Arsene Wenger has shown rare foresight in getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan
The Armenian moved to Arsenal as part of a swap deal that took Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United. But it is not the Chilean's boots Mkhitaryan will be expected to fill
With the volume turned up to deafeaning on Manchester United's "coup" in signing Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan's move in the opposite direction has barely registered a decibel.
Jose Mourinho has added to his squad one of the most productive Premier League forwards of the last few seasons essentially for nothing, with both clubs valuing each player around £35 million (Dh179m), although it is hard to imagine the Armenian midfielder picking up anything close to Sanchez's reported £400,000 a week wages in North London.
Mkhitaryan has not been signed as a direct replacement for Sanchez. His 41 goals in 157 appearances since the start of the 2014/15 season is almost half of Sanchez's return in 165 appearances since joining Arsenal from Barcelona three and a half years ago.
From that perspective Arsenal, in the eyes of many, have landed the runner-up prize. No doubt that, given the choice, Arsene Wenger would have preferred to have kept Sanchez, but in this instance the Arsenal manager has shown great foresight in getting Mkhitaryan as part of the deal. The Frenchman, rather than the Arsenal board, has been criticised for allowing players to enter the final year of their contracts. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez have already left this season. Another high-profile departure is on the cards this summer. Mkhitaryan hasn't been signed to replace a goalscorer, he has been signed to replace a creator for when Mesut Ozil inevitably moves on this summer.
Judged against the German rather than the Chilean and Mkhitaryan's stats stack up more favourably. Since the start of the 2014/15 season Ozil has racked up 38 assists in the Premier League, scoring 23 goals. Over the same period, Mkhitaryan has laid on 26 league assists and scored 19 goals for Borussia Dortmund and United. He started the season on fire as United won their opening seven Premier League games, laying on five assists for teammates and scoring in the 4-0 rout of Everton.
At Dortmund he was even more productive. Operating as a No 10 or a wide forward, Mkhitaryan scored 41 goals in 141 appearances and registered over 30 assists in three seasons in the Bundesliga. One of the main beneficiaries of those assists was another Arsenal target: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Together with Marco Reus and Shinji Kagawa, the venerated front four made Dortmund one of the most feared attacking units in Europe. A two-legged Europa League tie against Tottenham Hotspur in 2016 is one that immediately springs to mind. Dortmund's high press, led relentlessly by Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, destroyed a Spurs team starting to carve a name for themselves as one of the most fluent attacking sides in England. Every pass by a Spurs player went backwards. Dortmund won 5-1 on aggregate with Aubameyang on the scoresheet thrice over 180 minutes. Although Mkhitaryan provided no direct assists, he did provide three pre-assists - the pass that led to the pass that led to goals.
Aubameyang was dropped for Friday's 1-1 Bundesliga draw at Hertha Berlin as Dortmund confirmed they are in talks with Arsenal, with Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis in Dortmund on Sunday, according to Bild, to discuss a move for last season's Bundesliga top scorer.
Dortmund reportedly want €60 million (Dh270m) for the want-away striker. During their three seasons together at the Westfalenstadion - the second severely interrupted by injury to Mkhitaryan - Aubameyang's partnership with his teammate brought over 120 goals, 80 of them for the Gabonese striker. If Wenger can revive one of the most fruitful pairings of recent times Arsenal will have salvaged the best of a bad Sanchez situation.
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Updated: January 23, 2018 05:29 PM