Henrikh Mkhitaryan can positively impact Arsenal
A year ago Boxing Day, Henrikh Mkhitaryan had the most spectacular among his rare positive moments with Manchester United. Darting into the box anticipating a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross, he was forced to adjust. The service arrived, just a little behind its intended target. Dropping to all fours he backheeled the ball over his own head into the far side-netting.
Forget that he'd gotten away with being offside; the strike was in the frame for Goal of the Season. For all of a week. Then Arsenal's Olivier Giroud matched his feat from an onside position. The entire episode summarises the midfield Armenian's United sojourn.
It took longer than expected but Henrikh Mkhitaryan is now set to become an Arsenal player. It's possible the first teammate to whom he will introduce himself will be the Frenchman. Just to compare notes.
Meanwhile others will be wondering whether Mkhi has what it takes to thrive at the Emirates?
The Armenian playmaker got off to an impressive start this season with Manchester United if you believe five assists in three games qualifies as impressive. Unfortunately, as manager Jose Mourinho put it, he "disappeared" as the campaign advanced. Soon he was only the subject of annoyingly repetitive questions at press conferences.
Mkhitaryan barely played. When he did it was painful to watch. He tried to show energy, enthusiasm, dedication. Too often that pent-up desperation was released in crosses that sailed over everyone's head and shots that threatened supporters in the 20th row. He looked out of synch, his expression confused, his rhythm worse than Elaine Benes. It was clear his time at United was set to end. Mourinho brilliantly capitalised on his value by including him in the package to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.
There is no question United fans will welcome Sanchez. But it's not like Arsenal is accepting a player past his prime or not good enough to play for the Gunners in return. Mkhitaryan could not have found a better landing spot than the Emirates. He grew into one of the best playmakers in Europe while featuring for free-flowing Borussia Dortmund. He showed flashes of that brilliance at Old Trafford. Yet Mourinho continually clamped down on his freedom, attempting to coax more out of the player when he didn't have the ball. That won't be the emphasis under Arsene Wenger. There is even the potential for him to become a club legend.
Wenger loves direct playmakers who can create something out of nothing. Mesut Ozil, who regularly sits near the top of the assists department year after year, produces similar results in a much more languid manner. Mkhitaryan's forward energy and work rate will likely impress Gunners fans in comparison. Ozil tends to stroll through matches like Dimitar Berbatov used for Spurs and United.
Mkhitaryan will have to make a tactical adjustment at Arsenal in that he'll almost certainly return to his preferred role. He featured as a right winger for United, constantly drifting towards the inside to associate with Paul Pogba. Arsenal's 3-4-2-1 allows its two attacking mids to roam at will. That is what Mkhitaryan used to do at Dortmund. That is how he became such a dominant player. He is one of those talents who needs freedom to thrive. He chokes in a rigid system.
Only time will tell whether Mkhitaryan settles into an impactful player at Arsenal. One thing is certain: the talent is there.