Tag Archives: Swiss

Xhaka – Learning From Errors

It’s tough to admit when you’re wrong.

There aren’t many people out there that enjoy being shown the error of their ways or opinions. It happens to us all as none of us are flawless. You would think that we would get used to it, perhaps even take the high road and use it as a learning exercise.

But no. The majority of us either use it as a stick to beat ourselves with – a constant reminder of our flaws.

Or we brush it off and continue to be opinionated.

Well, most of us got it wrong with Granit Xhaka.

The evidence is right in front of us. We just clung onto a few observations and tried to deflect the actual truth.

Which is, that Xhaka may not be the second coming of Johann Cruyff, but in terms of making the team tick? He’s more than good enough for us.

Let’s consider the facts.

Firstly, Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta continued to select the maligned midfielder where possible. Asa a collective in terms of footballing intelligence, they far surpass the combined knowledge that we possess. They continued to select him. It may not have always been in a role that suited his skillset, but Xhaka was predominantly in the team.

Secondly, our win rate when he is in the side far outweighs when he isn’t in the eleven.

This was a stat taken from April last year.

Arsenal’s PL record when Xhaka has completed 90 minutes in midfield this season vs without.

With: 15-4-1. 75% win rate. 2.25 scored per game. 1.0 conceded per game.

Without: 4-2-6. 33% win rate. 1.67 scored per game. 1.67 conceded per game.

This season, he has a 75% win rate when on the pitch again.

He consistently appears in amongst our top runners in terms of distance covered. Xhaka is also one of the best at intercepting plays and starting us on the front foot – especially with his range of long passing.

granit-xhaka

This season, after the captain’s armband was taken from him, his normal penchant for rash tackling has seemed to simmer down a little. Which has resulted in less setplays given against us and less opportunity.

The real kicker though for Xhaka and his career at the club – is Arteta has found the ideal role for him.

Before the Spaniard arrived, Xhaka was pigeonholed as a defensive midfielder. True, his base of operations lies in between our third of the pitch and the central third, but Xhaka is far from a one-trick pony. Part of his style is to break up play, but one of the main reasons why he copped so much heat from a large swathe of our fanbase is his inefficient tracking back. Xhaka too often would let runners bypass him and make penetrating dashes into the box.

But when we give Xhaka that responsibility, it takes away from what he specialises in, which is quick turnovers and transitions. This in turn allows our pacy players like Saka and Aubameyang to run into space and know they’ll be picked out.

Arteta has come in and shared the responsibility of the defensive side of midfield across the board. We defend as a team and attack as one unit. That frees up the Swiss midfielder to do what he does best.

And it explains why we now see the Xhaka that was playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach and for his national side.

Xhaka isn’t a box to box, but true midfielders don’t really need a label.

Granit Xhaka now adds real value to the team – and the respect his teammates have for his leadership and him as a teammate makes it appear that a return to the armband after his return to the side is very much on the cards.

We were wrong – Xhaka makes us a better team and it’s time he got the credit for giving it his all.

Xhaka Can?

June was an interesting month for player developments in and out of Arsenal.

We had the recruitment team working overdrive, a new contract for youth prodigy Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and then there was the contract extension of Granit Xhaka.

This new derived a mixed reception from Gooners. Xhaka was one of the ‘villains’ of last season’s horror show, often his mistakes put under a large magnifying glass and pored over. His defensive work was viewed as a symptom of our downfall and weakness on the pitch.

An interesting article by Tim Stillman on Arseblog highlighted the Swiss midfielder’s vast improvement in the second half of the season though, and how he could yet still be vital to our hopes of success.

An upturn in form he may have enjoyed, but for the sake of objectivity, a spike in context means that there was massive room for improvement in the first place – as highlighted in this article on 7am Kickoff

For a central midfielder, his defensive skills need work. He was outtackled by the likes of Roberto Firmino last campaign, and while he improved in the second half of the season, to increase his defensive output would not have been difficult. Given that we have now acquired a specialist in this role in Lucas Torreira, where does this leave Xhaka?

Xhaka is very much a ‘square peg, round hole’ type of player. His all-action displays for his country and previous club Moenchengladbach gave high hopes of the combative centre man we have craved since Gilberto departed.

Granit is more than that though. While his tackling and interceptions may need work, his distribution success is amongst the best in the League. His eye for a pass and ability to transition play swiftly with a ping of his boot gives us something extra.

