It’s odd to write a blog that contradicts a previous one but times change. It was April 2017 when I first proposed swapping Ozil and Sanchez for quality replacements but it looks like we have missed the boat. Whilst I will always retain that we should have sought swap deals last summer, the time has come to stop being retrospective and for Arsenal to enter the transfer market and plan for the future.
Priority number one is replacing Sanchez. It’s impossible to talk about replacing Sanchez and Ozil with the same shortlist because we are replacing differing skillets. Ozil is a master playmaker/creator and Sanchez has that directness and ability to can win a game from nothing. The point is the balance of the team is built around both so with that in mind the below is a list of targets to replace Sanchez in order of priority:
1. Willian: I wouldn’t spend much time on this one because it’s unlikely to be successful but in terms of the player, Willian would be my number 1 choice to replace Sanchez. He is the most like for like with an ability to combine world-class technique with Sanchez-esque work rate and directness. He has also an elite level goal/assist record compared with minutes played. The obvious stumbling block is Chelsea’s willingness to sell to a rival but why not start by making a 30-40 million offer (in a World Cup year) and then hope that the player pushes it through?
2. Julian Draxler: Draxler has that ability to beat top defenders one on one whilst boasting exceptional technique (akin to Arsenal’s build-up play), his final ball is also excellent especially in tight situations (again very akin to Arsenal). Compared with Sanchez, what would be lost is the aggression and work rate and there are also concerns over viability of a deal given Draxler has been playing in central midfield for PSG all season. This one hinges on the truthfulness of rumours that PSG need to balance their books.
3. Nabil Fekir: Exceptional output is the reason Fekir comes above two more expensive options. I am a big advocate that wide forwards should be measured on goals and assists and Fekir’s record shows he is always incredibly productive. Again good technically and has an established understanding with Lacazette making it feel like a no-brainer.
4. Thomas Lemar: Quality of passing, dribbling and combination play are all exceptional with an ok goal and assist record and age on his side. The but in this is Lemar not being as proficient as Sanchez in beating players 1 vs. 1 (clearly preferring combination play) and the impact on our attacking approach. My concern is those situations where we rely on Sanchez to do something individually when the combinations have failed to penetrate. I guess this one is about balancing a different type of player and the potential negative or positive impact it would have on our attack.
5. Riyad Mahrez: Arsene Wenger is excellent at avoiding one season wonders which explains the caution over Mahrez, however it’s been three seasons now and he continues to showcase exceptional ability to beat players, composure and awareness in the final third and effective pace. He also has a proven goal and assist record in the Premier League. The only question mark would be if he could deal with the pressure of playing for Arsenal?
Arsenal have a habit of doing the unexpected so this shortlist may be out of kilter with the club’s thinking but whatever the solution, the decision has to be made with two considerations in mind. Attribute-wise replacing Sanchez’s directness, aggression and technique (to balance our attack) but also Alexis’s output, after all we are talking about a return of 25 goals and assists combined per season.