There is something different brewing at Arsenal Football Club this January. Despite only signing Konstantinos Mavropanos for £2 million so far this month, there is finally a sense that the club feel compelled to make changes. Wary of getting their hopes up after years of transfer market disappointments, many fans are still reluctant to believe much of the noise surrounding the club so far during this transfer window, even with quality players being linked almost every day. The spectre of Alexis Sanchez’ departure is still hanging over the club like an ominous dark cloud, and after Sunday’s toothless display against Bournemouth, supporters’ concern about the state of the attack once the Chilean departs intensified to the point of hysteria in some corners of social media.
A year ago, with the club stumbling blindly through another transfer period with Arsene Wenger spearheading efforts on the market, the current situation would likely have spelt doom for the immediate future of the team. However, in November, Ivan Gazidis finally gave Arsene Wenger the help he sorely needed when he hired Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund, and while some may have thought Wenger wouldn’t give up his power so lightly, it appears that Mislintat is already making his presence felt in a big way at the club. Only just installed as Arsenal’s Head of Recruitment, Mislintat has been so busy in his new role that he is yet to be photographed in an Arsenal shirt.
Fortunately for the club, Mislintat could not have come at a better time, as the club is at a crossroads with many of its first team players (and have been for far longer, but are only getting around to acknowledging it now) and in desperate need of an injection of fresh blood and young talent. Coming from a club, Borussia Dortmund, whose current operating model involves an incredible amount of player turnover each season, the flurry of activity is not likely to intimidate him, and his fingerprints are all over the players currently being linked to Arsenal.
Of all the names being linked to the Gunners this January, the two with the most obvious links to Mislintat are Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, both of whom were brought to Dortmund by “Diamond Eyes” himself. Aubameyang is the most recent big-name player to be linked to the Gunners, and that story has evolved massively over the last 48 hours from a seemingly lazy bit of connecting the dots into one of the most widely reported and re-reported rumours currently out there by some of the most trusted sources in the football press. To make the situation even more interesting, while it was thought that the club would be put off by a player with questions surrounding his attitude (he just recently skipped another important team meeting and has made his desire to leave clear), it appears that Mislintat has vouched for the character of the Gabonese striker, and is even thought to be lobbying the club to sign him.
This is not a like for like replacement for Sanchez, but Aubameyang scores goals for fun when the mood strikes him, and Hector Bellerin’s crown as the fastest player at Arsenal would come under serious threat from his fellow Puma-sponsored pace merchant. With Aubameyang up top, a healthy Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, and the pace of Hector Bellerin and Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the overlap, Arsenal would immediately become one of the most threatening teams in the Premier League on the counter-attack. One player who would most definitely benefit from the signing of Aubameyang is Granit Xhaka, who would finally have world-class pace up top to chase down his pinpoint long passes.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a player that simply should have come to Arsenal in the summer of 2016 when he (or let’s just be honest, shall we – his agent, Mino Raiola) chose instead to go to Manchester United. Unfortunately, the Armenian playmaker made a poor choice for his future, as he never seemed to click with Jose Mourinho and his uncompromising, conservative tactics. Had Arsenal signed him 18 months ago, the fans would have been thrilled to have such a talented player joining the squad, but his time in Manchester has quieted the buzz around him. However, he is still just 28 years old (for another few days anyways) and it is not absurd to think he could recover some of his best form under the less tactically restrictive Arsene Wenger. Mkhitaryan is a player that responds better to a freer role and having the trust of his manager, neither of which he has had with Manchester United.
A change of scenery is what Mkhitaryan needs most of all, and United appear willing to include him in any deals with the Gunners for Alexis Sanchez. He is a different sort of player than Sanchez, but when on form, he is an effective weapon in the final third and has a knack for beating the press and transitioning quickly into attack. He scored 11 goals and bagged 15 assists the year before he arrived in England in 2016 and if he could recapture any of that magic with a move to the Gunners, the loss of Alexis Sanchez would immediately become more manageable.
Despite all of the Aubameyang rumours dominating Arsenal related headlines the last 2 days, the club has apparently been making progress on their other principal target of the transfer window, Bordeaux winger Malcom. The latest reports are suggesting that Arsenal have taken the lead over their North London rivals Tottenham in the race to sign the tricky Brazilian, with the Gunners much more likely to come close to Bordeaux’s £45-50 million valuation of the player. The push for Malcom is also being lead by Sven Mislintat, who apparently had been developing a relationship with the player and his agents over the last year while he was still with Dortmund. As fans have become more aware of Malcom’s potential, since many only heard of him for the first time last week when the rumours started coming out, appreciation for what the newest member of the backroom staff has grown. Should Mislintat guide Arsenal through their first major player loss as the Head of Recruitment, fans will quickly start to give him the respect and attention his work deserves.
Chelsea Join the Fray
It was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? Manchester United and Manchester City May have the market cornered on big money signings of late, but Chelsea are the original new-money club of the Premier League, and it seems they are making a token late push to “hijack” a move that has broken sharply in Manchester United’s direction the last couple of days. The story started over the weekend when Antonio Conte called Sanchez a good investment to make, and like a bee to honey, the story was duly pushed out over the wires. On Monday it emerged that Chelsea were interested in trying to match United’s total financial package to both Sanchez and the Gunners, which some are no incredibly estimating to be near the value of City’s £60 million bid at the end of the summer window. It is unlikely that Chelsea will beat United to the punch, as they are unlikely to be willing to part with any of the players that might pique the Gunners’ interest as much as United’s Mkhitaryan or Anthony Martial (who at the moment is preferred, but even Mourinho isn’t shortsighted enough move on from a player of his talent so early in his career), but all the same, give Arsenal credit for holding their nerve through the first few days of January; drumming up competitive market for a player asking for a trebling of wages just as he approaches 30 years old is no small feat.
Funding the Spree
Perhaps the best news of all, should Arsenal succeed in their multi-layered plan to replace the influence of Alexis Sanchez, is how little it might all cost by the time the window slams shut. With it looking ever more likely that the total value of the return on Alexis Sanchez could be as high or higher than £50 million, and the club getting a bit of a surprising £25 million for Francis Coquelin already from Valencia (despite initial reports of a £10 million fee), Arsenal look set to offset most of their spending just by offloading players that have long overstayed their welcome at the club. In fact, with Theo Walcott (~£20m, to Everton), Mathieu Debuchy (undisclosed, West Brom, St. Etienne) and perhaps more finding the exits before the end of the month, the club could maintain most of their spending flexibility for the contracts of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. They will, of course, have to dip back into the player market in the summer to replace the ageing veterans whose wages will be coming off the books for good in 2018, but for the first time in a decade, the prospect might just start to excite the fans once again.