Arsenal and Manchester United have finally made their Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official, but what does Mkhitaryan bring to Arsenal?
With wantaway Alexis Sanchez out of the club and Arsenal supporter Henrikh Mkhitaryan in, Arsenal finally made the move to repair their dressing room chemistry. Mkhitaryan never found success at Old Trafford, and the Armenian international will hope that joining his favorite club from his childhood provides the spark needed to get back to his best.
From a tactical standpoint, both players will welcome the move: Alexis Sanchez never truly fit into Arsene Wenger’s pass-and-move style of football, and Jose Mourinho’s hard-working system wasted Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s talents. Mkhitaryan’s best years were at Borussia Dortmund under Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
Mkhitaryan’s last exceptional season was in 2015/16 when he scored 11 goals and notched 15 assists in Tuchel’s fast-paced, aggressive system. In that team, he fed passes to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, two pacy attackers who can electrify a match whenever they run between defenders. At Arsenal, Mkhitaryan will attempt to assist Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck, and Aubameyang when attacking the goal.
Wenger’s patient possession-based game will suit the Armenian much more than Mourinho’s more direct style of play did. Instead of having to run up and down the field and focus more on defending than attacking, Mkhitaryan will be able to express his creativity on the ball with Arsenal.
In his short time in the Premier League, the 29-year-old saw his status fall from people regarding him as a hidden gem in the Bundesliga to a misused waste of money at Old Trafford. Now that he will play in a system well-suited to his abilities, Gooners should expect to see Henrikh Mkhitaryan close to his best. He may not totally fill the void left by the prolific Alexis Sanchez, but he has the capability to revive his career under Arsene Wenger.
Goals and assists were not the only highlights of the Armenian’s stellar 15/16 campaign. He averaged a 7.90 WhoScored rating and took home 11 Man of the Match awards in 28 starts. He also averaged a career-high 2.7 key passes per match in that season, and he averaged slightly over 43 completed passes per match in the league.
He never found his footing in the Premier League with Manchester United, but that was mostly due to Mourinho defense-first system. In 15 appearances in the league for United this season, he has just one goal and five assists, and last year he finished with four goals and an assist in 24 appearances. His average rating in two Premier League seasons is 6.93, which is not awful, but when he starts to play in Arsene Wenger’s system, his performances should improve greatly.
Mhkitaryan is adept with both feet, and Arsenal need a playmaker who does not always depend on one foot. Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka, and Jack Wilshere almost exclusively use their left feet, so having Mkhitaryan on the wing will provide some unpredictability in the Arsenal offence. Defences will not be able to guess whether he will run down the touchline and play a cross or cut inside and find a teammate or a shot for himself.
The 29-year-old has shown off his versatility in the 19 games he played with Manchester United this season: as a centre attacking midfielder, he averages a 7.36 rating, and he averages a 7.24 rating as a left attacking midfielder. He only appeared in one match on the right side for United, and he won’t be likely to play there much for the Gunners since Mesut Ozil plays as an inverted right-sided midfielder.
Since his first season with Dortmund, Mkhi averaged about one completed cross per game. Although Arsenal’s preferred striker, Alexandre Lacazette, is by no means a target man, the club will relish having a player who can play an accurate ball into the box, since full-backs Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac have not been able to do so this season.
Another great thing about the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk star is his accurate passing. Alexis Sanchez’s posted a 72.9% pass success rate for the Gunners this season, whereas Mkhitaryan completes an average of 82.7% of his passes. Longtime Arsenal spectators will love to finally see a left-winger who can take care of the ball after they dealt with Sanchez’s carelessness for the past four seasons.
Mkhi hasn’t yet found success in English football, and the clock constantly ticks down on the time the 29-year-old has left in one of the highest echelons of world football. He has shown the ability to dominate games, but he never returned to his Dortmund form under Jose Mourinho. Wengerball seems like a great fit for the technically sound midfielder, but the pressure of replacing Alexis Sanchez rests on his shoulders. For the sake of Arsenal’s domestic and European campaigns, he must prove able to fulfill those expectations.