If Louis van Gaal wants to get rid of Chris Smalling, he could not pick a better time than the January transfer window. The England international is currently public enemy number one at Old Trafford and with good reason.
However, Smalling is still considered a top player by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and recent reports suggest that he is ready to dip his hands into the Old Trafford bargain bucket for the second time in six months. But would Van Gaal be making a bad decision by allowing another homegrown star to join the Gunners?
Anyone with one eye on the Manchester derby would have seen the half-witted display that saw Smalling back in the dressing room, showered and suited before the halftime whistle had gone. The defender was foolishly booked for blocking Joe Hart's drop kick before sliding in recklessly on James Milner. Game over.
Manchester City only went on to win 1-0, emphasising the impact that Smalling's red card had on the game. Plenty of Manchester United fans are ready to give up on him now and the prospect of losing him in the January transfer window is a much more palatable prospect as it was in the summer.
Van Gaal himself is said to be considering the future of the former Maidstone youngster and the emergence of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair would have moved Smalling closer to the exit door. It was under similar circumstances that Van Gaal justified the sale of Danny Welbeck.
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The Dutchman wanted James Wilson to get more first team football and he deemed Welbeck a lost cause. It was a fair call, but Welbeck has undoubtedly strengthened their rivals as a result.
It would be a similar situation if Smalling were to swap Old Trafford for the Emirates Stadium. He may not be the most talented player in the United ranks, but he is still of enough quality to boost Arsenal's chances of securing a Champions League position, possibly at United's expense.
Too good to be sold
Like Welbeck, Smalling is too good to be sold to a team outside the top six. When Manchester United made it clear that Welbeck was for sale, the only teams capable of convincing him to leave Old Trafford were Arsenal and Tottenham, direct rivals of the Red Devils. On the other hand, like most England players, Smalling is not good enough to attract interest from abroad.
Arsenal would be in pole position to sign the £50,000-a-week star and he would fill a much-needed vacancy in Wenger's squad. He would not be an instant starter, but would be a candidate to replace Per Mertesacker once the German falls below the required standard.
And while he may not look it now, the fact remains that the 24-year-old still has the potential to become a commanding defender. Having spent the majority of his youth days at non-league side Maidstone, Smalling was always playing catch-up when he made the move to Fulham and subsequently Manchester United.
Late bloomer potential
He needs more refinement, usually brought about by a combination of excellent coaching and patience. At six foot, four inches tall, he has the stature to succeed in the Premier League and on the international stage.
If Van Gaal does not think Smalling can succeed at Old Trafford, he will need to show him the door, but selling him to Arsenal would be creating a situation where Manchester United can only lose. Arsenal are their direct rivals in the race for the also-ran spots behind Manchester City and Chelsea. Van Gaal has already helped Arsenal with Welbeck, so doing again will be as vacuous as Smalling's decision to dive in on Milner.
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