Arsenal and Manchester United decided to swap Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in January, a transfer that is likely to reap rewards for all the parties.
A straight transfer swap is a very rare concept in world football. Especially, in the recent times, a time when the most exorbitant of transfer fees have become the norm, a swap that involves no exchange of money at all is not just strange, but unheard of. Add to that the prospect of the two teams involved being league rivals and a few eyebrows were raised when Arsenal and Manchester United confirmed the deal.
Manchester United fans rejoiced at having secured the signature of Alexis Sanchez, a player who will definitely elevate their squad. In turn, the club’s decision to let Henrikh Mkhitaryan go would have been tough to take for the fans, with the Armenian having a good rapport.
But, the former Borussia Dortmund man had failed to set the stage alight for a continuous period, with only bursts of magic, which was not enough to warrant him a regular place in the starting lineup.
At one moment, Jose Mourinho had even said that there is no space for the Armenian in the 18-man matchday squad, with others showing better form. In such a scenario, Manchester United lost a player who was struggling to get games under his belt and in turn got a player who has slotted straight into the starting lineup – an upgrade.
At Arsenal, the situation was a lot more complex. Alexis Sanchez had been the focal point of the club’s attack for over 3 years now. But, of late, the contractual situation had caused bit of an unrest in the dressing room, which was often visible on the pitch.
Thus, in giving up Alexis Sanchez, although they lost a key player, they improved the morale of the dressing room and reinforced their squad with a player in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will be hungry to prove that he can get accustomed to the Premier League and that his Manchester United stint was just a minor blip.
While this is the overview, we now get into depth as to how each club and player might have benefitted with the move.
Manchester United – A much-needed reinforcement in attack
Jose Mourinho has been crying out for a winger to add to his ranks since the summer, when Ivan Perisic was the primary target. In January, rumours were afloat of several other targets. But, surely, others pale in comparison to Alexis Sanchez when thought of carefully.
The Chilean is already an established figure in the Premier League. His directness and ability to dribble past opponents will be an asset to Manchester United. Alexis brings, with himself, a hunger for success and trophies, which, upsettingly, he has failed to achieve at Arsenal, with FA Cup their biggest trophy during his stay.
A straight swap allowed United to get Alexis Sanchez, literally for free. In turn, the Red Devils freed up a bit of wages by letting Henrikh Mkhitaryan go to Arsenal. While the Armenian will definitely strengthen the Gunners, who are a rival, it was visible to all that the playmaker was struggling to get to grips with Mourinho’s demands and the playing style at Manchester United, which, again, is not as easy-on-the-eye as the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona, to name a few.
Arsenal – A revamped attack and a throwback to the Gunners of old
Regardless of the goals and assists that rained for Arsenal through Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean is not as good a fit to the high-possession tiki-taka-esque playing style that Arsenal have become famous for. In fact, Wenger had tweaked the tactics a bit to utilise Alexis better, which saw Arsenal shift their focus from free-flowing football to a more counter-attack-minded team.
In the short-term, it did reap some benefits. But, the identity of Arsenal FC had begun to get diluted. Even though the Gunners have been a bit trophy-shy in the past few years, it is the football that has always kept fans and neutrals glued.
To add to it, Alexis Sanchez’s contractual situation was threatening to disrupt squad harmony. In fact, Arsenal had seemed resigned to losing the Chilean to Manchester City. But, this transfer has come, perhaps, as a saving grace for the Gunners.
While this transfer does not involve any inflow of money, Arsenal wouldn’t have been able to get a player of Alexis Sanchez’s calibre to replace the Chilean for the £25 million fee that City were prepared to pay.
In turn, Arsenal have received from Manchester United, in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a proponent of the free-flowing football. Add to that the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have managed to replace Alexis Sanchez’s goals and assists both while also being able to return to their old playing style.
The proof has been evident in their 5-1 thrashing of Everton, where we saw Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang fit in seamlessly within the Arsenal playing eleven in a performance that felt like the attacking quartet had been together for a while.
Alexis Sanchez – A more suited playing style and a better shot at trophies?
The Chilean loves to hold the ball for a certain period of time, which, at Arsenal, had often affected their build-up play. Unlike Arsenal though, the build-up play at Manchester United involves a lot of wing play and is not as fluid and fast as Arsenal’s, which warrants a quicker release of the ball.
Also, Jose Mourinho’s arrival has already seen Manchester United return among the trophies. Manchester United do look like a side that are better-placed to attempt to gain trophies. However, in absolute terms, Arsenal could actually get their hands on a trophy very soon, having made the finals of the Carabao Cup.
But, in the grander scheme of things, Manchester United are in the Champions League and present Alexis Sanchez with the opportunity of playing the elite European league, which unfortunately Arsenal failed to achieve, albeit for just this season so far.
Let us not forget that the Chilean has also received a very generous paycheck as well at Manchester United, which is also a motivational factor.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – A chance at redemption
Mkhitaryan’s case oddly seems to be almost the same as Shinji Kagawa. Both arrived from Dortmund with a burgeoning reputation of being brilliant. But, both flattered to deceive at Manchester United, being able to produce just spouts of magical moments, like Mkhitaryan’s scorpion kick against Sunderland.
At Arsenal, he will receive ample playing time and will be surrounded by players with a similar footballing philosophy, one that matches with the manager’s point of view as well. Mkhitaryan was hailed as the king of assists in the Bundesliga and his union with Mesut Ozil is likely to result in a smooth explosion of silky football at Emirates.
Add to that the reunion of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan – the duo ran the Bundesliga ragged – and it is not too strange to say that Mkhitaryan has also received the longer end of the straw by joining Arsenal.
While only time will tell as to who benefits more from the move, the transfer swap of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez shows a very important thing that deals like these can strengthen all parties involved and these deals can happen between rivals as well – something that might become more of a trend in the coming times in the Premier League.
For now, Manchester United, Arsenal and their respective fans both rejoice for having gotten a very good deal and having come out of the transfer a better side than they were.