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Did Anyone Win the Sánchez-Mkhitaryan Deal Between Arsenal and Manchester United?

An Arsenal fan, a Manchester United fan, and a neutral third party get together to discuss a rare “trade” between two of England’s biggest clubs

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Alexis Sánchez finally forces his way out of Arsenal, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan escapes the disapproving glare of José Mourinho. The guys from Ringer FC gathered to break down the deal.


Ryan O’Hanlon: After a Sunday of sad dinner photos and grainy on-field selfies, the worst-kept secret of the Premier League’s last two weeks finally became official: Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez goes to Manchester United, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan moves the other way in a straight swap deal. To me, it feels at once important (“trades” like this almost never happen, especially between teams that finished within one spot of each other the prior season) and meaningless (a pair of post-prime attackers swapping shirts way below the top of the table). But who cares about me: How are our resident Manchester United and Arsenal fans doing?

Donnie Kwak: My first question is — Micah, are you following Alexis’s dogs on Instagram yet?

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Micah Peters: As a rule, I follow only single-dog-dedicated Instagram accounts belonging to people I know personally. That said …

… yes.

Kwak: Second, I’d object to the “post-prime” categorization, at least for Alexis. He’s solidly in his prime right now, maybe past the halfway point, but still in it.

The last Arsenal swap was in 2006 when “Ca$hley” Cole nearly veered off the road and into Stamford Bridge, in exchange for William (groan) Gallas. At that time, there was much rancor directed at Cole for what many Gooners perceived as irresponsible greed. How dare he leave the Arsenal for more money elsewhere? But the feeling 12 years later with the Alexis departure is different — much more sympathetic to the ambition of the player — and that about sums up how the club has declined in that period.

If you judge his performance from the first few matches this season, Mkhitaryan (I am proud to say I can spell his name without looking now) should be in his prime, too. Right, Micah??

Peters: Mkhitaryan was good for a few months, and then again a few spare weeks here and there since moving from Dortmund. But I have to say that he was never quite the playmaker he was supposed to be, and a player rediscovering that particular kind of form — in a new system, at 29, after José Mourinho has perforated you with mind bullets — isn’t as rare as a straight swap between Top 6 clubs, but it’s close.

But I have a question for you, Donnie. Knowing what you know about Alexis’s dissatisfaction with Arsenal being so sad and underachieving and Arsenal-y: How does Alexis playing “Glory Glory” on the piano, as if by memory, make you feel?

Kwak: You really don’t see his hands and body in the same frame, so I’m calling BS on that vid. Clever idea, though, and you can certainly ascertain something from the respective “new signing” announcements by each team. United rightfully beat their chest about their new no. 7. Arsenal kind of whispered, “Uh, we got Henrikh — squad number coming soon.” Jeff Reine-Adelaide may have to come up off that no. 22, unless Mkhi boldly takes the vacated no. 7.

Ryan, has Mino Raiola surpassed Jorge Mendes as football’s most powerful agent? The most unbelievable part in all of this to me is that Mkhitaryan is actually getting a raise. And speaking of “all roads lead back to Raiola” …

O’Hanlon: My favorite part of this whole saga — I guess it lasted only about a week, so … sag-ette? — was when Raiola said, “Sánchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.” He’s the master of big-upping his clients, and I guess that’s the whole point? Raiola rules the individual negotiation — skimming large chunks off of the whopping deals he earns his players is his game — but he’s still no match for Mendes, who basically controls multiple clubs across the world (hi, Wolverhampton) and wields his influence through nation-state-like global soft power. But speaking of contracts, are either of you concerned about your clubs doling out such big-money deals to players who almost definitely will decline across the life of the contract?

Peters: I’m less concerned with how much money we’re spending than with how Sánchez will fit into the side. Since Sir Alex Ferguson, United had spent the GDP of a medium-sized nation on players who have less-than-consistently worked out before this deal; the wage bill has been hilarious for years now. We will never be responsible with money, and much like when Paul Pogba looks off wide-open teammates in search of a wonder goal every now and again, I’ve made peace with that. In a vacuum, though: United got a player of better quality and of similar age to the one they gave up, and did it on a straight swap. Powers.

Kwak: At this point, just having a key player under contract at Arsenal is progress (Mesut and Jack, please re-up). Mkhitaryan has three and a half years left, at which point he’ll still be 32. He won’t have resale value, but the contract is hardly onerous and I figure he’ll play an important role for the next couple of seasons, maybe as a version of the Cazorla role we’ve been lacking since Santi got hurt.

