Whether Alexis Sanchez joins Manchester City or Manchester United is essentially meaningless for Arsenal.
If he does take an early exit in January, rather than waiting for his contract to wind down, it will either be to a club far out of Arsenal’s reach or to a club even further out of Arsenal’s reach. To describe either Manchester club as a rival to an Arsenal side scrapping in sixth, mired in the Europa League and being eliminated from the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest would be an insult to logic and reality.
The latest reports in this breathless saga have Manchester City refusing to meet Arsenal’s financial demands and preparing to walk away from any deal; they are unwilling to match the £35m demanded by Arsenal and instead want to pay £20m. Either way, it’s considerably cheaper than the £60m they agreed to back in the summer so let’s not discount a move to the Etihad just yet.
The breaking news, though, will focus some minds on what has been painted as the nightmare scenario. The prospect of Sanchez going to United in the manner that Robin van Persie once did seems completely unconscionable to some Arsenal supporters. But losing Van Persie in the summer of 2012 was a monumental disaster: Wenger selling his captain to Sir Alex Ferguson, his greatest rival in football.
Wenger would no doubt find it unpalatable to lose a player of Sanchez’s quality to Jose Mourinho, but the comparison falls down thereafter. Sanchez has six months left on his contract so he has all the negotiating power, and while five-and-a-half years ago Arsenal still maintained the presence of being a serious elite club, they no longer can.
Whenever Sanchez goes, it will be to a bigger club with bigger prospects and bigger plans. City or United — who really cares? Arsenal won’t be competing with either at the top level any time soon.
What Arsenal do have to consider carefully is who they replace Sanchez with — and potentially Theo Walcott, of course, who is in talks with Everton over a permanent deal too. If both players leave in January, it will blow a considerable hole in Arsenal’s attacking ranks.
With Danny Welbeck never looking like he’s going on a prolific run, Alex Iwobi attracting the wrong headlines and Alexandre Lacazette going eight games without a goal, things don’t look particularly promising on that front. A new forward, or maybe even two, is going to be essential.
Strangely enough, transfers are the one area of football operations that Arsenal can approach with any sense of renewed optimism. With a new power structure in place following the appointments of Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi as head of recruitment and head of football relations respectively, there should be a newfound competency in both identifying and acquiring new players in the coming years.
Mislintat’s first spot was young defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, who was an unused substitute for the League Cup quarterfinal first leg against Chelsea in midweek, which ended 0-0. He has so impressed Wenger already that a prospective loan move in January has been shelved so he can start with the first-team until the summer at least. It’s a promising step, but no more than that.
Instead, the biggest test of any recruitment department is trying to find a quality forward who is going to be a regular source of goals — at a reasonable price — and that is precisely the task facing Arsenal if Sanchez does depart. They will have to replace the club’s best player and won’t even have a big injection of cash to help, with Sanchez’s prospective transfer fee a paltry amount for a player of his quality.
So Mislintat and Sanllehi have walked into a nightmare scenario. The latter does not technically start work until February but given he helped Barcelona to navigate one of the most complicated, and controversial, transfers in recent history with their signing of Neymar from Santos, any advance input would probably be welcomed as Arsenal try and fill a Sanchez-sized hole in their team.
Bordeaux’s Malcom has already been named as a likely target, but January is not always the best time to buy new players, particularly at the top of the market. However, with three competitions still in play it is hard to see how Arsenal can avoid it, if indeed Walcott and Sanchez both leave.
Whichever Manchester club Arsenal’s best player decides to join, the real challenge comes in finding an adequate replacement.
Tom is one of ESPN FC’s Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport