The Sanchez-Mkhitaryan swap deal: Why both players needed a move away and how do they fit into their new teams

Sam Iyer Sequeira
Jan 29, 2018 · 7 min read

Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are two top quality footballers that are capable of playing at the highest level. Both play for top-tier football clubs and are usually starters for their respective clubs. However, Sanchez’s desire to leave and Mkhitaryan’s lack of form is what has started this trade deal. In a trade deal, there are a lot more factors that must be considered in comparison to a regular, one-way purchase of a player. Both players must sign for the club around the same time, earn some sort of similar player, and etc. In this trade deal, it’s quite clear that in all due respect, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the inferior player in the deal as Manchester United are getting the better deal out of this, using Alexis Sanchez’s imminent contract expiry as a way to bank on him. However, despite Mkhitaryan not being as good as Sanchez, Mkhitaryan’s agent, Mino Raiola, has done whatever he can to get Mkhitaryan a similar role or even similar wages that Alexis Sanchez had at Arsenal. Mkhitaryan is likely to shine at Arsenal, with their fast pace, technical fluid football suiting his strengths, and requiring to engage in fewer defensive duties then he did under Mourinho. Mkhitaryan this season started out in blistering form, recording 4 assists in his first 2 matches, however, as he continued to bag some assists and even goals, he didn’t have much impact on the outcome of the games as the season progressed, especially against the top 6 teams. His inability to create chances for United in these big games is what has left Mourinho having no faith in him, as he seemingly gets lost in a game. Manchester United are certainly losing a quality player in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but already have the player on their books that possess similar qualities: Juan Mata. Juan Mata has been in better form than Mkhitaryan and can create chances like Mkhitaryan, however, the only difference between those two players is that Mkhitaryan has better movement. Mkhitaryan’s ability to create chances and get into good positions is what has caused Arsenal to be interested in him.

After making his debut vs. Yeovil Town, Alexis Sanchez became the first Chilean to play first team football for Manchester United

At the beginning of the season, Mata and Mkhitaryan playing together didn’t really cause any issues, however, later on into the season, both players were offering the same thing, however, they both didn’t offer anything going wide, an area that Manchester United need reinforcements in. Now that Jose has resorted to a 433 with Lingard, Pogba, and Matic in the middle, there doesn’t seem to be placed for Mkhitaryan in that midfield, as all those players are in good form and can create chances when it gets tough. Some will say that Mkhitaryan wasn’t given enough playing time, however, in the more recent games, Mourinho has given Mkhitaryan some playing time and time to shine, however, the Armenian hasn’t given any proper service to Manchester United main striker, Romelu Lukaku. As Pogba got injured early in the season and big games coming soon, many Manchester United fans were confident that Mkhitaryan would shine even more in Pogba’s absence, however, Pogba’s absence had only caused Henrikh to dip in form. From what we’ve seen in the past few months, it’s quite evident that Mkhitaryan is a confidence player, a player that’ll only play well and flourish if the team is doing well. So, Mkhitaryan is no leader but a follower in the pack. Mourinho likes to build his team around leaders, and as Pogba got injured, no one else in the team was willing to step up, especially Mkhitaryan.

What Manchester United get in return in this trade deal is what they’ve needed for some time now, a world-class winger. Many Manchester United were adamant that Memphis Depay would be the next winger to rule the Premier League with Manchester United, however, that didn’t work out, as they’ve failed to have a world-class winger for some time. Right now they have wingers who have the potential to be world class, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial. Both are quality players and undoubtedly have the talent to become world class, however, what separates them from that title of being called world class is their decision making. When Manchester United counter-attack, Martial and Rashford inability to make the right decisions has cost them in some games, like Leicester away. In all due to respect to both players, they still lack some footballing intelligence, as both most of the time seems to make the wrong decision. Their pace can be troubling for defenders, however, their inability to make decisions is what has separated them from the likes of Sanchez and Hazard. Alexis Sanchez will undoubtedly bolster this Manchester United attack. He’s world class, he’s at his peak, and most importantly, he’s Premier League proven. His unpredictably when taking on defenders and blistering pace & sharpness is what makes him world class.