There are a lot of #WengerOut people who are predisposed to disagree with any move the club makes, but if you look at this objectively, Arsenal came out as good as they possibly could have. It doesn’t excuse their bumbling of a summer Alexis sale, but all things considered, they have traded a player who has increasingly become a disruptive presence for one who won a Bundesliga player of the year award just two seasons ago. (“I’m very excited to get a player in who will be committed and focused,” said Wenger. SHOTS FIRED.) If Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (still need to look up that spelling) also arrives this month, you might even call it an Arsenal coup. Sven Mislintat is doing his job.

Micah, will you break it to Jesse that Alexis is actually going to root him to the bench?

O’Hanlon: My second-favorite part of this whole thing — given the rumored Aubameyang interest — is that Mislintat’s supposedly extensive scouting network has unearthed … two guys he worked with at Dortmund. But as for on-field stuff, yeah, Micah — who’s Alexis gonna bump to the bench?

Kwak: Don’t forget the Greek guy, Ryan. Arsene’s been impressed.

O’Hanlon: I Can Spell His Name, I Can’t Spell His Name, and the Greek Guy.

Kwak: I can spell “M-A-L-C-O-M,” though. Also “J-O-N-N-Y E-V-A-N-S.”

Peters: Being impressed with a guy you bought not misplacing touches in training is …

O’Hanlon: I think Tottenham is pretty good at spelling “Malcolm,” too.

Kwak: TOO BAD IT’S “MALCOM.”

O’Hanlon: Jfc.

Peters: In any case, I think we know it’ll be one of either Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, or Juan Mata — whoever would’ve otherwise been playing on the right wing — getting routed to the bench. What about if Auba shows up at the Emirates, Donnie? What will become of Lacazette?

Kwak: Here’s my question to xG god Ryan. Let’s say Arsenal do end up signing Auba to add to the Mkhi deal. Assuming a two-man pivot composed of some combination of Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, and Wilshere, how would you configure the forwards?

Some would suggest that the Auba pursuit indicates that Lacazette has not fulfilled expectations (though I disagree). I’ve seen some offer a formation that shunts Auba to the wing, but all of his career success has come down the middle. What say you?

I don’t really care who Alexis forces out of United’s lineup, but I will say that he is the type of “pull a goal out of nothing” player who will serve José well in those typically boring games that United plays.

That said, he definitely doesn’t know how to milly rock.

Also speaking of Manchester United no. 7s … did you see the goal that Memphis Depay scored to beat PSG on Sunday? Woof.

Peters: It could not have been more top shelf. Somewhere, out there, Steve Harvey was watching a Canal Plus stream, jumping clean out of his Stacy Adams.

O’Hanlon: OK — allow me to repeat the words that James Yorke published on our website last week: “Aubameyang isn’t a direct Sánchez replacement, and his arrival could disrupt the team’s record signing.” Lacazette hasn’t been a disappointment — his goal-scoring has dropped only because he’s not taking penalties — but he’s played one game not as a striker since 2014 … and that was in 2015. Meanwhile, PEA is essentially a poacher at this point in his career, as he contributes as little as possible to build-up play. They’re both good-to-great players — and Aubameyang is certainly the better of the two — but it’s hard for me to see them both playing at the same time without forcing at least one of them to sacrifice the things he’s good at.

Peters: Yeah, you’d think with PEA’s pace that he could play on the wing, but he hasn’t really done that since Robert Lewandowski was last at Dortmund.

O’Hanlon: And if you’re gonna play him on the wing … why wouldn’t you just buy an actual winger?

Kwak: Ryan — as the objective “neutral” here, let’s grade this swap the way we would an NBA trade, taking into account how the deal helps or hinders each team while also accounting for salary matters and the respective player contracts. Who won the trade?

O’Hanlon: Alexis Sánchez won the deal. At 29, he’s on his last big contract, which now just so happens to be the most lucrative contract in Premier League history. Between the teams, I really want to say “no one,” since it all feels a bit like shuffling the deck chairs after smashing into a sky-blue glacier. But let’s say United. As UEFA’s latest benchmarking report shows, they make way more money than any team in the league, so albatross contracts for aging stars don’t exist for them. They’re getting one of the best players in the Premier League and (reportedly) keeping him from going to Manchester City. Now if only he could play center back …