This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Amidst all the understandable excitement surrounding the performances of academy products Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock on Sunday, one man whose fine display went slightly under the radar was Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Armenia international was a real live-wire going forward and showed another tantalising glimpse that the ‘old’ Mkhitaryan is still in there somewhere.
But, with the arrival of Dani Ceballos and potential swoop for Nicolas Pepe, the Gunners’ summer transfer business could be seen as the final nail in the coffin of any hopes of the former Manchester United man becoming a star in north London. Or, could it be a blessing in disguise?
Such has been the incredible difficulties experienced by Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United, that Mkhitaryan’s performances for the Gunners have received far less attention. The attacking midfielder enjoyed a blistering start to life in north London with his performance against Everton in February 2018, but that night arguably still remains his greatest showing in an Arsenal shirt to date – that night accounted for over 20% of his total Premier League assists.
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But against Lyon at the Emirates Cup, the Armenian delivered a timely reminder that he can still be a huge influence for Unai Emery’s side. The 30-year-old’s versatility was on full display as he started out wide before coming into a number ten role. The midfielder was powerful and direct with his running, and always looked to quicken up the tempo with his short incisive passing.
Mkhitaryan’s lacklustre performances last season could in part be put down to the lack of competition he had to face in making the team. The Gunners essentially had Alex Iwobi and the Armenian as their sole wide options, meaning he was largely assured of a place in the first-team squad. But with the return of Reiss Nelson on loan, and Pepe’s reported arrival for £72m, the former Shakhtar Donetsk star is no longer an automatic choice.
Watch the video below to see the most insane overhead kick you will see this week…
It could quite conceivably lift Mkhitaryan to greater performances in the games where he’s afforded a chance by Emery, knowing full well that he has players itching to take his place. Sometimes even great players can get themselves into a lull and a false sense of security; Arsenal’s summer business may just inspire the £180k-a-week star to impressive heights once again. Let’s not forget he racked up 90 direct goal contributions in 140 games for Borussia Dortmund.