It is likely to be a glimpse of Jose Mourinho’s previous and future alike. Henrikh Mkhitaryan might be seeing a predecessor and his successor alike. Whether or not he does so from shut quarters or with a view from the dugout instead is one other matter. As a result of whereas Arsenal towards Manchester United was shaping up as Mesut Ozil towards Mkhitaryan, Mourinho has injected doubt into that setup.
The German will certainly begin. The Armenian could also be benched or consigned to the stands once more, disadvantaged of an opportunity to outshine the person who could oust him. Ozil’s star is within the ascendant once more following his terrific show within the North London derby. Mkhitaryan’s has fallen as he has tumbled down the pecking order at Outdated Trafford. Rewind three months, and he was the Premier League’s most inventive participant, with 5 assists by the top of August, whereas Ozil was being criticised for an abject show in Arsenal’s Four-Zero shellacking at Anfield. Then the notion that Mkhitaryan might be jettisoned to make method for Ozil appeared far-fetched.
Now the Armenian is being linked with a return to Borussia Dortmund. Ozil, whose contract at Arsenal expires subsequent summer time, is tipped to exchange him at Outdated Trafford. It will each attraction to Mourinho’s Machiavellian streak, weakening a rival whereas strengthening his personal squad, and his enterprise mind, releasing up funds for different switch targets by getting Arsenal’s £42.Four million purchase for nothing. It will reunite him with a former ally.
There’s a temptation to think about Deco and Wesley Sneijder as Mourinho’s quintessential No. 10s; they, in any case, have been the creative fulcrums of his two Champions League-winning sides. But Ozil was the creator in chief in his most prolific crew, the Actual Madrid aspect who scored 326 league targets in three seasons.
“He’s one of the best No. 10 on the planet,” Mourinho stated when Ozil joined Arsenal. “He makes issues very simple for me and for his teammates. Everybody loves him and sees a little bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him. Ozil is exclusive. There is no such thing as a copy of him, not even a nasty copy.”
It suggests, a minimum of, that he doesn’t deem Mkhitaryan a poor Ozil imitator. The 2016 signing was omitted from three of the previous 4 video games, with Mourinho saying Mkhitaryan had been “disappearing” in matches and never working exhausting sufficient. These criticisms have lengthy been levelled at Ozil, and never simply in an Arsenal shirt. The World Cup winner revealed in his autobiography that Mourinho, in a dressing-room tirade, as soon as referred to as him “such a coward,” saying: “You assume two stunning passes are sufficient. You assume you are so good that 50 p.c is sufficient.” However he picked him for 90 p.c of Actual’s league video games, beginning him in 72 p.c of them. The corresponding figures for Mkhitaryan — starting 48 p.c of league matches, that includes in 69 p.c — are far decrease.
If Mourinho summed up the case towards Ozil in anger, his 2013 feedback amounted to essentially the most emphatic endorsement of him. At instances, it has felt that Arsene Wenger has been a lone voice defending his playmaker. Each can undergo from the English obsession with physique language; neither is greatest suited to a tradition that calls for conspicuous shows of effort. Mourinho, the import who can appear extra English than the English, arrowed in on it when he requested Ozil to do extra operating.
Each seem extra appreciated in Germany than in England. Mkhitaryan was voted the Bundesliga gamers’ participant of the 12 months in 2015-16. Ozil has been named the German nationwide crew’s participant of the 12 months for 5 of the previous six years. “There is no such thing as a doubt in Germany in regards to the high quality of Mesut Ozil,” stated the Premier League’s main German supervisor, Jurgen Klopp, in August. “He’s an outstandingly expert boy.”
They’re real creators, the kind who make extra targets than they rating. In 2015-16, Mkhitaryan had essentially the most assists within the Bundesliga, and Ozil essentially the most within the Premier League. They possess unselfish streaks and have carried out greatest alongside gamers with contrasting attributes. Ozil was a effective foil to the egocentric Cristiano Ronaldo. Mkhitaryan, at first of the season, was a really completely different sidekick to the larger and extra exuberant Paul Pogba when United proved prolific.
Every has stood out in a Mourinho crew. United, specifically, have a phalanx of 6-footers who can launch an aerial assault. Like Ozil, Mkhitaryan possesses an elfin elusiveness to ghost into positions, however that extra languid method could make every a lightning rod for criticism. The suggestion is that they don’t carry out within the main matches. The proof is decidedly blended. Mkhitaryan scored within the Europa League last. Ozil unlocked United on the Emirates Stadium two years in the past and Tottenham this month. Neither, nonetheless, has delivered sufficient in main away video games.
Whereas Wenger has been faulted for invariably choosing Ozil, Mourinho was blamed final autumn for omitting Mkhitaryan. Historical past could repeat itself on Saturday, with the German beginning and the Armenian benched. And maybe then Mourinho will revisit the previous days and re-sign Ozil subsequent summer time.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.