Manchester United are increasingly confident of winning the race to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal, with sources telling ESPN FC that Jose Mourinho first raised the prospect of using Henrikh Mkhitaryan as leverage for a deal last summer.
Sanchez has been left out of Arsenal's squad for Sunday's Premier League encounter with Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium, prompting speculation that a £35m move away from the Emirates is now drawing closer.
Speaking before the match, Arsene Wenger said: "He is being vague at the moment. His situation is not completely decided one way or the other.
"Yes, don't read too much into it because I don't know what way it'll go. You want to focus on the players who are on the pitch."
Manchester City had been regarded as the favourites to sign the 29-year-old forward this month, but senior figures at the Etihad told ESPN FC on Friday that the Premier League leaders would not pursue a move for the Chilean unless Arsenal substantially dropped their £35m asking price for a player with less than six months remaining on his contract.
City, who value Sanchez at £20m, are also refusing to meet the financial demands of Sanchez's representatives to complete the deal -- figures understood to be in the region of £5m -- and are prepared to walk away from the transfer unless manager Pep Guardiola chooses to make a late personal intervention to attempt to negotiate a breakthrough with the player's camp.
City's stance has put United in pole position to win the race for Sanchez, who is determined to leave Arsenal this month rather than wait to move as a free agent in the summer.
But despite United's apparent eleventh-hour move for Sanchez, sources have told ESPN FC that the club has been quietly attempting to beat City to the player since last August.
Mourinho had been keen to make a move for Sanchez during the summer window, but both the Portuguese and United believed that City had a deal all-but agreed for the former Barcelona man.
There was also a feeling within Old Trafford that Arsenal, and manager Wenger, would not sanction a sale to United and Mourinho due to the embarrassment caused by Robin van Persie's success in a United shirt following his move there in 2012 and, perhaps more significantly, the long-running tension between Mourinho and Wenger.
But with Arsenal pulling the plug on a £60m sale of Sanchez to City on the final day of the window due to their failure to sign a replacement, United have since explored the possibility of signing him.
As reported by ESPN on Sep. 5, Mourinho has harboured long-term doubts over Mkhitaryan's ability to influence big games and the United manager had been prepared to use the Armenian to tempt Arsenal last summer.
However, the former Borussia Dortmund player has since proven Mourinho's doubts to be well-founded and the two men clashed in November, prompting the manager to drop the player from his first-team.
Mkhitaryan has since returned to the fold, but United are aware of Wenger's admiration of the attacking midfielder and his involvement in the Sanchez pursuit could hold the key to United beating City to the forward.
Jose Mourinho said on Friday: "Sanchez is an Arsenal player, I don't know but probably this weekend he is going to defend Arsenal colours so I don't think it's correct to say things about Alexis Sanchez.
"At the general level what I can say is myself and Manchester United board, owners, we don't believe a lot in the January market we don't believe in sign a player just to sign a player, just to do something we don't believe in that, what we believe really is there are some players in football world if you have the chance to sign them in January, March or July, you have to try and that's it. But in relation to Alexis Sanchez I don't say a word.
"The only word I can say is he is a phenomenal player, apart from that Arsenal player and I feel I shouldn't say much more than this."