Arsenal have announced the completion of that ever-elusive type of transfer deal - a player swap. Despite being exceedingly common across professional sports here in the United States, transactions involving two players moving in opposite directions are relatively rare in and between teams in European soccer. Not today, though!
Arsenal and Manchester United have gotten together to do a swap, with Chilean international and Arsenal want-away Alexis Sanchez moving to wear red in Manchester while Armenian international and former Borussia Dortmund man Henrikh Mkhitaryan comes to wear the red and white in north London. Alexis had six months left until his contract with Arsenal expired, whereas Mkhitaryan’s contract had him with the Red Devils through summer of 2020.
All of this invites the question: who is Henrikh Mkhitaryan and why do Arsenal want him?
Mkhitaryan is a versatile, creative midfielder who can play across the midfield line. With Mesut Ozil occupying the central position in Arsenal’s attack, Mkhitaryan is more likely to play out wide, which he has frequently done in the past, while still helping Ozil in shouldering the creative duties for the midfield. Before his excellent 2015-2016 season with Dortmund, which saw him scoring and creating in bunches, he was more of a pass-first type midfielder. In that way, he has been compared to former Arsenal man Alexander Hleb. Like Ozil, Mkhitaryan has excellent vision, seeing not only the current state of play but how things are likely to play out.
Even with the likes of Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, and Jack Wilshere distributing the ball, there has seemed to be a paucity of creative spark in the Arsenal side, especially when these big-name players have been absent or when opponents have been willing to put eleven men behind the ball. Mkhitaryan could provide big chances for strikers like Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, and Danny Welbeck while still being able to receive, control, and score himself from through balls.
Although he does not have the same sustained pace as the Chilean or recent departure Theo Walcott, Mkhitaryan still has a burst of speed in him when called for. The United website has described him as a player possessing “[a] sprinter’s pace and a chess player’s brain” with “astonishing vision and incision.”
I will confess that I volunteered to write this piece after a long time away from the blog because I am absolutely thrilled with this move. I was electrified at the possibility of Mkhitaryan joining Arsenal in summer 2016 and was crushed when he elected to join United at the reported urging of his agent, Mino Raiola, who also orchestrated Paul Pogba’s move to United in the same summer.
Prior to his 2016 move from Dortmund to Manchester, he had been one of the best players in the Bundesliga, making thirty-eight starts and four sub appearances, scoring thirteen goals and registering twenty assists in all competitions. That season, his Bundesliga colleagues voted him the best player in the 2015-2016 season, beating out Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich as well as his teammate and current rumored Arsenal target Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
In 2016-17, his first season in the Premier League, he had twenty-five starts and ten substitute appearances in the league and Europa competitions, registering a respectable eleven goals, including the Europa League-winning goal against Ajax, and one assist.
This season, he has fallen out of favor with United. After an excellent August in which he had five assists in just three league games, the 29-year-old has only made fourteen starts with five substitute appearances in the league and Europa this season, notching just one goal and five assists. Mourinho seems to have lost faith in the Armenian, opening the door for his move to Arsenal and the potential for a return to form.
WhoScored, a veritable home of absolutely indisputable scientific information, lists him as “very strong” at through balls, “strong” at key passes, crossing, passing, and defensive contribution, and says he has “no significant weaknesses.” Guess he’s just the complete package!
In seriousness, though, hopefully you can see why I am so excited to see Mkhitaryan in north London.