LONDON — Arsene Wenger has admitted he tried to sign Henrikh Mkhitaryan two years ago, before he joined Manchester United, and says he is contemplating using the Armenian as a deeper-lying central midfielder.
Mkhitaryan made the switch from United to Arsenal on Monday in a deal that sent Alexis Sanchez the other way. For Wenger, that means he finally ended up with a player he met with personally in 2016 in an attempt to convince him to sign from Borussia Dortmund.
“Yeah, I met him at the time,” Wenger said. “At the time we were close, but in in the end it didn’t work.”
Mkhitaryan joined United instead in July 2016, in a deal reportedly worth around £30 million. But the attacking midfielder has had an underwhelming spell at Old Trafford and Jose Mourinho has only started him in one Premier League game since Nov. 5.
Wenger acknowledged that the rough spell may have affected Mkhitaryan’s confidence, but that he has no doubts the midfielder will seize the opportunity at Arsenal.
“Yes of course, you worry about how much it as affected him. But as well it’s a new chance for him,” Wenger said. “What you want in life is a new chance, he gets a new chance to show his quality and I’m sure he will take it. I might have to analyse with him how it went, and how we can help him.”
The biggest question for Wenger now is where to fit Mkhitaryan into his line-up. His most natural role may be as a No. 10, although that spot is firmly occupied by Mesut Ozil, and Wenger hinted he may be used as a winger at first — or perhaps in central midfield.
“Personally I see him first wide, but I’m thinking about as well that for him it’s a possibility to play through the middle,” Wenger said. “[As a No. 10] or even deeper.”
That could spell bad news for Granit Xhaka, Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey, who were already in a three-way fight for the two central midfield positions. Wenger also has plenty of options in the attacking roles — regardless of whether Mkhitaryan’s former Dortmund teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ends up joining him at the Emirates.
And Wenger admitted he won’t be able to fit all of his midfield talent into the line-up, but said the great players all thrive on having competition.
“Some will have to be in and out. But on the other hand, we have seen that Ramsey has been out many times, Wilshere as well. We play in many competitions. You have a number [of players] you can fit in,” Wenger said.
“In football teams there is a number that pushes you, a number that makes you asleep and a number that paralyses you. So you have to find the right number in each squad to have a fair competition.”
Wenger also rejected the notion put forward by some critics – including former Arsenal defender Martin Keown — that Sanchez is a “mercenary” for going to Man United in search of a higher wage.
“What is the difference between a professional and a mercenary?” Wenger said. “For me it’s not a problem, the money you pay. What is important is what you do once you have signed somewhere.
“How much you’re paid is the responsibility of the guy who pays you. If I sign tomorrow for Arsenal for £1, my responsibility is exactly the same as if I sign for £100m. I will give my best, once I’ve signed. I don’t care what the others make, if I sign I do my best. And that’s what it means for me to be professional.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.