Tag Archives: xhaka

Welcome to the After-partey

We finally got him.

After what has seemed an age, Arsenal finally confirmed the signing of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid, for the princely sum of £45m. That amount constitutes his release clause from the La Liga club and had to be paid upfront – no installments or special arrangements that we seem so good at arranging. Nope, Partey is ours wholly and what makes it better is that it seems Atletico had no idea that Partey was leaving until the last minute.

With a release clause in Spain, no discussions have to take place involving the clubs – any interested party can simply contact the organising committee and lodge the correct amount – and hey presto – the release clause is activated, nulling the current contract between player and club.

Lucas Torreira went the other way and will be a fine addition to the Atletico midfield but Partey was very much part of Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone’s plans, having selected the Ghanaian midfielder for two of the three games that Atleti have played.

Now we have our man and Arsenal have announced it – in a very stylish way on social media of course, with an RSVP invite to a ‘party’ at 1115pm on transfer deadline day – what do we know about Thomas Partey?

BARCELONA, SPAIN – March 01: Thomas Partey #5 of Atletico Madrid in action during the Espanyol V Atletico Madrid, La Liga regular season match at RCDE Stadium on March 1st 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Aside from being the name most fans will have on the backs of their shirts – who can blame them – Partey is 27 years old (until he is 28) and predominantly plays in the heart of midfield. He has a tag of being a DM and while his skillset lends itself to the defensive, dirty work, Partey is far more than a sentry in front of the back four or three.

Partey is known for his driving runs through midfield, carrying the ball and  initiating attacks from deep. He has an Exocet of a shot and is probably one of the best candidates Arteta could have selected to link our team together. With Ceballos and Xhaka, we have certain roles already fulfilled but we never had that player to inject tempo into our game, someone who takes the ball, regardless of who has it – and says to the team ‘let’s go do some damage.’

Looking at his stats, he was played in a deep role by Simeone and last season, that helped Atleti keep 17 clean sheets from 29 games when Partey started (excuse the pun). That highlights how effective Partey can be in cleaning things up, but for Ghana, he is used in a far more attacking way. He has earned 11 goal involvements in 26 games for his country and this shows the capacity that Thomas Partey has. He can be utilised in a myriad of ways, or he can be the DM we need, but with a spin. He can carry us forward , giving counter attacks more power and options instead of relying on a quick release from either David Luiz or Xhaka.

It also gives Xhaka and Ceballos more license. With Partey helping at both ends of the pitch, both of our current midfielders can do what they do best, Ceballos could even take the play maker role should we switch formations.

Partey is versatile  – he can also play at right back – and all Spanish pundits purred about how good this player is. He is also very physically adept, meaning acclimatising to the rigours of the PL will not be a huge jump. We may see the Partey started sooner rather than later.

Arsenal may well have that player that makes everything else click into place. It’s exciting times – let’s get that party underway.

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.

O Captain, My Captain

The game has changed massively over the years. In fact, blink and the version your eyes see will be different to the one pre-blink.

Perhaps not, but season after season changes the sport we all enjoy. Just look at this latest incarnation of the Premier League. VAR has transformed how we view all instances, and even how we celebrate goals, a hush falls over player and fan alike as we wait for the permission to celebrate or commiserate.

Surely though, the values that embody a captain of a football club haven’t changed, have they?

Maybe they have. As the sport changes, does a role within a team have to change? Take a midfielder for instance. It used to be that a man in the centre didn’t have to be a presence in both areas of the pitch and have a skillset reminiscent of an elaborate Swiss Army Knife.

There are still roles on the pitch that demand a very ‘boxed-in’ set of talents, but as the pace in the Premier League speeds up and the technical quality increases exponentially, it means players must rise with it, or fear being left by the wayside and plying their trade in the lower leagues.

A captain though, what does it mean to lead the team out week on week?

That is how you pick the right man for the job. The Skipper predominantly is the middle man between the manager and the team on the pitch. Relaying dynamic instructions from the sidelines, and picking up when those instructions slip.

The man wearing the armband is also the mouth for the team, when decisions require a quick convo with the man in black he is the one who must offer his side’s argument, or try and appease the ref if he is thinking of reaching into his pocket.

Both require a cool head, a temperament that can remain literate even when the red mists have descended.

So, from our pool of five captains, do any of them tick these boxes?

The first choice who will be the skipper for the majority would have been Granit Xhaka – before Monday’s events.

