Mesut Özil was meant to be the catalyst, but he wasn’t. Alexis Sanchez was too, but he hasn’t had the desired effect either. Between the years of 2013 and 2014, Arsenal were making strides for success and Arsene Wenger, their manager who had a reputation for being stringent with his transfer budget, was changing his ways in a bid to win their first Premier League title in around a decade.
Four years on, little has changed. The Gunners have continued in the same vein, failing to make a domestic splash or any sort of impact in Europe. Özil and Sanchez have made something of a difference, helping them win three FA Cups in the last four years, and yet, with a year remaining on each of their contracts, they may be forced to look elsewhere for the kind of trophy-laden era they arrived in England to inspire.
Arsenal have gone backwards
If anything, Arsenal have gone backwards. Rather than becoming title-chasing regulars, Wenger oversaw the first campaign in which they failed to qualify for the Champions League in his 21-year reign. Considering they joined from Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, for a combined £77.5million, both Özil and Sanchez are not accustomed to such disappointment and may be best served leaving the Emirates Stadium this summer, especially because they are both 28 years of age.
Even without the Champions League, Arsenal are not giving up on persuading either to stay. Often in cases such as these, the silence can be deafening, and neither Özil nor Sanchez have given any suggestion they are committed to signing on again. Ironically, this summer Arsenal are likely spend money on a similar level to when they signed the pair, with Alexandre Lacazette and Riyad Mahrez seriously linked, but they could be replacements rather than additions.
Domestic and European rivals come calling for Ozil and Sanchez
Manchester City and Bayern Munich are both extremely interested in Sanchez, while Özil is attracting interest from clubs in Turkey and Germany. The former currently has the better reputation, having scored 19 Premier League goals and earned a PFA Player of the Year nomination last term, all with his intoxicating hard work and joy for the game. Özil, while unquestionably talented, is often criticised for being lazy and going missing in the big games.
Those reputations dictate what is best for each player when assessing what they should do next. Sanchez has built his career on being the linchpin of his team, whether it was Udinese, Chile or Arsenal the man who leads from the front and by example despite not wearing the captain’s armband. There was a reason he lasted just three years at Barcelona, because he was well down the pecking order.
Özil, though, is more of an extreme teammate; shooting to world fame at Real Madrid as arguably the world’s best playmaker, known for making assist after assist after assist. When Cristiano Ronaldo was on his side, that was enough, and at international level, with Germany, he can share the limelight with the likes of Thomas Müller and Marco Reus. But the pressure is always on him at Arsenal, and perhaps that doesn’t suit him.
Real Madrid have hardly missed him, having won three Champions League titles since his departure, but it wouldn’t be ridiculous to suggest he regrets the move away from the Santiago Bernabeu. Carrying a team is not his game, and perhaps if Lacazette and Mahrez were to join Arsenal, he would have less responsibility and begin to improve his image in England.
On the contrary, if Sanchez were to leave and join either City or Bayern, he wouldn’t be given the freedom to dominate games the way he has in his trademark fashion for Arsenal and at the Confederations Cup this summer, helping Chile to the final and becoming their all time top goalscorer.
Reunited with Guardiola
Teaming up with Pep Guardiola again at the Etihad Stadium seems more and more likely by the day. City are keen to tie up a deal and add him to their plethora of great attacking options. Even though he and Guardiola have a good working relationship, given that it was the City boss who brought him to Barcelona in 2011, there would be no guarantees he would be a regular starter when faced with competition from the likes of Sergio Agüero, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane.
Arsenal can build arguably their greatest team in the last decade from the ashes of their greatest disappointment. If, against all odds, Sanchez and Özil stay and team up with Lacazette and Mahrez for example, suddenly Arsene Wenger may finally be able to mount a challenge for the Premier League title, even while balancing Europa League participation on Thursday nights.
Wenger will not want a repeat of the past
If the past tells him anything, nothing good can come of selling his best players. Samir Nasri left in 2011 and immediately became a champion at Manchester City, before Robin van Persie departed for United, only to repeat the trick a year later. Both players were entering the final years of their contracts.
From the point of view of the players, the lack of progress may see them leave. History suggests the grass is greener elsewhere, and both of them may look at the Champions League as the place to be, almost certainly with offers on the table.
In many ways, their situations are almost identical. But looking a little deeper, differences emerge. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil thrive in different environments, and neither may find what they are truly looking for if they part ways this summer.