Escaping Jose Mourinho's hot-and-cold clutches and being freed to join Arsenal could re-light Henrikh Mkhitaryan's fire and provide him with the setting to become a preeminent playmaker once again.

By 90Min
January 17, 2018

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's career at Manchester United is rumored to be coming to an end, with the Armenian international's services being offered up in exchange for Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez.

The 28-year old has endured 18 months of torment since joining the Red Devils from Bundesliga heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, with Mkhitaryan frequently failing to make matchday squads and being publicly criticized by manager Jose Mourinho.

His fall from grace has been totally unexpected though, with many feeling that Mkhitaryan would set the Premier League alight when he joined United for a fee close to £30m. 

The attacking midfielder had finished the 2015/16 Bundesliga season as Player of the Year. His incredible statistics of 23 goals and 32 assists during that remarkable campaign led to inevitable speculation that the Armenian had outgrown the competition around him.

So it was little surprise when Europe's elite came calling. United swooped, and Mkhitaryan was on his way to the Premier League. Few would have predicted the catastrophic demise that he has experienced just 18 months on, though the seeds had perhaps been sown that this could happen before he had even moved.

Five goals in 42 appearances - the record that Mkhitaryan had under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, a coach renowned for engaging in attacking, free-flowing football. So why hadn't it worked out for Mkhitaryan? A 'clash of football philosophy' is a quote that has been leveled at Jose Mourinho since he first reported fell out with Mkhitaryan. Had the Liverpool manager experienced the same problem during his time at the Westfalenstadion as it was known then?

Thomas Tuchel obviously had no such problem. Playing in the central number 10 role, Mkhitaryan thrived on the opportunity to roam the attacking third. Bereft of defensive responsibility, he drifted into pockets of space and acted as chief playmaker when Dortmund seeked to counter. And it worked, to devastating effect.

Fast forward a few months into his United career, and worrying signs had already emerged at Old Trafford. Mkhitaryan was unceremoniously axed at half-time during the Manchester derby, with Mourinho later stating that the Armenian was struggling to adapt to life in the Premier League.

“Some players, with their profile they are adapted to come and play, some others they need more time," Mourinho said. “Time to feel the intensity and the aggression, the game without the ball, the competitiveness.

“Many times players come from different countries. The style of football is different and the reality is different for sure in terms of competitiveness."

A public shaming is not uncommon to the style of management employed by Mourinho, though that would have done little to comfort Mkhitaryan just a few months into his Old Trafford career. 

As the season wore on though, he began to make an impression. Usually playing on the right-hand side of a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Armenian was adapting to the defensive responsibilities bestowed upon him by his manager. 

His confidence began to grow, and the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder began to demonstrate some of the ability that had convinced United to bring him to England.

Indeed, he soon found him in the headlines having scored a truly outstanding goal of the season contender. An audacious scorpion kick, the likes of which the Premier League had never seen before (apart from days later when Olivier Giroud replicated the exact same thing) saw Mkhitaryan's name up in lights for all the right reasons.

He finished the season with four goals and a single assist. Steady, yet very much unspectacular. It seemed the only barrier between him, and a successful career with the Red Devils, was himself.

Mid-September and the Armenian was starting in his favored role behind the striker, contributing a goal and five assists in United's opening five league matches. Yet the momentum ground to a halt, and he was soon out of the side. Subbed just before the hour mark at Stamford Bridge on November 5, Mkhitaryan was back to being an outcast. Just three appearances since then, all brief, have seen his future laid out in front of him.

The midfield maestro is on his way out. Unable to convince Mourinho that he has the attributes to cut it at the highest level, Mkhitaryan looks destined to leave early into the second of a four-year deal. What will disappoint supporters most is Mourinho's proven track record with getting the best out of players such as Wesley Sneijder and Mesut Ozil. But for Mkhitaryan, it seems his path is destined to take him elsewhere.

United's loss though is likely to be Mkhitaryan's gain. It could also be a gain that salvages the job of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger for a while longer. Turmoil engulfs the Gunners once more as they face up to losing Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for free. The negative connotations around the club could be transformed though with the arrival of Mkhitaryan.

Known for nurturing creative geniuses such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Sanchez himself, Arsene Wenger knows how to get the best out of a talismanic figure. Mkhitaryan's potential arrival at the Emirates Stadium could breathe life back into not only his career but that of a Gunners side threatening to derail yet another season with a customary collapse.

You would imagine he would start every week, with Mkhitaryan having a point to prove. Gunners fans will sing his name, and back him all the way if he shows even a crumb of commitment to the cause. 

Their attractive brand of football, particularly at home, should suit Mkhitaryan's game perfectly. Neat, intricate and incisive football with a killer pass is something that Wenger has tried to instill in all of his sides down the years.

Should he decide his future does still lie in English football, Gunners fans may yet have something to shout about if the Armenian can find his magic spark once more.

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