Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have to hit the ground running at Arsenal if he is to fill the void left by Alexis Sanchez. And not all fans seem convinced that he’s up to the task.
The swap deal with Manchester has left parts of the Gunners fanbase underwhelmed, in part because of the Armenian’s poor contributions this season.
But there are plenty of reasons for Arsenal supporters to excited about their new arrival.
1. Flourish away from Mourinho
It’s true that Mkhitaryan’s recent form at Manchester United has been far from impressive. But this season he started with a bang, equalling a Premier League record with five assists in his first three games. And last season he showed flashes of the undeniable talent that made United buy him in the first place.
Many have attributed his recent struggles to a fall-out with Jose Mourinho, whose man-management approach may not be well-suited to the Armenian international. We’ve seen plenty of recent examples of players shunned by Mourinho — Kevin De Bruyne, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Mohamed Salah — who went on to flourish elsewhere. There’s no reason to think Mkhitaryan won’t be the latest.
2. He can score and create
Some have questioned whether Mkhitaryan is an adequate replacement for Sanchez, who was Arsenal’s leading scorer in two of his three full seasons at the club. He is seen as more of a Mesut Ozil-type, a playmaker who is better at creating goals for others than scoring them himself.
But Mkhitaryan is more than capable of chipping in with goals himself. In his final campaign at Borussia Dortmund, he netted 23 goals in total and, for United, he scored six in just 10 starts in last season’s successful Europa League campaign.
3. Great partnership with Aubameyang
Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but let’s assume Mkhitaryan will be joined by former Dortmund teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the Emirates. If so, Arsenal will have recreated an attacking partnership that was one of the Europe’s most formidable during their last season together in 2015-16.
The duo combined for 62 goals in all competitions that campaign and helped Dortmund finish second behind runaway Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Mkhitaryan also led the German league in assists with 15, while Aubameyang trailed only Robert Lewandowski in the goalscoring charts with 25.
4. A good fit with Ozil and Lacazette
Even if Aubameyang doesn’t arrive, Mkhitaryan should still slot into Arsenal’s attack. He and Mesut Ozil are two of the best assist-makers in football and should have no problems developing a quick understanding.
Alexandre Lacazette, who has been struggling for both goals and service over the last six weeks, should thrive as a result too. Sanchez could often be selfish with the ball, but Lacazette will now have two fantastic passers playing behind him and looking to pick him out in the box. And the fact that Mkhitaryan speaks German and French won’t hurt these relationships.
5. Proven against Spurs
Mkhitaryan also has a record of performing well against North London arch rivals Tottenham. He was instrumental in helping Dortmund knock Spurs out of the Europa League in 2016, with one assist in each of the two round-of-16 legs (Aubameyang, incidentally, scored three goals in those matches).
And he netted a Premier League goal against Tottenham as well, scoring the winner in United’s 1-0 home victory in December 2016. If he can keep that record up for Arsenal, he’ll be a fan favourite in no time.
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.