Arsenal or United - who wins the Premier League’s big swap?

It used to be unthinkable that Manchester United and Arsenal would trade players, but anything seems possible in football these days.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan Alexis Sanchez

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (L) and Alexis Sanchez (R) Source: Getty Images

Even “swaps” themselves are almost unheard of – a real throwback of sorts. But it’s pleasing to see United and Arsenal pull this off because their respective transfer values are probably equal.

So wins the deal? On the face of it, you’d probably say United, for they’ve secured one of the Premier League’s top five players whilst giving away one who isn’t in the top 30.

But it’s not a like-for-like deal. Alexis Sanchez could have – and probably would have – been theirs for nothing in the summer. And they could have kept Henrikh Mkhitaryan or sold him off for what they paid for him (thought to be around £27 million [A$47m]).

In a sense, both clubs are winners. Arsenal have gained something from a situation which looked to end terribly for them. United have gained a forward of true class they haven’t had since Robin van Persie (given Wayne Rooney’s retreat into midfield), who proved remarkably good value when he made the same move.

In the context of bidding wars for big players knowing no boundaries, you could probably sustain a better case for United edging this deal.

They should get at least 18 months of premium service from Sanchez, or at least two-and-a-half years of excellence.

All things being equal, the Chilean should take some of the heat from Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial, and some of the marquee burden placed on Paul Pogba. It could create a few headaches for Jesse Lingard (11 goals in all competitions) and Marcus Rashford (nine goals), however.

Does Sanchez make United into a title-winning force? Certainly not this year, but in future seasons, they become a more legitimate threat – especially given Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unlikely to be the force he was after all these injuries.

So the real variable in this deal is Mkhitaryan. So good in the Bundesliga, so-so in the Premier League.

Having watched him at his absolute best when at Dortmund, it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen anything like that since his move to Old Trafford.

Truly, he was terrifyingly good in Germany. The team played to his strengths and he, in turn, was able to connect the midfield with the attack as if he had some kind of master key. It shouldn’t be forgotten that he absorbed a lot of the pain of losing Mario Gotze.

Ironically, Dortmund sold Mkhitaryan to United for the same reason Arsenal are selling Sanchez – because his contract was winding down. There was a full year left for the Armenian when he went to England and the Germans still made a small profit on the fee they paid Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013.

Why did Mkhitaryan not adjust to England? Many reasons, of course, but the primary one has to be Jose Mourinho. I remain as big a fan of Mourinho as anyone but it was a relationship that began badly and just seemed to get worse. It was almost as if the boss never wanted him in the first place.

At Arsenal, Mkhitaryan gets a very different scenario. He won’t be welcomed like the player he’s replacing, but as somebody who has to prove their worth. Not dissimilar to how he arrived at Dortmund – and he relished in that scenario.

Arsenal are sixth, at risk of missing the UEFA Champions League places for the second year running and badly in need of inspiration. A popular addition to every dressing room he’s been in, Mkhitaryan will be a uniting force – unlike Sanchez, a notoriously divisive figure.

A slightly different positional player, he may be more useful in providing opportunities for the out-of-sorts Alexandre Lacazette and Olivier Giroud, who may now see more game time. And if they land Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a freak scoring machine who will score goals in England, then Mkhitaryan would really get chance to shine.

Arsenal can making something of this deal. They have to. But to win the deal, just about everything would have to fall into place.

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4 min read
Published 23 January 2018 at 5:45pm
By Sebastian Hassett