It has been the transfer saga of the winter window so far. Alexis Sanchez’s protracted move away from Arsenal has seen the so-called favourites to sign him change, but it has almost never seemed in doubt that he would no longer be playing in the red of Arsenal come February 1st.
Manchester City were the initial favourites, with Pep Guardiola supposedly a big reason as to why the Chilean would go there, with a reunion with his former manager an attractive proposition.
However, that supposed move fell through, paving the way for City’s rivals Manchester United to pounce. The Premier League’s second-placed team has been lacking an incisive edge from their attacking-midfield this season, with the side needing a world class player to come in and spark United at the right time. Sanchez is the type of player that specialises in this.
While much of the focus has been on Sanchez and Manchester United, the proposed swapping of Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the Gunners has largely gone under the radar. Indeed, his move has also been overshadowed by reports that there is serious interest in bringing Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to London.
The striker has been left out of the last few squads for the Bundesliga outfit for his conduct, with the German side seeming to have lost patience with the player. His troubles with Dortmund has seen Arsenal emerge as a front-runners for his signature, with the side in need of reinforcements.
With Mkhitaryan’s move edging closer, and real speculation surrounding Aubameyang, the question must be asked: how would the two fit into Arsene Wenger’s team?
The Armenian is undoubtedly a superb talent that, on his day, can tear a side apart with his thoughtful passing and incisive running. Indeed, during his final season with Borussia Dortmund, Mkhitaryan bagged 11 goals along with 15 assists, making him the player that had set up the most goals in the Bundesliga in 2015/16.
The following year though, he struggled. For United, he managed to score just four goals, while he only notched one assist. It is very interesting to note that this season he has picked up five assists along with a goal, and yet he is still supposedly on his way out. Perhaps he was not ever quite given a fair chance under Mourinho.
A fresh start?
A move to Arsenal would see him link up with a manager in Arsene Wenger that is far more inclined to attacking play. Mkhitaryan is a classic forward that is not often seen racing back to help out his teammates in defence, while his defensive ability is questionable at best. He should not be criticised for this though as he is just a classic-forward, but where he went wrong was playing for Mourinho, a manager that demands that his attackers can and will track back and defend.
With Arsenal, he will more likely get given license to roam and to stay forward, much like Mesut Ozil. His ability to pass the ball is superb, albeit, it is slightly worse than Ozil’s, but Mkhitaryan is more comfortable, quicker and more incisive when running with the ball than the German, meaning the two will likely complement one another.
When he was with Dortmund, Mkhitaryan was able to create a huge amount of chances for his teammates as they were all so quick, with the German side lethal on the counter-attack. While United do have quick players like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, their main striker in Romelu Lukaku will not be at the top of many peoples list when they are looking at the most lethal counter-attacking strikers due to his lack of searing pace.
With Arsenal, the Armenian will be given the ability to utilise the pace of Alexandre Lacazette up front when on the break, while he will also have the chance to work off Ozil, with Mkhitaryan a likely target for many of the incisive passes he makes. Indeed, Arsenal’s style of play sees the side keep the ball more often than United do, meaning that Mkhitaryan will get more chances to create, while he may be given less of a defensive burden.
If Aubameyang is to join the side, then the two will once again resurrect their deadly partnership, and it could be one that sees Arsenal finally become a force in England again.
Aubameyang has had some off the pitch problems in recent seasons, but if he can solely focus on football, then he could prove to be one of Arsenal’s best ever purchases.
The striker is currently the second-highest scorer in the league with 13 goals, two behind Robert Lewandowski, while last season he bested the Polish player, hitting 31 goals to Lewandowski’s 30, and the season before that he notched 25 strikes for Dortmund. That means that in two-and-a-half seasons, Aubameyang has scored 69 goals. With Arsenal crying out for a top-class striker, he seems like the man to fill this void.
His play style means that he could easily be incorporated into the London side too. The first thing most people comment on is his pace, with the striker one of the fastest in the world. His speed means he is a menace on the break, but he is also adept with his feet, able to take a touch from a drilled pass or move the ball on intelligently, meaning he would not be a dead weight when Arsenal are dominating the game.
The fact he is six foot and one inch also means that he is a real threat in the box from crosses, meaning that he is close to a perfect marriage between Lacazette and Olivier Giroud, taking the former’s pace and the latter’s aerial ability. His finishing is an element of his play that has also never been in doubt, with tap-ins and long-range efforts adorning his qualities.
A problem for Wenger?
However, there is, of course, a problem with his proposed transfer. Lacazette was brought in to solve Arsenal’s woes up front, and he has found things diffiuclt of late. While some have cited that the Frenchman could use some real competition, the signing of Aubameyang could see the forward relegated to the bench.
Wenger has utilised formations that tend to have a single striker, and who would the manager choose to lead the line? If Lacazette is dropped then he may feel hugely aggrieved as most forwards that are new to the Premier League will take time to adjust, while it may also make the striker feel like the club do not have confidence in him.
If Aubameyang is not used properly then it would be very easy for the new player to become discontented. Worse still, Wenger may look to utilise one of the two on the wing, and it would be a travesty to see either of these world-class strikers forced out wide, stunting their goal scoring chances.
If the rumours about Aubameyang are true, then Wenger needs to decide upon a system that suits all those involved. Without Sanchez, Ozil remains Arsenal’s best player, while the Mkhitaryan-Aubameyang partnership could once again prove to be deadly as it did for Dortmund. Once Lacazette rediscovers his form, he should also play, meaning that Wenger will have two attacking-midfielders and two strikers vying to start. Perhaps the manager will be forced into playing a system with two out-and-out strikers, or he may give Lacazette license to roam behind Aubameyang.
Whatever happens, if Wenger can play his cards right by bringing all of these players together and then utilising them correctly, then this could be the makings of one of the most fearsome front-fours in world football.