Alexis Sánchez and Arsenal’s will-he won’t-he shenanigans have finally reached a conclusion, with the Chilean unveiled at Old Trafford yesterday and Henrikh Mkhitaryan heading to North London in recompense. Meanwhile a delegation of Arsenal’s senior transfer executives is reported to be in Germany with the understood intention of securing the services of Borussia Dortmund goal-machine Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
On the face of it, this could be seen as an acceptable resolution to the bad hand that the Arsenal management has contrived to create for itself through yet another example of transfer market ineptitude. Sánchez should have been sold early in the window for the reported £60 million that Manchester City were seemingly prepared to pay. Instead the confused and confusing messages coming out of the club that first he wasn’t for sale and then he was providing a replacement could be secured; achieved nothing except to keep a demotivated player at the club with a reduced sale value given that he would be able to walk out the door and sign wherever he wanted come the end of the season.
Worse still, sensing an opportunity too good to refuse to get one over on both Pep Guardiola and Arsène Wenger, José Mourinho and Manchester United nipped in to steal Sánchez from under the noses of their cross-city rivals and to unload the out-of-favour Mkhitaryan rather than having to stump up any form of transfer fee. Great business for Manchester United without doubt.
In isolation the replacement of Sánchez with Mkhitaryan is unlikely to fire the enthusiasm of the disillusioned and continually frustrated Arsenal support; it is therefore crucial that the news of this deal is followed swiftly by the conclusion of the Aubameyang pursuit.
While Mkhitaryan’s impact since moving to the Premier League a season and a half ago has been underwhelming to say the least, it can only be hoped that this was to do with incurring the wrath of Mourinho as so many other have done previously, rather than any lack of quality in the player.
Mkhitaryan was the man selected by Borussia Dortmund to replace the Bayern-bound Mario Götze back in 2013 and while it fair to say that he struggled to make an impact initially it was his eventual combination with Aubameyang, the duo combining for a total of 62 goals in 2015/16, that will offer solace and encouragement for Arsenal supporters.
The Armenian playmaker possesses both pace and dribbling ability which make him relatively flexible in where he plays and he is perhaps more suited to a position out wide than the traditional number ten role in which he made his name, and of course the position usually occupied by Mesut Özil in Wenger’s preferred 4-3-2-1 system. If the mercurial German is to follow Sánchez out the door then Mkhitaryan offers a ready-made replacement.
Aubameyang is a player that I have personally coveted for a number of years, ever since he took up the mantle from the departed Robert Lewandowski and made a more than adequate fist of replacing the seemingly irreplaceable at Dortmund. His goal-scoring record makes for impressive reading with 141 goals in 212 appearances since arriving in Germany and an even more clinical 116 goals in 139 games since being utilised as the main central striker. Anyone who has heard me drone on about him over the past few years will know that he would have been my preference even ahead of summer signing Alexandre Lacazette.
The Gabonese striker’s greatest asset is his lightning pace but also his ability to create space for himself with clever movement and an uncanny ability to get into the right place at the right time. At 6 foot 2 inches, his size alone means that he is more suited to the lone striker role than options now departed (Walcott, Alexis) or those still at the club (Lacazette). His mobility is something that Olivier Giroud, assuming he isn’t Dortmund-bound as part of the deal, will never have and he crucially possesses the clinical finishing that Danny Welbeck sadly lacks.
In essence the Aubameyang signing would seem like a no-brainer, yet the very fact that we splashed out in excess of £50 million on a goal-scorer just a few months back has me scratching my head on this one a little bit. It would seem highly unlikely that Aubameyang would be brought in not to start, or that current record singing Alex Lacazette will be dropped; so barring a dramatic tactical change that would see Wenger play two up front, it seems as if one of our expensive strikers is destined to play wide in the wide forward/ second striker role. Which one that is remains to be seen, although Lacazette’s travails in adapting to the Premier League may see him shunted out to the left in the first instance, albeit in a relatively fluid system.
While it can’t in any way be argued that the situation in which Arsenal find themselves has been by any form of strategic intent; it might just be that an attacking four that sees Mkhitaryan on the right, Özil at number ten and Lacazette wide left in support of Aubameyang will finally spark some life into the Gunners’ faltering campaign.
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Enjoy some of the Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan goodness (we threw in Reus because well . . . #ReusOrRiot)