Granit Xhaka is the symbol of our fragmented fanbase.
Some of us malign him. His constant stream of ill-discipline, the raft of errors that have subsequently led to a goal conceded – not to mention his outburst at Crystal Palace last season.
He has made it easy to put him on a platform and put him at the vanguard of our woes.
How could we rely so heavily on someone so deeply flawed? What happened to the all-action midfield dynamo who performed so valiantly for both Switzerland and Borussia Moenchengladbach?
And there are others who can see – and often highlight – the massive value he brings to the team. His covering of the left hand side of defence as Tierney goes roving forward. His captaincy skills when the team needs geeing up. His passing stats, his tackling. He has made his presence felt in this team.
And yet, both are right.
Xhaka has underpinned the majority of the Arteta tenure so far. Without him and we were scuppered. But our reliance on him is only borne from necessity.
The brutal truth is, while Xhaka may have excellent qualities – we can do much better for a central midfielder.
And we should be aiming for just that.
The Swiss captain is often described as a deep-lying playmaker, and his raking passes from our own third have often relieved pressure and assembled a decent attack.
But the combative, ball-winning player we needed when we signed him never materialised. For a start, his pace off the gun has always put him on the back foot, so instead he has had to rely on his positional sense. Which requires supreme concentration to ensure he knows where his man is at all times.
And he – as we have all seen – has never quite managed it.
Let us be honest, in terms of top-grade defensive midfielders, they are few and far between. Kante, Verratti, Casemiro, Rodri all spring to mind. Can Xhaka hold a candle to them? No, but it does seem a little unfair on him.
Because we have had to squeeze him into this role – because we had no one else. And he has performed it better than Elneny, the other option we have. But a DM, he ain’t.
Not in the conventional sense anyway. Think of Kante. Perennial hassler. Ball winner. A nuisance for 90 minutes.
Xhaka covers well at times, but his strength is his passing, rather than winning the ball.
And now, Xhaka is likely to be gone (after the way he’s been lambasted by fans, can we be surprised he’s looking elsewhere?) and people are talking about Rueben Neves from Wolves as his replacement.
And that would be like forgetting your keys, going back to get them and not picking them up before leaving again.
It would be the same mistake we made with Xhaka. We NEED a conventional ball winner to partner Partey. Give the Ghanaian the security he needs to unleash his true game. The African has the potential to change games by himself. We need to let him do that.
Think of peak Yaya Toure at City. When he would pick the ball up and slalom past three or four, changing the pattern of a game. Remember who gave him the ball at the start?
Neves would not give us that. We would be better off re-signing the retired Flamini than Neves. At least we would get someone who would patrol the pitch, rather than lean on their ability to ping a ball 30 yards.
There are other Kante’s out there. When Leicester signed him from Caen, who could foresee what a player they would be getting?
We’re at a crossroads and Arteta and Edu must focus on this key recruitment. Without it and we’ll be consigned to our current plight for a while longer.