Many believed that Arsenal had got the better of the deal. That Manchester United, in their desperation to get one over rivals Manchester City by signing Alexis Sanchez, failed to take stock of what they were actually agreeing. Some thought Arsenal had actually pulled one out of the bag.
While Sanchez headed to Old Trafford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan made the switch in the opposition direction to Arsenal. Given that Sanchez was in the final six months of his contract, set to leave for nothing at all in the summer, it didn’t look to be the worst of deals for the Gunners. They might not have got a fee, but Mkhitaryan was deemed to be worth around £30 million on the open market.
Jose Mourinho was glad to see the back of the Armenian. Signed in the summer of 2016, the former Borussia Dortmund playmaker had been a disappointment at Old Trafford. There had been glimpses of his brilliance, most notably in Man Utd’s 2016/17 Europa League run, but Mkhitaryan never quite blossomed into the maestro so many thought he would be.
But it wasn’t just Mkhitaryan’s on-field performances that irked Mourinho. The Portuguese was unconvinced by his mentality, particularly on the big occasion. Arsenal believed that they could address this, that they could spark a renaissance in their new signing, returning him to the sort of level he frequently reached in Germany.
So far, though, the Gunners have been wrong in this assumption. Mkhitaryan, picking up where he left off for United, was impressive for Arsenal in the Europa League last season, but has generally failed to make his mark on a team that is in desperate need of leadership and direction.
Against both Manchester City and Chelsea, Mkhitaryan was largely missing in action. Arsenal needed players that would impose themselves on the opposition, but the Armenian was extremely passive. Even against West Ham last weekend, when the absence of Mesut Ozil opened up more space for Mkhitaryan, he struggled.
Quite simply, Arsenal need more from their January acquisition. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, another player signed in the mid-season window, has settled in quickly at the Emirates Stadium, even if he has drawn a blank over his first three appearances of the new season. He showed enough in the second half of last season to suggest he will come good again.
But his partner in crime, the player who did so much to provide him with the right service earlier in his career at Dortmund, has still to reach the same heights. What’s worrying for the Gunners is that Mkhitaryan is showing many of the same traits he demonstrated in his short time at Man Utd. So was Mourinho right about him all along? At a difficult time for the Portuguese, can he at least claim to some foresight on that one?
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