Situation vacant: Arsenal desperately need a hero

Date published: Thursday 5th April 2018 7:13

Arsenal played five games in February; they lost three. So of course their Player of the Month award went to Henrikh Mkhitarayan, who had notched assists against both Everton and Ostersund in the two games they did contrive to win.

Arsenal played five games in March; they lost two. So of course their Player of the Month award went to Henrikh Mkhitarayan, who had scored twice – once against Watford and then against AC Milan – in the games they did manage to win.

And yet you will struggle to find anybody who believes Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been any more than a 7/10 player for Arsenal since his arrival. He has certainly not been a revelation; he has basically been very, very Arsenal.

That the honest but limited Mo Elneny had won the January Player of the Month award before the Armenian got his feet under the table tells you everything you need to know about Arsenal in 2018, when their Premier League form has been worse than that of Swansea and West Ham. All eggs are now balanced precariously in the Europa League basket.

This is a club that has spent over £100m on strikers this season but only one of those players can play in the only competition that now really matters; the other must surely be low on confidence after basically being usurped by the new man. Their second top scorer in the Premier League departed in January. The man who signed a new £350,000-a-week contract two months ago has since contributed one Premier League assist. This is a team woefully short of heroes.

Jack Wilshere has been trying his damnedest but there is an understandable distrust of his body, Aaron Ramsey’s injury record this season suggests there should be a distrust of his body and WhoScored still claim that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been Arsenal’s most effective player this season despite the fact that he left in August. The fact that Shkodran Mustafi is next on that list makes you question everything everybody ever told you about the value of statistics.

The excellent Alexis Sanchez (2) and Mesut Ozil (1) have claimed Arsenal’s last three Player of the Year awards, with Santi Cazorla’s 2014 trophy being a sad reminder of a likely lost genius. Lord knows who would win it this season: one website’s player ratings for the season give only Nacho Monreal, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan, Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang anything above 6/10. The chances are that Monreal will get the nod for reasons of consistency and basically giving a sh*t.

And yet there is still a spot for a hero, with Mkhitaryan currently in pole position. He saved the best of his inconsistent Manchester United form for the Europa League, scoring six goals and being praised by UEFA’s Technical Observers for ‘key goals in key matches’. Arsenal’s January signing could yet be their player of the season if he delivers key goals in key matches for another side desperate for a back-door route into the Champions League.

The Armenian said all the right things on Wednesday when he talked about Arsenal still being focused on winning all their remaining Premier League matches, but the truth is that there are only five more possible games that really matter. Three of them come in April so do not bet against Mkhitaryan making it a hat-trick of Player of the Month awards without anybody outside of Arsenal thinking he has pulled up even the smallest tree.

Sarah Winterburn


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