It seems Henrikh Mkhitaryan is on Arsenal’s radar – although this was fairly obvious. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has never seen a No. 10 he didn’t like, and the Borussia Dortmund forward is one of the classiest playmakers in Europe.
Yet, even though the Gunners aren’t short of a classy playmaker or two, signing Mkhitaryan would still be excellent business from Wenger; it would help get this Arsenal side back to basics.
Back to Wengerball basics to be precise.
Adding Mkhitaryan’s technical finesse alongside the flair and creative verve of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, would bring Wengerball back to the Emirates Stadium.
You remember Wengerball, right? That distinctive, sometimes infuriating, often gorgeous style of play so akin to Arsenal on their French manager’s long watch.
Quick, one-touch passing between the lines within mini triangles of like-minded artists. It’s what Wenger’s Gunners do best.
YouTube: Arsène Wenger’s Philosophy – Best Wengerball Goals | Arsenal Team Goals [HD]
Except they didn’t do it particularly well during the 2015/16 season.
A raft of injuries to his most accomplished players robbed Wenger’s team of its traditional pass-and-move swagger.
Arsenal began the season with Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere on the treatment table. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla soon followed. Losing a quartet of cultured passers for most of the campaign directly correlated to a failure to score in eight Premier League games.
With the technical engine of his side out of commission for so long, Wenger was forced to adopt more direct strategies. The Gunners didn’t move the ball in their typically free-flowing and incisive way from front to back and it showed.
Arsenal blogger Tim Stillman felt the lack of accomplished possession play was obvious and costly following a goalless home draw with Southampton in February:
Per, Arteta, Chambers, Elnenny. Every fit player capable of building play from the back voluntarily left out and it showed tonight.
Not being able to use the ball in the intelligent way that had become their hallmark under Wenger, meant the Gunners struggled in front of goal. There weren’t enough of the suavely manufactured clear-cut openings so many Arsenal players have profited from during the last two decades.
Wenger bemoaned the problem prior to a 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace in April, per Arsenal:
We are a team who likes to take the initiative and the game to our opponents. We should have more goals.
Goals would have been easier to come by with more perceptive passing and artful combination play in and around the box.
It’s why Wenger needs Mkhitaryan dovetailing with Ozil, Cazorla, Wilshere and Co. next season. He needs the Armenian’s shrewd movement, vision and precise passing between defensive gaps.
Thanks to those qualities, few players on the continent have been as prolific in the final third as Dortmund’s No. 10 this season. He has 19 goals and 24 assists to his name, according to ESPN FC. Numbers to make Wenger drool.
YouTube: Henrikh Mkhitaryan ● Ultimate Compilation ● 2015-2016 | HD
In March, the Guardian‘s David Hytner and Fabrizio Romano revealed how Arsenal have been scouting Mkhitaryan, both in person and via video clips.
The interest is clear and understandable from a manager who won’t be afraid to overload his side with No. 10s. One more mercurial brain in the middle won’t bother a man whose best teams have been bloated in the creative department.
Wenger’s glory years of the 2000s were marked by the three-pronged supply and demand axis of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry. Later, the best team of the Emirates era featured Rosicky weaving magic alongside fellow conductors Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb.
While his current squad features a lot of talented individuals, the more effective group was 2013/14’s contingent, a collective of creative minds led by Ozil and Ramsey, ably supported by Cazorla and Wilshere.
YouTube: Wengerball 13-14
The Gunners weren’t themselves this season because they didn’t produce enough of the stylish football Wenger has made the club’s core identity.
He has a few problems to fix in the summer, notably finding a prolific striker and a dominant centre-back. But Wenger’s best move will be to add one more cerebral quarterback to his platoon of pass-masters.
Playing more of the beautiful game will lead to more beautiful days for Arsenal next May.