However, the real question is how Mourinho will use Alexis Sanchez. Manchester United’s next Premier League game is Tottenham away, a difficult match as Manchester United will look to get 3 points from that encounter. Since Mourinho been appointed as Manchester United manager, United have struggled away from home against the top 6, however, with Sanchez now in their squad, they can now on the front foot and attack right from the get-go. Sanchez’s individual ability can also help the likes of Martial and Rashford, learning from him, however, hinder their progress, as they’ll get less game time. Because Arsenal is in the UEFA Europa League this season, Sanchez is not cup-tied and is eligible to play in the Champions League this season, something that’ll certainly increase Manchester United’s of winning the Champions League.

A player with the quality of Henrikh Mkhitaryan will surely be missed at Manchester United, a player capable of changing the outcome of a game or even chances out of nothing. However, what Manchester United fans will never forget is his insane form that got Manchester United into the Champions League and the chant. I wish Henrikh Mkhitaryan all the best for his future whenever he may go, but not too much luck, especially against Manchester United.

How Sanchez Fits

Alexis Sanchez is undoubtedly a regular starter for this Manchester United as he provides immediate improvements to the team. A player known for his determination and fantastic ability as a footballer, Sanchez will be pivotal in the rest of United’s season. He can play across the advanced 3 behind Romelu Lukaku, starting his Arsenal career on the right and sometimes starting games in a #10 position. If Mourinho wants to attack on all fronts with pace, it is likely that Sanchez will occupy the #10 position, with Rashford, Martial, or Lingard l occupying the wings. If Mourinho is looking to play his strongest team possible, he’ll probably put Sanchez out wide on the wings, and looking to create chances through him, similarly to how Mourinho attempted to revolve the team around Henrikh Mkhitaryan when Paul Pogba was injured. Mourinho has seemed to have the team he’s wanted, with quality players going forward at the back. However, despite Manchester United having six central defenders, Mourinho either now or in the summer needs to buy a top quality defender that can play Eric Bailly (when fit). Furthermore, should Mourinho let some of the player’s contracts run such (eg. Mata, Herrera, Fellaini, Blind,), he needs to identify replacements that’ll improve this team.

How Mkhitaryan Fits

There’s not as definite of an answer of where Mkhitaryan will play in the Arsenal team considering his versatility, however, in Borussia Dortmund, he flourished playing on the wings, and can play across the advanced 3 behind the striker, similar to Sanchez. Mkhitaryan will most likely play on the left in a 4231 system, with Ozil in the #10 role, Aubameyang on the right, and Lacazette upfront. With Ozil and Mkhitaryan playing together, it is almost certain that Arsenal strikers Alexandre Lacazette & possibly Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (if he signs) will get heaps of chances, now it’s just about whether they convert their chances. With Arsenal’s style of play, Mkhitaryan would most likely flourish under Arsene Wenger and can find his form again, however, but this is at the expense of no Champions League football and mounting any serious title challenge. However, while this signing certainly benefits Arsenal after a huge void has been left by Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has still failed to identify a world class defensive midfielder that can help shore up the defense, the biggest of Arsenal problems. In 6th place, 5 points of the top 4, and out of the FA Cup, excuses are running out for Arsenal.

Following his move to Arsenal, Henrikh Mkhitaryan will become the first Armenian to play for first team football for Arsenal

This deal is certainly the deal of the transfer window, as it’s a swap deal including two quality players. This is certainly an incredible coup from Manchester United, considering they took Alexis Sanchez right under Manchester City’s noses, getting Sanchez for a straight player swap without any cash, and a player coming from a direct rival like Arsenal. This deal will certainly do wonders for Mourinho’s team if Sanchez is let loosed by Mourinho when it comes to attacking. But let’s not forget what Arsenal are getting, a top quality player in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a player whose lacking confidence and certainly needs to find form if he’s going to start his time with the Gunners on a high. Manchester United next play Arsenal on the 28th of April, as it’ll be a very interesting encounter, two rivals, with one club getting the better deal than the other.


Football Applied

An online publication that looks at how certain topics like economics, game theory, psychology, and statistics apply to the footballing world.

Sam Iyer Sequeira

Written by

Football Applied

An online publication that looks at how certain topics like economics, game theory, psychology, and statistics apply to the footballing world.

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