Granit Xhaka needs to improve

Unai Emery is now in charge and Xhaka’s contract extension would not have been offered if the Spanish boss didn’t have plans that included the Switzerland star. Emery is known to favour a pressing game, and if Xhaka is part of the Emery regimen, then it means that Emery knows that Xhaka has what it takes to continue to do what he does in attack, but also rework his defensive aspects.

The heat that Xhaka gets from our fanbase is a little much – but he is a scapegoat because his mistakes have been high-profile and highlighted by the media. Many other players don’t track runners with aplomb and / or lose out when tackling for possession. Yet Xhaka is a dud because of this.

There can be no doubt that the Granit from last season will not have much of a career at Arsenal under Unai Emery, should Xhaka continue with his lapses in concentration. He will need to hone his awareness, and make sure that he gets to where he needs to be. As Emery himself pointed out when commenting on Xhaka’s new deal – he is still young. that means there is room for improvement.

Xhaka has the building blocks to fill in the gaps in his game and be the player we need him to be, but there are justifiable reservations on his starting place amongst us all.

The fact is undeniable. We know he has the talent, but if he were to stay at the level he is now, then the exit door would not be far away. Emery demands more than what the vast majority of our squad put in last campaign.

Xhaka has a clean slate. It is clear he is very proud to represent The Arsenal. Now is the time to use that fierce pride and desire and leave it all out on the pitch, and adapt to Emery’s style.

It will be very interesting to see how he performs – the season can’t come soon enough.

Stefan Lichtsteiner Signs For Arsenal

Arsenal have made their first signing of the summer, with former Juventus defender Stefan Lichtsteiner joining the club.

The 34yr old right-back has joined on a free transfer, and his vast experience is not the only benefit to signing the Swiss defender, who is on World Cup duty with his country and will captain Switzerland.

Lichtsteiner is known for his lung-bursting runs down the right flank and his incredible stamina, and has been well versed in Italian defending, so his nous will be a welcome addition to our backline.

The defender won every domestic honour there is to win in his time in Turin, seven seasons in all, and also had three successful years at Lazio.

His addition is seen to be competition for Hector Bellerin, with the young Spaniard comfortable in his status last season with no real players vying for his shirt. Now Lichtsteiner has arrived, and will put genuine pressure on Bellerin to perform in every match.

Lichtsteiner also allows Bellerin to move up the pitch should Emery seek to utilise the flanks. With the Swiss man behind Bellerin offering real support, it means we can truly switch things up on the pitch should Emery need to.

Lichtsteiner, when questioned on his motives on joining the Gunners, mentioned that it was the project that really attracted him to The Emirates, and said that he “will work hard and passionately day in and day out to achieve our sporting objectives and to win trophies with this great club.”

Unai Emery spoke of his first signing, stating” Stephan brings huge experience and leadership to our squad. He’s a player with great quality with a very positive and determined attitude. Stephan will improve us on and off the pitch.”

Basel Vs Arsenal – Champions League Preview

Upon first inspection, this game could be viewed as something of a dead rubber.

Arsenal travel to Switzerland safe in the knowledge that they have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Basel entertain the Gunners having notched only two points from the group. Not only that, but even if Arsene Wenger’s side leave St Jakob Park with all three points it will matter little if PSG match their result against Ludogorets.

There is still a small chance that the Gunners could finish top of their group though, and while that remains, Wenger could field what will be a very strong side.

Common sense should dictate otherwise, especially as on Saturday we take on a resurgent Stoke side – and three days later we travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. With these matches posing far more of a threat to our hopes of success, the squad will come into play fully over the next week.

This fixture flurry would have been a larger cause for concern in years gone by, but the pool of players we can choose from is stronger than before and this will be reflected in the teamsheets for the aforementioned games. 

Coming fresh from the 5-1 thumping of West Ham should fill the team full of confidence, and compensate for the disruption that is inevitably caused by rotating the playing staff.

Hat-trick hero Alexis Sanchez could well be rested for this game, and this could give a great opportunity to Lucas Perez who has recently returned from injury. The other choice would be the fit-again Olivier Giroud who has ample experience in the competition. 

What is perhaps most telling is Arsene Wenger’s own comments from the pre-match press conference. He spoke of his sides preperation and about finishing second or first in the group. He said ” We’ll see. PSG are favourites to beat Ludogorets at home and win the group, but we can assess that scoreline at half-time and see where we go.” 

The part regarding assessing the scoreline at half-time could be construed that he plans to name his strongest players for the game, and if PSG have wrapped up their game then he will make the necessary changes. Or maybe he is holding his cards close to his chest?

