Week for Wenger

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

A Sthe man­ager who best ar­tic­u­lated how it feels to lose play­ers dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional break, Arsene Wenger faces a wor­ry­ing week. And it is not just the short-term ef­fect of ex­tra wear and tear that is keep­ing the Arse­nal boss awake at night – it is the real prospect of los­ing his two big­gest stars at the stroke of a pen.

Con­tract talks with Me­sut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have stalled and the mon­ey­bags Manch­ester clubs are lurk­ing. Both City and United are able to dou­ble the Arse­nal men’s salaries whereas Arse­nal will only give them a gen­er­ous but care­fully cal­i­brated in­cre­ment. Money talks and it could be that the un­think­able hap­pens next year.

This would be a killer blow to Wenger who fi­nally seems to have put to­gether a side that is emerg­ing as a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to those of his tri­umphant early years. And Ozil and Sanchez, play­ing in more ad­vanced roles than pre­vi­ously, are the main rea­sons for the resur­gence. In­deed, the Gun­ners are fan­cied in some quar­ters to end their long ti­tle drought in 2017.

Los­ing both next year is, of course, the worstcase sce­nario and Arse­nal had un­til this month been op­ti­mistic that they would stay for at least another cou­ple of years. They are en­joy­ing the greater free­dom of their new roles, are happy at the club and with life in Lon­don. Why would they want to leave?

Only last month Wenger ac­knowl­edged that con­vinc­ing Ozil and Sanchez that Arse­nal could chal­lenge for the ti­tle was key to keep­ing them. He said: “I think th­ese kinds of play­ers can raise a lit­tle bit above the fi­nan­cial as­pect of the game be­cause they are not poor and they have to look re­ally at the foot­ball side. It is more about whether the club can meet their needs on the foot­ball front.”

Well, win­ter wob­bles not­with­stand­ing, Arse­nal are do­ing that. The ad­di­tions of Shko­dran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka have pro­vided greater steel and depth to the de­fence and mid­field, while the two men in ques­tion have given more of a cut­ting edge up front. How­ever you look at it, Arse­nal are gen­uine ti­tle con­tenders.

To an out­sider, there would be no rea­son to leave. Things are go­ing well and nei­ther City nor United of­fer guar­an­tees they would go bet­ter in Manch­ester. In­deed, United just about guar­an­tee it could be some time be­fore it does. But they do of­fer some­thing more than an ex­tra tranches of cash: for both play­ers there is the chance to play for a for­mer boss.

City’s Pep Guardi­ola brought Sanchez to the Nou Camp and al­though he didn’t get the best out of him, the Chilean is known to rel­ish a sec­ond chance of play­ing for the Cata­lan mas­ter. Ditto Ozil and Jose Mour­inho. The Ger­man is one of the few who en­joyed play­ing for the United boss at Real Madrid, gen­er­ally stayed aloof from the civil war that raged, and would not be averse to a re­union.

If ei­ther of them left, Goon­ers would be sure to dis­own them as mer­ce­nar­ies and it would be true to the ex­tent that both would be at least £50k a week richer. But it is the lure of work­ing for another for­mer boss that Wenger can­not quan­tify. Com­bined with the cash, that could just tip the bal­ance.

Plenty, then, for Wenger to pon­der as he pre­pares to re­turn his side to Premier League ac­tion with a Satur­day lunchtime clash with none other than his old en­emy, Mour­inho.

Grate­ful that Ozil has for once been kept in the garage by Ger­many, Wenger could be re­lieved to find that Sanchez’s fate is no worse than be­ing “dumped in a field with no petrol”, as he put it in his mem­o­rable phrase.

What the Arse­nal boss would be in­can­des­cent about is if the Chilean has done any more dam­age to the ham­string that kept him out of last Thurs­day’s clash with Colom­bia. Pres­sured to play in the cru­cial qual­i­fier against Uruguay to­day – a de­ci­sion Wenger has al­ready called “sui­ci­dal” - Sanchez will be up against de­fend­ers not known for the kid-gloves ap­proach.

The 27-year-old has al­ready ad­mit­ted that he ig­nores Wenger’s pleas to take a break, say­ing: “The man­ager some­times says to me, ‘Have a rest’ but I don’t want to rest,” he told the club’s of­fi­cial web­site. “I was born to be a foot­baller and, God will­ing, I will be able to con­tinue do­ing that. As you know, I’m pas­sion­ate about foot­ball.”

That pas­sion will be in­flamed by na­tional pride as Chile find them­selves in a dog-fight to reach the next World Cup fi­nals. It would be a dis­as­ter for the Copa Amer­ica cham­pi­ons not to be in Rus­sia in 2018 and you can un­der­stand them pulling out all the stops against their bit­ter ri­vals.

Wenger will be watch­ing from be­hind the sofa as even rel­a­tively mi­nor dam­age to Sanchez’ ham­string could be enough to de­rail Arse­nal’s sea­son. And the man­ager will be des­per­ate to have his star striker avail­able to take on a wounded Mour­inho.

Even though Arse­nal are the form team and United are strug­gling, he will be wary of the Por­tuguese. On the other hand, if Arse­nal can carry on where they left off and put United to the sword, it would hardly be sweeter: be­sides plung­ing a sworn en­emy into cri­sis, it could help keep the dy­namic duo at the Emi­rates and the Gun­ners in con­tention for the ti­tle.

Jur­gen Klopp (left) and Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan at Borus­sia Dort­mund. Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan and Jose Mour­inho (right) at Manch­ester United.

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