Should Arsenal make this Dortmund star their second summer signing?

Armenia isn’t a nation well known for its footballing prowess or its production of top talent, but in spite of that, star man Henrikh Mkhitaryan has slowly become a dominant force in the Bundesliga.

He spent his youth at popular Armenian outfit Pyunik and, even then, was making waves in his home nation. Despite Henrikh only being a teenager at the time, then Pyunik coach Vardan Minasyan stated that “Mkhitaryan can win games on his own. He seizes control at crucial moments and scores for fun.”

His prolific scoring record from midfield earned him a move to the Ukrainian Premier League with Matalurh Donetsk, where he became their youngest ever captain, before moving to champions Shakhtar Donetsk for an approximate £5m fee, a future-changing amount for a club like Matalurh.

It was at Shakhtar that Mkhitaryan truly started to make a name for himself on the European stage. His creative influence behind the striker and strong eye for goal inspired his new club to win the treble that season. Shakhtar won both the Premier League and the cup every season that Mkhitaryan was with them, while he personally claimed the 2012 Ukrainian Player of the Year and broke the record for most goals in a Ukrainian Premier League season in 2012/13.

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His spectacular form, dedication on the pitch and superior technique garnered the attention of one of Europe’s true giants. Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp was captivated by Mkhitaryan, and spent a club record £23.6m to bring him to the Westfalenstadion. Mkhitaryan has been an undoubted success in Germany, developing from a stand-out talent in a weaker league to an absolute force in one of the big four. 27 goals and 34 assists in all competitions over the course of three seasons would be fairly spectacular for any player, but accounting for the incredibly lacklustre 2014/15 season Dortmund had, it’s especially phenomenal.

The Armenian national team’s record goal scorer, while already well-established in Germany, flourished under Thomas Tuchel last season. Dortmund already symbolised dynamic, aggressive football, but within Tuchel’s refined system, Mkhitaryan absolutely dominated the league. Deployed across the midfield but predominantly on the wings, he was Tuchel’s primary creative outlet across the course of the season, creating the most assists in the league at 15 as well as scoring 11 times.

As is the way with top Bundesliga players that aren’t at Bayern, Mkhitaryan is being heavily linked with a move to the Premier League. Arsenal are rumoured to be incredibly interested in landing the Bundesliga Player of the Year’s signature to add to their wealth of attacking talent, but many fans believe that more attacking midfielders are the last thing Arsene Wenger needs to bring to the Emirates. While a prolific striker and a dominant centre half should be priorities for Wenger, if Arsenal can land Mkhitaryan without sacrificing the possibilities to strengthen in other areas, then they should absolutely take the opportunity.

The Dortmund attacker offers more than Arsenal’s wide options in a much more complete package. With the exception of Mesut Ozil, who by far and away contributed more than any other player at the club, Arsenal struggled in creating chances. While Alexis created 2.07 chances per game and Alex Iwobi created the next highest at 0.92, Mkhitaryan played a part in creating an average of 2.65 attempts on goal per game. Mkhitaryan also had 67 key passes over the course of the 2015/16 season, only short of Mesut Ozil when compared to other Arsenal players.

 

While the Germany international will without a doubt continue to be Arsenal’s primary creative force next season, a player like Henrikh Mkhitaryan will help divert attention within games away from one of the best No. 10’s in the world. In the physically intensive, hard pressing Premier League, having another serious passing threat will give defending players another problem to deal with, helping to create space to operate in and giving them more time on the ball. This will lead to both players instigating more and more chances.

Despite their reputation for fluid, attacking football, Arsenal struggled to score goals from midfield last season. Only two players scored seven or more goals, emphasising Arsenal’s need for more options in front of goal. While it isn’t necessarily vital for players to score 10 goals a season from midfield, Arsene Wenger’s team lack consistency from their strikers and would heavily benefit from another goal scoring threat behind the front man. If their out and out strikers can’t be relied upon to contribute a significant amount (Giroud scored 12 goals in the league, compared to Harry Kane’s 22), then more goals have to come from deeper if they want to mount a title challenge next season. This is where signing Mkhitaryan could really drive Arsenal forwards.

The Armenian has developed a keen eye for goal and, as mentioned earlier, scoring 11 goals in the Bundesliga last season. He only scored 0.07 fewer goals per game than Giroud in the league, suggesting that while Giroud could’ve been a more potent threat in front of goal, Mkhitaryan can certainly a second clinical finisher out wide alongside Alexis. He also completed more than twice the amount of attacking dribbles per game than any of Arsenal’s wide men, with the exception of their star Chilean, Alexis.

Any player can have fantastic statistics for one team, but if a club they move too utilises a completely different style of play, then they could struggle to adapt and definitely won’t play to their previously reflected ability. Stats can only say so much. For example, a striker can notch 30 goals for a team that relies on counter attacking due to their pace and finishing, but if asked to play a more possession-orientated style, their possible lack of technical ability or positioning may let them down.

 

Thomas Tuchel’s Dortmund side play an aggressive possession based game, relying on a dynamic set of attacking midfielders with a comparatively free role that create space for each other. This allows for them to expose defenders with their movement and open up opportunities for their teammates. This system played a huge part in the success of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season, but also proved that Mkhitaryan can provide in a massive way.

Arsenal played in a similar, albeit more structured way last season. Possession has long been the centrepiece of Arsene Wenger’s reign at the club, but he’s never shied away from utilising the pace and counter attacking prowess of his players, meaning the Dortmund winger’s athleticism wouldn’t necessarily be wasted. Arsenal’s reliance on full backs bombing forward will provide another potential outlet for Mkhitaryan to create for.

The similarities between the way Dortmund and Arsenal play can only bode well for the latter if they do manage to secure the Armenian’s signature, but truthfully, he shouldn’t be their first priority. The weaknesses Arsenal have in other parts of the field are require improvement much more urgently, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be an absolutely fantastic addition to any squad.

Featured image: All rights reserved by mcmetha

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