Regardless, players such as Mohamed Elneny, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi can expect some form of involvement, such is the wealth of talent we possess within our ranks. Elneny and Granit Xhaka in particular will be hoping to make the team to face off against their former club. Xhaka faced off against his former teammates and his brother Taulant in the corresponding fixture which the Gunners won 2-0 at The Emirates and he will surely be hoping for a repeat result. Theo Walcott scored a first half brace to win that game, but will he be rested with the Stoke game in the corner of Arsene’s eye? Can we afford to bench too many of our established stars?

Basel will be a real test though. They have won their last three home games against English sides, and the Gunners have not finished a group campaign unbeaten since 2005/06. Objectively though, Arsenal have never finished on the losing side against Swiss opposition. One of these records have to budge – especially when you consider that the Gunners have not had a 0-0 draw in the Champions League groups since 2007. 

So Arsene has a dilemma, but one that should be easy enough to solve. The squad strength should allow him to hedge his bets even a little for this game, while simultaneously being able to preserve his side for the game against the Potters in the weekend. 

A loss will be harmful, but an injury to key personnel would be potentially fatal to our hopes of any silverware. Sensible rotation is key.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs, Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Iwobi, Giroud.

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 Arsenal

Arsenal 2 – 0 Basel – 5 Things We Learned

Winning is a habit that is difficult to pick up, but even harder to maintain, and Arsene Wenger seems to be of the same mind, as a virtually unchanged side saw off an overrun FC Basel side to record their first Champions League win from their second group game – and it was only profligacy that stopped this becoming a rout.

The team which recorded such a handsome victory over Chelsea took to the field with the iconic Champions Leaguie anthem ringing in their ears. The only changes were David Ospina once again being named as the man between the sticks after his heroics in Paris in the first group game, and Granit Xhaka facing off against his former side and brother, in place of the injured Francis Coquelin.

It was widely expected that there would be other adjustments to the side as Wenger looked to rotate the team, but Alexis continued his campaign as sole striker, and Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were the others yet again named in attack. It was a surprise to see Santi Cazorla named alongside Xhaka, and another former Basel man Mohamed Elneny was thought to be in the reckoning, but the Spaniard once again lined up in the team. 

There were other interesting developments that unfolded during the ninety minutes, but here are the five key points that became abundantly evident as the game played – 

Koscielny and Mustafi are evolving….

They have played four games together, and they have yet to concede from open play. It is easy to get carried away with such a stat, and compilation videos of their mastery of Diego Costa, but what is undeniable, is they compliment each other. As a unit, there is no weakness between them. As each game goes on, they will discover each facet of the others play, and the unit will become stronger. This is only their beginning. If they can stay fit, what a rock solid foundation we will have. This game showed the composure both have, and the concentration levels of both. They were hardly stretched, but when they were called into action, they were never caught cold. Good signs.

Alexis is on fire, and their defence is terrified

How Sanchez didn’t score in this game is a question only he can answer. It wasn’t for want of trying. He led the Basel defenders – all five of them – on a merry dance, and his slaloming run which occurred late in the second half was the Chilean at his finest. When on this form, there is no keeping him quiet. Even though he didn’t score, he affected proceedings. He was up for it, and Burnley will have to be on top of their game if they want to stifle him on Sunday. 

Theo Walcott has always had it, he’s just working harder

The level of doubt that has surrounded Theo has verged on ridiculous at times, but there has been cause for some of the negativity. It is easy to forget what he is capable of when he hasn’t mustered a full season in such a long time, but lack of playing time and bad form had affected him. Now, he has gone back to what he does best, and he and the team are profiting. His pace, allied with better off the ball running, has seen him form a bond on the pitch with Ozil and Sanchez. He is putting the effort in, and long may it continue, along with his fitness. He grabbed two goals, the only two, and he even scored with his head! He was a constant menace, and while there will be times his control will desert him, he will more often than not make the difference. Plus, any player who plays alongside Ozil and Sanchez will look far worse than they actually are!

Santi Cazorla must be tired, yet he keeps his incredible level going

Yet another game for Cazorla, and most fans agreed that he would probably miss out in favour of Elneny. Cazorla covered every blade of grass in the weekend victory over Chelsea, and he looked shot, but Santi stayed in the side. It just proved once again that Wenger knows his players better than we do as Cazorla dictated the play, and made 94 passes (above is his pass map, thank you to Squawka) – more than any other.It was he who started the move for the first goal with his long pass to Sanchez out wide, and he will again surely be in the team for this weekend on this performance. How can you leave him out?

