Injury fiasco’s are commonplace for football clubs.
Especially if you’re an Arsenal fan.
We know exactly what it takes when ailments, suspensions and plain bad luck conspire to rob you of a recognised position. In the past five or six seasons, we have seen players shoehorned into a slot that is a stranger to them. We’ve seen Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal use their defensive nous at centre-back. We have also had Mohamed Elneny play in the centre of defence, as well as Bacary Sagna.
As you can see, it has been in defence that we have mainly suffered. Of course, we have had our fair share of crises in midfield and attack, but when it comes to contorting a player so they fit into an alien position? It is always in the backline.
It has happened again this season, as we have been blighted by injury at full-back.
So much so, that Granit Xhaka has been chosen to play at left-back on more than one occasion.
What is it though, that made Unai Emery choose our Swiss midfielder to play in the role?
Perhaps the answer can be found with the aforementioned previous instances.
When Sagna, Elneny, Debuchy and Monreal were chosen by Wenger to fulfill a role in the heart of defence, it was because they were well versed in the defensive script. Debuchy had a fantastic aerial ability for a player of average height. Monreal is a classy player who can adapt to most roles, Sagna was strong in the tackle, and Elneny?
The Egyptian is a solid player, one who will always give his all and never let the side down. He is also decent in the air and at winning the ball. A switch to the centre of defence is a natural move for Elneny given his playing style.
But Xhaka playing at full-back? Especially when our team methods involve a heavy amount of metronome-like activity from the left and right-backs?
Xhaka isn’t blessed with the ability to track runners. The Swiss man though, has an excellent tank on him, and can win the ball if given the opportunity. Since Emery arrived, Xhaka has been transformed too.
Xhaka has confessed that the arrival of Lucas Torreira has allowed him to play his natural game, which links up defence and attack with a swift ball. Does that translate to left-back though?
A certain amount of Unai’s decision to make Xhaka the left-back comes down to the commitment that Xhaka gives. He takes his role as part-Skipper seriously, and his desire to win is clear for all to see.
The proof is in the pudding though. How did Xhaka perform in his unfamiliar role?
He didn’t let anyone down and was solid, if unspectacular. There was no bombing forward a la Monreal and Kolasinac, although he did get forward at times. He put defending first and foremost, and there were precious few opportunities from the left flank that Xhaka gave away.
The decision still causes a few head scratches. Alex Iwobi (yes, Iwobi. The boy tracks back,) Zach Medley, Carl Jenkinson, Elneny. Just a few names that would have appeared a little higher in a list of prospective left-backs. Yet Xhaka was named and he did a decent job.
It just shows that the coach knows more than we do!