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Is Henrikh Mkhitaryan leaving Arsenal?

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It has been a strange 24 hours.

AS Roma v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was loaned to Roma at the start of this season, it was widely seen as a signal that the midfielder was on his way out at Arsenal. On Wednesday, Italian paper Corriere dello Sport reported that Mkhitaryan had told the Gunners, “my time in London is over, I hope you manage to find an agreement with Rome because my desire is to stay.” His agent, Mino Raiola, immediately refuted the report and denied that any message of intent had been communicated to Arsenal.

That’s pretty standard media-player-agent-club transfer stuff. People leak things to the media or the media stretches comments to connect dots that maybe shouldn’t be connected, and the parties involved react and try to walk things back. Nobody wants to tip their hand or weaken their bargaining position.

Things became decidedly not normal when none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another Raiola client, weighed in. As far as I can tell, none of the parties have commented on Zlatan’s bizarre interjection.

I’m not really sure what Zlatan is trying to say here, to be honest. Is he confirming the original Mkhitaryan story to be true? Is he making a general point about what is and isn’t fake news? Is he grinding a personal, unrelated axe? Is it just bored-in-quarantine Zlatan being Zlatan? Who knows.

Mkhitaryan joined Arsenal in January 2018 in a straight swap deal with Manchester United for Alexis Sanchez. The midfielder only managed 9 goals in 59 appearances for the Gunners but had a comparatively better season in Italy before play was suspended, scoring 6 goals in 13 appearances and adding 3 assists.

His hefty wages, £180,000-per-week, are a potential stumbling block for any permanent move. The midfielder is under contract through the end of next season, and Roma are reportedly seeking financial help from Arsenal, either in the form of a reduced transfer fee or covering a portion of his wages, as part of the sale. The Italian article claimed that Arsenal have already lowered their asking price from £22M to £8.7M. The two clubs will likely have to negotiate an extension of the loan deal, which expires at the end of June, to accommodate play stretching into the summer months.

Numbers and terms aside, there is almost certainly a deal to be made here. Arsenal are looking to remake their squad and lower the wage bill. At 31 and in the last year of an expensive contract, Mkhitaryan isn’t part of the long term plans in North London. Any funds Arsenal can manage for him are a plus; he’s leaving on a free at the end of next season. Raul Sanllehi has already said Arsenal’s summer budget is going to be limited because of the financial impact of coronavirus, so every bit will help. This move makes sense for everyone involved.