Henrikh Mkhitaryan is finally an Arsenal player and some might say it’s a move which should have happened a long time ago. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is a long-time admirer of the former Borussia Dortmund star, and not just because of his supreme technical ability on the pitch which saw him score 23 goals and record 32 assists in his final season at the Westfalenstadion.
Mkhitaryan’s intellectual ability is one aspect which Wenger actively looks for when signing a player. The 29-year-old has got a diploma from the Institute of Physical Culture in Armenia and studied economics at the St Petersburg Institute – the latter is something he has in common with Wenger who also possesses an economic degree. Armenia’s captain, who turned 29 on Sunday, also speaks English, German, French, Russian, Armenian, Portuguese and Italian.
Per Mertesacker, Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny are all regarded as three of the most intelligent players at the club and it’s testament to Mertesacker in particular that Wenger wanted to keep him around so much he offered him a head of academy role which the German will take up this summer. While Arsenal lose an excellent attacking player in Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United, they gain a creative, intelligent and expressive forward in the form of Mkhitaryan.
Although there is the obvious gap, it is easy to draw parallels to the human aspect of Mkhitaryan and Weah. The Armenian midfielder lost his father Hamlet to a brain tumour at the age of 33 when Henrikh was just 7 years old and he cites that moment in his life as the motivation behind becoming a professional footballer.
“He was my drive, he was my motivation, because when I was young he was playing football professionally and I was always dreaming about going with him to the training ground,” said Mkhitaryan.
“Because of him, when we came back to Armenia [as a family], it was my dream to continue his work and to also be a football player. It [his death] was a pity but that is life and life continues. I just hope he is proud looking down at me from the sky because I try to do everything to make him proud.”
Mkhitaryan spent much of his young life in France after violence in Armenia forced the family to flee abroad. His dad was at French second division side Valence, a team founded by Armenians, and Henrikh begged him to come to training. Mkhitaryan’s journey around the world saw him undergo trials with Sao Paulo at the age of 14, where he played alongside the likes of Hernanes and Oscar.
« My favourite team is Arsenal, » Mkhtiaryan said, while playing for home-town side Pyunik over a decade ago. « I like their attacking play and fast style. Moreover, Arsene Wenger puts faith in young players while demanding results at the same time. I like that and want to play there one day. »
Able to play in the Europa League for Arsenal and set to form a familiar partnership with his former Dortmund team-mate Pierre Emerick Aubameyang in the coming days, everything looks set to click into place for Mkhitaryian – the self confessed Arsenal fan who has finally got the move he wanted.
When asked whether there is life after Alexis Sanchez after Saturday’s match against Crystal Palace there was a typically apt response from Wenger, who knows all too well that Arsenal have secured an astute signing that possesses brains on and off the pitch.
“There is always life,” he said.
“Arsenal Football Club is 130 years old and many big players have left. Will it go a bit less good? We will see. But there is always life afterwards.”