Alexis-Mkhitaryan, one year on: The most underwhelming swap deal in history?

Goal.com

Manchester United’s Twitter account published a tweet on Tuesday morning which marked the first anniversary of their signing of Alexis Sanchez. The general reaction from users demonstrated just how much of a disaster the Chilean has been at Old Trafford over the past 12 months.

“Can’t wait for his debut” replied one fan. “When will he turn up to play?” wrote another. “Got to admit the best play (sic) he done for Utd was playing the piano” sniped a third critic.

Indeed, the video which announced Sanchez’s arrival - in which he shows off his piano-playing skills - has arguably been the most memorable moment of his career at United so far.

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The 30-year-old, who has long since lost his place in the first team, has scored just four goals and provided nine assists in 32 appearances for the Red Devils. All in all, the swap deal which saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan head the other way to Arsenal has been the most underwhelming deal of its kind in years.

United legend Andy Cole believes that Sanchez’s struggles are due to him being unable to adapt to a different style of play.

”If you come from one club, they play one way, you go to another one, you've got to change as a player, you have to change,” he told the United We Stand podcast.

"It's been difficult for him to change. His work ethic, I believe, is exactly the same, yes he'll give the ball away a little bit too much in trying to do things, to engulf the flame in himself, you know, because he wanted to do the best he could do.

“He'll want to score goals, to produce the pass that would bring him to life, or the team.”

Meanwhile, Mkhitaryan’s contributions for Arsenal have been only slightly better than the Chilean, as he has scored five goals and made nine assists in the same number of appearances as Alexis.

When Sanchez played against his former club last season he struggled to leave his mark on the game, while Mkhitaryan managed to net an equaliser before Marouane Fellaini scored a late winner.

Similarly, when the two clubs faced each other at Old Trafford this term it was Sanchez who missed the game through injury and Mkhitaryan who could have won the game for Arsenal after squandering a gilt-edged opportunity in the second half.

Alexis Sanchez Man Utd 2019
Alexis Sanchez Man Utd 2019

The Armenian began his Arsenal career in superb style with three assists as the Gunners beat Everton 5-0, but his performances have been inconsistent under head coach Unai Emery with a recent broken metatarsal hampering his progress even further.

“I would say it’s a bit too early to say something about it but I’m very pleased to be here and I’m trying my best,” said Mkhitaryan recently.

“It wasn’t very easy at the start but I kept working every day and game after game, I’m trying to improve my game.

“I would say everything is going well, I’m very happy at the moment and I hope to continue in the same way.”

The problem for Mkhitaryan is that his lack of consistency means he will never be a key player under Emery. His best traits are unique and much sought-after; an ability to drift inside from wide positions to create chances and space for his fellow attackers. That quality is one reason why he is still playing regularly - although that could change sooner rather than later.

Indeed, he could soon find his place under threat by the likely loan signing of Denis Suarez from Barcelona. The Spaniard has been targeted by his former coach Emery as a player who can compete with Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi on the flanks, a sign that it is a position where he feels the club currently lack depth.

With Sanchez expected to return from a hamstring strain to start against Arsenal in the FA Cup clash this week, it could be a case of which of the two players is more motivated to prove their critics wrong.

What is clear - one year on - is that neither club has benefitted from the swap deal. Finances aside – with Alexis earning an incredible £500,000 a week reportedly – neither player has benefitted, either. With both players recently hitting the age of 30, they need to start proving their worth ahead of the summer transfer window.

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