We will have harder games, but the lack of rotation was understandable

Basel put up barely a whimper, but was it simply they had no answer to us? We had 19 shots during this game, and if not for their keeper, we would have won by a landslide. Most teams will have no answer to the quick interchanges between the effervescent Iwobi, Theo, Sanchez and Ozil, and Basel were no different. Even so, to maintain the winning run, and the soaring confidence which is evidently coursing through our players veins, Wenger went largely with the same side he named on Saturday, and it paid off. Resting fatigued muscles will become a factor as the season wore on, but we have ample replacements. Long may this run, and this team, continue. 

Arsenal Vs Basel – Champions League Preview

Kickoff – 1945 GMT

Swiss champions Basel travel to The Emirates for tonights game, and there are a few twists in this match that gives it a little extra zest.

The second group game in our Champions League campaign sees a reunion of sorts, with Granit Xhaka given a chance to see former teammates a lot sooner than he realised. Not only that, but his brother will be on the other team too. 

Taulant Xhaka, older brother of Gunner Granit, will be part of the defence that will look to stifle Arsenal’s creativity, and on the evidence of their previous meeting at Euro2016 for their respective countries – there will be no room for sentiment on the pitch.

The links don’t end there. Our Egyptian, Mohamed Elneny, is also a former Basel player, and he will be champing at the bit to play a part in this game.

His chances of doing so improved dramatically during our comprehensive 3-0 win over Chelsea in the weekend. Francis Coquelin went off injured after 30minutes with a knee injury, so will not be part of the squad. Arsene Wenger reassured fans during his press conference for this game that the French battler has not suffered a long term injury and the prognosis is 3-4 weeks layoff – which isn’t exactly what Gooners want to hear after previous diagnosis of the same length….

Olivier Giroud is also not part of the squad, but it matters little after he was sent off in Paris in the previous CL game. So, will Alexis continue his excellent job upfront? Or will duties be shared with Lucas Perez? The Spaniard will be well suited to European endeavours over Premiership outings as he has yet to fully adapt to the rough and tumble of domestic fixtures, so Lucas may just get the nod ahead of the Chilean – although we are all painfully aware that Alexis does NOT like to be rested.

Will we continue with the ‘Cup Keeper’ premise? The initial reaction to include David Ospina in the team against PSG was derision and bewilderment, but his Man of the Match performance reminded us all what he is capable of. The Colombian will more than likely be given the gloves again, but what of the rest of the team?

Granit Xhaka is in prime position to continue his domination of midfield, and Mohamed Elneny will be looking to get on the teamsheet, with his only rival for the spot being Santi Cazorla – and the diminutive Spaniard has played in nearly every game so far, so a rest is overdue. 

With our next game being a trip to Turf Moor on Sunday, and no game is a gimme in the Premier League, Wenger may opt to rotate his men. The numbers at his disposal has never been greater, but he must take care not to shift focus from this game as Basel have experience in dishing out lessons to English teams – Man Utd and Liverpool can testify to this.

Yet another dilemma that the modern day manager faces, but Wenger has buckets of experience, and scars, that should put him in the right direction. 

The opposition are not to be underestimated, but what is most important is the continuation of the winning habit. Whether it be Champions League, EFL Cup or the Premier League, a loss can be hugely disruptive to the confidence of the team. 

We have been through the rough start, and those very early results were akin to a kid learning to ride a bike – we weaved, bobbed and shook, but now we’ve got the hang of it, and we are whizzing away. 

Let us just hope our sibling and friends don’t knock us off……

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Elneny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Walcott, Lucas Perez

Predicted score – 3-1

Granit Xhaka – Tough by Name, Tough by Nature – The Lowdown.

Granit Xhaka is in London!!!  No wait, he is at a Borussia Monchengladbach training camp! Don’t be ridiculous, he just recently liked a photo on Instagram of a pair of clogs – he’s in Amsterdam!

Maddening, but Granit Xhaka is apparently joining our club…….Isn’t he?

The muddy waters of Twitter make finding the truth far more difficult than it should be. As Gooners though, we are used to it.

Most Arsenal fans are seasoned veterans when it comes to the seasonal transfer hype. There are a large number though, that cannot resist the herd of bandwagons that rumble through social media. Like a moth to a flame, they flock to the nearest story, regardless of substance, and greedily pore over the bogus words.

Continue reading Granit Xhaka – Tough by Name, Tough by Nature – The Lowdown.

Who Is Mohamed Elneny? 

Recently, Gooners have found out that Arsenal may be in talks with a midfielder from FC Basel – a certain Mohamed Elneny. Who is he? Is this actually happening? The next paragraphs you read attempt to shed some light on the truth and dispel the hype.

Continue reading Who Is Mohamed Elneny?