had interest from Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Milan last summer.

In Potter’s defence, he was going to have to disappoint some players, after his squad grew to 33 players following the January transfer window.

But, with Chelsea scoring fewer goals than any Premier League side in the past 14 matches, you have to question the decision to make Aubameyang the first victim of the player cull at the club.