Manchester United’s transformation since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the helm in December has seen the Old Trafford outfit pluck wins from the jaws of defeat frequently – most notably when they recorded the most unlikely of European triumphs at Parc des Princes, leaving an incandescent PSG in their wake.
Everyone in the camp seems to have moved on since Jose Mourinho’s departure, except for Alexis Sanchez who, if anything, has been left behind with the grumpy Portuguese.
The Chilean’s career has nosedived since he swapped north London for Manchester and an injury sustained in the league win at the weekend, which will keep him out for ‘four to six weeks‘, will have only compounded the winger’s misery.
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Arsenal were forced to let the influential maestro leave in January 2018 for next to nothing – or the equivalent to that, considering they received an apathetic Henrikh Mkhitaryan in return.
For the entire year that followed, it was unclear as to which of the two clubs was the major beneficiary from the catastrophic swap deal, however, the footballing world now unanimously accept the Red Devils were dealt the bad hand.
While Sanchez’s career at Manchester United has relentlessly lurched from disaster to disaster, Mkhitaryan is finally proving his value at the Emirates Stadium and a long-awaited return to form could hardly have come at a better time for the Armenian – the Gunners host his former club on Sunday.
In the wider scheme of things, the clash is crucial for both sides as Arsenal look to leapfrog United into the Champions League places, while their visitors will be hoping to establish themselves further in the coveted fourth spot.
However, the underlying storyline emerges with Mkhitaryan, who will be desperate to prove to his former boss – Mourinho will surely have some form of interest in the tie – that he made a huge mistake trading him for his opposite number last campaign.
Having recovered from a metatarsal fracture, the 30-year-old has grabbed his number 7 shirt and pulled on his boots with determination – he has chalked up two goals and three assists in his four appearances since his return to fitness and, for what is surely one of few times since he crossed the channel to ply his trade in Manchester in 2016, has looked well worth the £26m price-tag he commanded when Mourinho and co shelled out for his services.
Completing an impressive 4 key passes against Bournemouth – a game in which he also grabbed two assists – the former Borussia Dortmund man showed that he has the creative abilities to fill the number 10 void that will be left by the imminent departure of Aaron Ramsey and the likely exit of Mesut Ozil in the summer.
If reports stating Emery will be handed a £45m transfer kitty this summer are to be believed, the Spaniard will have to be incredibly shrewd in the market.
Unfortunately for the former PSG honcho, attacking midfield is not the only area in need of reinforcement – the Gunners could do with another right-back, perhaps a centre-back, as well as a new back-up goalkeeper considering Petr Cech is set to retire at the end of the campaign.
For a club with top four aspirations and so many leaks to be plugged, a transfer budget so small is far from ideal. It will be crucial, therefore, that if Emery can convert some of his existing cohort into the types of players he needs, he should.
Divisive Mkhitaryan might not have the legs of Ramsey or the excellent vision of Ozil, but his link up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whom he struck up a lethal partnership with at BVB, is often sublime.
A match-winning performance at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday will do both player and manager the world of good going into the final stretch of the season and the following campaign – it may be the 90 minutes which convince Emery he won’t need to spend big on a new number 10 in the summer.