By James McMahon
As a friend of mine just said to me, “as an Arsenal fan, I’ve never woken up to such good news”. Aside from last night’s disappointing 3-1 defeat away to Swansea, this morning did indeed come bearing fantastic news for Arsenal’s supporters and admirers with the arrival of Aubameyang and news of Özil’s contract renewal.
Arsenal’s season so far has been defined by Alexis Sanchez – it was far from secret that he wanted to leave, it had become apparent that he was an immensely divisive figure in the dressing room, and there were even reports that there were players he actually refused to pass to. The best kid in the playground, he elected to go all the way himself, only to inevitably concede possession, and threw tantrums when the ball didn’t find its way to his feet.
Despite this burden, the £35m transfer to Manchester City which was expected at the beginning of January seemed like a fairly poor option. Arsenal’s transfer game in recent times has famously been sketchy at best, and that money would unlikely be put to good use, perhaps triggering the departure of the club’s other leading player, Mesut Özil. But come the end of the transfer window, Arsenal are miraculously now in a stronger position than they were at the start of it.
The swap deal with United for Mkhitaryan was a fantastic piece of business. Although the Armenian failed to make a real impact in Manchester, if his final season in Dortmund is anything to go by, Arsenal are welcoming a truly fantastic player to North London. With 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 games for BvB in the 2015/16 season, Henrikh Mkhitaryan clearly provides sensational returns when used in the right way. With Wenger’s arm around his shoulder, and with a more cerebral, fast, fluid and, vitally, attacking game, the midfielder will feel much more at home at Arsenal than he ever did under Mourinho’s defensive setup.
On the end of Mkhitaryan’s stunning list of assists in Germany was, of course, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In that same season, the Gabon international managed an impressive 39 goals in 49 appearances, and consequently Arsenal have had to smash their transfer record to acquire his talents. While there are question marks surrounding his behaviour and so-called “bad boy” image, his long-awaited move away from Borussia Dortmund should weather his storm at least for a while.
On top of all this, Mesut Özil will be staying put, leaving Arsenal with a genuinely exciting midfield duo, both with the potential to be two of the best creative players in the league on their good days, hopefully bringing far more success than the likes of Iwobi who never really seems comfortable on the ball. We now face the possibility of an Arsenal with quite a fearsome attacking presence. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang’s lucrative partnership is set to be rekindled, and Özil will be able to feed off and feed to another couple of fantastic players instead of becoming Arsenal’s new one-man show in the post-Sanchez era.
Lacazette’s position, however, is slightly less certain – although he can play on the right wing, he’d rather not. Playing two up front in a highly attacking structure could be tempting, but Arsenal’s well-rehearsed defensive frailties would be an issue, and Xhaka can’t slot into defence in the same way someone like Fernandinho can. Although for a while it looked like Arsenal could swoop in for Jonny Evans during Man City’s chase for Aymeric Laporte, it seems Aubameyang’s move has put far too much of a strain on the club’s finances for them to contemplate another deal this afternoon.
Although selling your most talented player, especially to a rival (and more importantly, to Jose Mourinho), can rarely be considered the best of moves, Arsenal seem to have worked this transfer window very well indeed. Their fans are hopefully in for an exciting new burst of energy at the club over the rest of the season. Wenger hasn’t conceded the title yet for a reason.