Man Utd and Arsenal flop Mkhitaryan leading Roma’s surprise Scudetto challenge

Henrikh Mkhitaryan Unai Emery Jose Mourinho Arsenal Roma Man Utd GFX

Arsenal were more than happy to see Henrikh Mkhitaryan join Roma on loan in September 2019.

The talent was still there, though. Roma striker Edin Dzeko discovered that just days after Mkhitaryan’s move was confirmed.

On September 8, 2019, the Arsenal exile scored two goals and created another as Armenia defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-2 in Yerevan.

After the game, Dzeko, who knows all about the restorative power of a move to Serie A, made a point of speaking to the man of the match. “Now, my friend,” the Bosnia captain told Mkhitaryan, “you have to score goals for Roma.”

Dzeko is clearly quite the motivational speaker, because just a week later, Mkhitaryan was marking his Serie A debut with a goal in the Giallorossi’s first win of the season, a 4-2 defeat of Sassuolo.

“I expect it from him,” a beaming Dzeko told Sky Sport Italia after the game. “I remember him from his spell at Borussia Dortmund and, hopefully, he can stay a long time here. He will be a big player for us.”

Dzeko was not wrong.

Mkhitaryan’s season-long loan atStadio Olimpico may have been twice interrupted by injury, but he still did enough to convince Roma to retain his services for another yearafter the attacking midfielder terminated his contract with Arsenal by mutual consent.

This season he is performing like the player Dzeko and everyone else remembers from his final season at Dortmundin 2015-16, when he racked up an incredible 23 goals and 26 assists in 52 appearances in all competitions.

Indeed, shortly after Mkhitaryan had teed up Lorenzo Pellegrini for the opener in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Inter, Opta pointed out that the only other player to register at least eight goals and eight assists in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues this season is Tottenham striker Harry Kane.

It only makes his struggles in England all the more mystifying.

Talk to anyone at Manchester United or Arsenal and they will nothave a bad thing to say about Mkhitaryan’s attitude or application. Both transfers may simply have been a case of right player, but wrong coach.

Mkhitaryan has fond memories of his time at Old Trafford– he still struggles to find the right words to properly convey the joy he felt when he scored in the 2017 Europa League final win over Ajax– while he holds no bitterness towards then-manager Jose Mourinho.

However, he has admitted that his player-coach relationship with the Portuguese was “the most complicated” of his career.

“He is a winner by nature,” Mkhitaryan told Yevgeny Savin. “and he wants you to win, so you do what he asks you, but it is difficult for anyone. There were differences and conflicts, but they did not have a big impact on the hard work we did and the three trophies we won.”

Mkhitaryan ended up with nothing to show from his time at Arsenal, though.

The swap deal that saw him move to the Emirates and Alexis Sanchez arrive at Old Trafford is one of those rare transfers that works out for nobody.

Mkhitaryan could nothave hoped for a better start to life at Arsenal, registering three assists on his first start, a 5-1 rout of Everton, but that was to be as good as it got for him in north London.

He has since wondered whether he simply was notsuited to English football, but he had even more issues with his coach at Arsenal than at United.

“I was starting as a winger, but had to build play with the defensive midfielder,” he explained. “That’s why I couldn’t contribute as many goals or assists. I like to play more freely and move wherever there’s space, but you have to do the job that the manager asks of you.

“(Manager) Unai Emery and (former head of football) Raul Sanllehi assured me I was important for Arsenal, but I signed for Roma because they believed in me more.”

Mkhitaryan had essentially stopped enjoying his football, which is why he did noteven discuss money when he first met with former Giallorossi sporting director Gianluca Petrachi and was ultimately willing to take a massive pay-cut to move to the Italian capital.

In Romehe would have the chance to work with a coach with a far more attacking philosophy than either Mourinho or Emery, with Paulo Fonseca declaring in his very first press conference that he would play offensive football no matter the circumstances.

Crucially, the Portuguese was also willing to give Mkhitaryan the freedom he craved, with the 31-year-old now flourishing with less defensive responsibilities in a 3-4-2-1 formation, just behind Dzeko.

Indeed, it is worth noting that with his eight goals and eight assists in Serie A alone this season, Mkhitaryan has already surpassed his final numbers in both categories in the Premier League for United (five goals and six assists in 39 games), and equalled his totals at Arsenal.

It is not in the least bit surprising, then, that having snapped Mkhitaryan up on a free transfer last summer, third-placed Roma are now moving to ensure that they do notlose him for nothing at the end of the season.

Ahead of Friday’s Rome derby against Lazio, it has been reported that Giallorossi sporting director Tiago Pinto is keen to offer Mkhitaryan a contract extension until June2022.

The man himself is already looking beyond that date, revealing that he feels so fit and happy again that he would like to continue playing until he is at least 37.

You would notrule it out, either. At 31, Mkhitaryan is playing as well as he has since his Dortmund days– and all it took was an attack-minded coach.

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