With their teams continuing to stutter, fans of Manchester United and Arsenal can be forgiven for seeking solace outside of matchdays.
They will have been delighted, then, with rumours over the weekend suggesting that Jack Wilshere and Chris Smalling could potentially swap clubs in the summer.
Wilshere has gone through something of a rejuvenation this season, making 25 appearances in all competitions so far, scoring two and setting up his teammates twice.
At the other end of the country, Smalling has been a regular at Manchester United as a result of Eric Bailly's long-term injury, although his performances have left fans divided about his overall usefulness to the team.
With Arsenal needing to shore up their defences, though, and Manchester United on the perennial hunt for midfielders to compliment Paul Pogba, this seems like a swap that would benefit both sides. The question is, who would benefit most from such a move?
Arsenal’s defence has long been the worst amongst their top six counterparts.
Last season alone they conceded an average of 1.16 goals per game, putting them on a par with Everton, whilst they accrued just one clean sheet more than mid-table Southampton.
Shkodran Mustafi was supposed to plug the Gabriel-shaped hole alongside Laurent Koscielny, but the German has been inconsistent at best since arriving on big money from Valencia.
Had club and player both got their wish in the summer, the former-Everton man would have left North London a season which failed to live up to the club’s expectations.
Chris Smalling would not be an improvement on those standards.
After breaking into the Fulham squad in2008, the Englishman became one of the most highly-rated defenders in the league, with United only just pipping Arsene Wenger to his signature. Tall and agile, he seemed like a natural successor to Rio Ferdinand.
At 28, however, Smalling still lacks the guile and assuredness of his predecessor. His partnership with Phil Jones has looked fraught all season, with Paul Scholes lambasting his performance during United’s catastrophic loss to Spurs two weeks ago.
The £25 million price being quoted by José Mourinho would be far better spent on a younger defender, with more scope for improvement and increased sell-on value: someone like Nice’s Malang Sarr or Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano.
A big loss
Smalling’s signature would bring little benefit to Arsenal but a Jack Wilshere move to Manchester United would go some way to addressing Mourinho’s midfield quandary.
The Stevenage man has rescued his top-flight reputation with the standard of his performances this year, offering real creativity and range in a weak Gunners midfield.
He offers an acceleration and agility across the first few yards that is rare for someone in his position, whilst Mourinho will love his commitment and desire.
Tactically, however, the Portuguese will have work to do. Wilshere may love bounding forward to initiate attacks, but he is positionally weak. His foraging runs come at a defensive cost, something that Mourinho has never been happy to accept from his midfielders.
For all the headlines about his unhappiness, any move for Wilshere will also dent the fragile confidence of £90 million man Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has been irked by Mourinho’s tactics this season, whilst sources in France have also suggested that the signing of Alexis Sánchez has bruised his ego.
Given Manchester United struggle to accommodate Pogba now, it is impossible to see how they can crowbar in Wilshere alongside him.
Carrick Mk II
Mourinho’s chief concern this summer should be replacing Michael Carrick’s unassuming brilliance. Jack Wilshere is a talented passer but the former is far superior and his influence will be difficult to emulate.
Moreover, Wilshere’s record with injuries mean that, even on a free transfer, he is a risk that offers too few benefits. At this stage in his career, the Englishman may be loathe to move somewhere he is even less sure of starting place.
Wilshere are Smalling are talented players, but neither are the solution to United and Arsenal’s chronic problems.With Mourinho and Wenger’s jobs under pressure, they should think carefully before making a move.
Who do you think would benefit more from the move? Let us know by commenting below.