Henrikh Mkhitaryan had hardly established himself in the pantheon of Arsenal legends when he and the Gunners decided to mutually cancel his contract so the Armenian could make a permanent move to AS Roma. The former Dortmund and Manchester United player had been part of the swap deal that saw Alexis Sanchez move to Old Trafford and Mkhitaryan join the Gunners in January 2018. About the only positive aspect of the deal was that Sanchez struggled at Old Trafford more than Mkhitaryan did at the Emirates, but the Armenian was not the required replacement for the gladiatorial displays the Chilean had demonstrated in north London.
Despite never entirely convincing in his performances, Mkhitaryan didn’t actually do too badly at Arsenal in comparison to his teammates. The fact that the Wenger empire had fallen and there had been constant change at Arsenal didn’t help. Still, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (35) and Alex Lacazette (20) scored more goals than the Armenian (8) in his 18 months at the club. With eight goals created too, he also registered just one fewer assist than Aubameyang, Lacazette and Alex Iwobi (9 each) from fewer starts and twice as many as Mesut Özil (4) in his time with the Gunners.
At the start of 2019/20, it became clear he was not part of Unai Emery’s plans as he was shipped off on loan to Roma upon the arrival of Nicolas Pépé on a record transfer fee of £72million. After a first season that augured well, he was again deemed surplus to requirements by new boss Mikel Arteta who brought in Willian from Chelsea and Mkhitaryan was allowed to join Roma on a free transfer.
On leaving to join the Italian side on a permanent basis, Mkhitaryan said:
“I am playing football to score goals and to assist; of course, it is not always important to do that – you can still have a really big contribution to the team and to the win. But I am going to push, I am going to do my best to surpass my statistics from last season and to have better statistics next season.”
He has been as good as his word and has settled into his second season by improving upon the numbers posted during his first spell in something of an Italian renaissance.
Not only that, but his numbers compare very favourably to the man who replaced him just over a year ago at the Emirates. It’s Pépé, not Mkhitaryan, who has been thrown to the lions.
Only two players have created more chances than the 17 from open play that Mkhitaryan has fashioned this term and he leads the Serie A assist charts with four so far.
And in attack, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has more goal involvements than the ex-Gunner this season and the Armenian is tied for second with some esteemed company. In fact, Mkhitaryan has as many goal involvements this season as Arsenal have actually scored as a team.
Mkhitaryan is now entering the arena with great confidence and his stunning strike last weekend against Parma truly endeared him to the Roman legions. It was part of a solid performance that saw him score twice and help lift his side into third place ahead of Juventus and on the coattails of leaders AC Milan. It was also a reminder of his penchant for the spectacular – four of the nine Premier League goals he scored for Arsenal came from outside the penalty area. The Gunners have only scored four goals from outside the box in the 15 months since he left.
Mkhitaryan has been instrumental in Roma’s play. He has been involved in the joint-most sequences leading directly to a goal in the whole of Serie A this season and the most sequences leading to a shot.
And when it comes to possession value, Mkhitaryan is the most influential player in the Roman cohort. Possession Value measures the probability that the team in possession will score during the next 10 seconds, and assigns credit to individual players based on their positive and negative contributions on the ball. It allows us to credit players who may previously have been undervalued by more traditional metrics such as goals and assists.
Mkhitaryan is rated 10th in Serie A with net PV of 0.39 per 90 minutes.
Mkhitaryan’s performances so far and the struggles of Roma’s rivals may give the Tifosi the hope that they can challenge for their first title since 2000/01 and restore former triumphs.
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