Alexis Sanchez, Mkhitaryan swap for Man United, Arsenal likely - Wenger
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has confirmed that a swap with Manchester United of Alexis Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan is "likely to happen" in the next 48 hours -- but didn't rule out the deal falling through and having the Chilean play for Arsenal on Saturday.
The Arsenal boss told a news conference on Thursday that he views Mkhitaryan as a good replacement for Sanchez but was coy about the possibility of also signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund -- saying those talks are best kept secret.
When asked about how the talks with United over Sanchez are going, Wenger said: "It can happen, it can as well not happen. ... If it doesn't happen, he [Sanchez] will play on Saturday. I've worked on transfers for 30 years, so it is likely to happen. But at any moment, at any minute, things can break down.
"That's how the transfer market is. As long as it's not over the line, you have to accept that it can as well not happen. These kind of things are never guaranteed."
Wenger left Sanchez out of his squad for Sunday's defeat at Bournemouth, but said the forward has been training as normal this week. Sources have told ESPN FC that Mkhitaryan trained with United on Thursday as usual, adding that a deal with Arsenal is yet to be agreed.
Any transfer would need to be registered with the Premier League by midday local time on Friday for a player to be eligible to feature for their new club this weekend.
Wenger insisted that he wouldn't have any problems playing the forward against Crystal Palace this weekend if he remains at the club.
"I left him out at Bournemouth because I was scared that the transfer would happen before we played Bournemouth. It was already quite advanced so I didn't want to be in the position where I tried with him and he has to go back, so he doesn't play," Wenger said. "It's now in the next 24 to 48 hours that it will happen or not."
Wenger again ruled out selling Mesut Ozil this month, though. When asked if the playmaker would still be at the club in February, Wenger said: "In February? Yes, of course."
And he also played down speculation that Arsenal could also bid for Bordeaux forward Malcom, while saying he had "nothing to add" about the possibility of signing Aubameyang, who was not spotted with Dortmund's travelling party on Thursday.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Arsenal held talks with Dortmund about a deal but want Sanchez's situation to be clarified first.
"These kind of things, it's better when it's secret and when you don't come out on it, and when you announce it when it's over the line," Wenger said. "Apart from the deal we just spoke about, Alexis and Mkhitaryan could happen, yes, but nothing else is close."
When asked whether Aubameyang would fit at Arsenal, he said: "Yes, because character can be a very positive note and it can be a very negative note. I believe overall you look at the achievements of a player during his career and usually, when a career has been very positive, the character has been used in a positive way."
Wenger talked up the chances of Mkhitaryan joining, and said the former Borussia Dortmund man "loves" Arsenal because of their style of play.
"If it's a possibility [that he's joining Arsenal], it's because I like the player," Wenger said. "We played many times against him when he was at Dortmund.
"He certainly appreciated the quality of our game and the way we play football. That's why certainly he loves the club as well. ... Look, this would be an exchange of players, and I think one would replace the other."
Reports have claimed the deal is being held up by Mkhitaryan's salary demands, but Wenger insisted that "the wages would not be a problem."
Meanwhile, Arsenal's Granit Xhaka told Sky Sports that Sanchez has set the standard for work ethic in Gunners' training sessions, though he wasn't sure on the Chilean's future.
"If he stays or goes? I don't know what's going to happen. At training, he's always an example for many people because he always wants to win no matter what we are doing -- a big game or a small game. I think that's something that characterises him."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.