Monday 15 October 2018

Stephen Hunt: Mkhitaryan held all the aces and enjoyed making Mourinho squirm

Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA Wire/PA Images
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

Like Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, I was surprised that the deal to swap Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan between Arsenal and Manchester United did not go through in time for the two players to make their debuts at their new clubs this weekend.

But then, if I was Mkhitaryan, I wouldn't have been in a rush to do Mourinho any favours and get out of Old Trafford without ensuring I had eked every penny possible out of the deal.

It is obvious Mkhitaryan held all the cards. Like a poker player with a pair of aces in his hand, who knows that another ace is coming in the next flop, Mkhitaryan could hold out for as long as he wanted. He just had to keep his poker face on and hold out for the best deal.

Mourinho has only himself to blame for this transfer dragging on. This is another case where the comments and criticisms from the Manchester United manager have returned to haunt him. Why should Mkhitaryan have done him a favour?

Over the last six months, Mourinho has not held back and he has been particularly critical of the Armenian midfielder - although Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling have also been on the receiving end.

Perhaps there is an element of reverse psychology in Mourinho's thinking and he does it to provoke a positive reaction from his players. But is it for the good of Manchester United or for the good of Jose Mourinho? Only Jose knows.

Since the start of the season, it looked like Manchester City would be Sanchez's next destination and that he would join them on a free transfer this summer. And even though the Premier League leaders could afford all the fees and wages involved in this deal now, Pep Guardiola has obviously decided he didn't want to disrupt the City dressing room. He appears to have been reluctant to bring in a new player on huge wages.

That is always the danger of signing a player on massive money. Plus, January has a habit of springing deals which are in the player's favour because, like Sanchez, they are coming to the end of their contract. Or, perhaps like Mkhitaryan, they had not anticipated being forced to move at this time of the year.

Manchester United will pay way over the odds for Sanchez but they are paying for a quality footballer who can hopefully rediscover the form and commitment he showed in his early days at Arsenal when he looked phenomenal.

His body language over the last year at the Emirates has been appalling at times. He certainly was not comfortable in the environment at Arsenal, whether that was because of the manager, his team-mates, or the club, but he didn't need to show it so publicly.

Sanchez might have been frustrated and unhappy with the direction Arsenal have taken and their inability to compete for the top honours and titles, but he doesn't have to let the whole world know. Throwing his arms around and shouting at his team-mates has not impressed me because I know these things could and should be sorted out and said in the privacy of the dressing room.

But the Chilean has genuine quality and is certain to hit the ground running at Old Trafford. It would not surprise me if he goes on a brilliant early run and scores three in three and adds a few assists.

The problem is when the going gets tough and Manchester becomes a difficult place to play and live, will he go hiding again? I think so.

The loss of Sanchez to their long-time Premier League rivals Manchester United is another blow for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger and comes in the week Theo Walcott moved to Everton in a £20m deal.

It is a brave move by Walcott but it is the right decision at this stage of his career. He has been at Arsenal for a long time, possibly too long, and he probably needs a manager like Sam Allardyce in his life right now.

Arsenal are in a whole world of pain with players' contracts and they still risk losing another four or five on free transfers, which is not good business. They have really messed up.

Wenger and the board may feel that players' performances have been so inconsistent that they do not deserve new deals but if they are allowed to leave for nothing, they will not get their money back anyway.

It would certainly not surprise me if we saw 'Breaking News: Mesut Ozil to leave Arsenal and having a medical at Bayern Munich'. The German midfielder's contract is also up this summer and I can't see him staying with the Gunners.

Mkhitaryan will be a welcome addition for Wenger but unless they can somehow qualify for the top four it promises to be another long season for Arsenal supporters, and there's no sign that the Frenchman's reign is coming to an end any time soon.

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