Xhaka Capt

This has been a major point of consternation in our fanbase. The Swiss man divides opinion in a big way, and his high profile errors have stained his copybook with many. Can a player who is letting the side down, then expect to pick up his teammates and squeeze out an extra five percent of effort from them?

Alternatively, Xhaka is one of the few players we have that does attempt to keep his teammates on their toes. After we score, you often see Xhaka point to his head in an attempt to show his comrades that THIS is the time that demands concentration.

It would be good if he could take his advice of course…

You need the man wearing the armband to be the arm round the shoulder in times of crisis or duress. You need the skipper to be the man stepping up when his men need them to. The old-school version of a skipper may well be a thing of the past, but some of the attributes are still highly relevant.

His actions after being booed now mean that we need someone else to stand up. His tenure with the armband is over, his temperament is not suited to lead the team.

We do have some prime candidates for the armband, such as Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding. These boys seem to be well stocked in heart and cold hard sense when it matters most, but is it too soon to name players of their age?

No, not really.

Because there is one facet of wearing the armband that is more important than anything else. We have had captains that have lacked it and the results were expectedly poor.

A captain should above all else, love the club that they represent. They should see the captaincy as a privilege.

Can we say that about Xhaka?

Because we can certainly say that about Bellerin.

What do you think?

We Need Our Torreira Back

It has gone quiet, but this season especially has shown us that our defensive midfield issues have not quite been put to bed just yet.

With the signings of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira especially, the clamourings to sign a potent defensive midfielder were hushed, and with both players hitting the ground running, our worries were sated for a time.

Guendouzi has shown a hunger for possession that has led him to hounding the opposition in all areas of the pitch.

Torreira made a huge impact from the very start of his Arsenal career, and montages of his terrier-like tackling prowess and his never-say-die attitude manifesting itself on the pitch filled us all with absolute joy.

We had the answer we had been looking for since the departure of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. We had that player who would protect the backline and stand sentry, letting no enemy pass without at least a stiff examination of their credentials.

Or so it seemed.

This season has seen some strange goings on in our tactics and the way we line up.

Firstly, the sparing use of Lucas Torreira, even in the big games, really does leave us scratching our heads. When played, he always gives no less than 100%, but at least 50% of our matches he has spent on the bench.

When he does play, the tigerish displays we have come to adore have been replaced with a lasses-faire attitude to defending. It comes down to his positioning, which has been far more forward than last season, and a large amount of time he has been amongst the most forward on the pitch.

This kind of leaves us hamstrung when it comes to defending, as the aperture where Torreira should be protecting is open, and like the Gates of Thermopylae, our enemy harness it to great effect.

It leaves them streaming forward, and our defence backing off. Acres of space, and it leads to a shot. So many in fact, that we have led the way in Europe with regards to shots faced.

Guendouzi has been his all-action self – his display against Tottenham was frighteningly good – but the boy is still just 20, and needs a pivot partner to truly get the most out of what he brings, which is pretty much everything.

We need Torreira to do what he does best, and that is get the ball back, harass, breath down their necks. Instead, it looks like he has been let off a leash, and that is down to instruction.

Torreira Protest.jpg

Is Emery content with letting Torreira off the hook in a footballing sense? Are the instructions he is giving the Uruguayan to go forward and assist the attack?

If so, that means Emery is leaving us dangerously lopsided, and open to barrages of attacks.

Torreira, if disciplined, can be the lynchpin of the side, the cornerstone that holds the side together. Take it away and you have what he have seen against Watford, Liverpool and Tottenham in the first half.

A blow-away, powderpuff side that can’t stand straight under scrutiny from a decent attack.

We need Torreira to stand in front of advancing hordes and use his abilities to stem the tide.

We don’t need another Alex Song – we need our Torreira back!

Support Your Own

Villains arguably make a story.

Would Die Hard be as epic without Alan Rickman’s star turn as the super-slick Hans Gruber?

Would Anchorman be as complete without poor-man’s Ron Burgundy, Wes Mantooth?

What about the scene-stealing antics of Bricktop in Snatch?

A bad guy gets the best lines, a bad guy evokes emotion.

The same goes for sport, and those players that you just love to hate.

Gary Neville in his playing pomp used to play up to the Liverpool fans. He was Public Enemy Number One in the red half of Merseyside, and he loved every minute of it.

Our fanbase however, have taken this and gone into overdrive.

It is but a portion of Gooners that have chosen to concentrate their ire on one player.

The problem with this is that it is one of our own.

Football needs candidates we can boo and hiss at, those that as soon as they pick up the ball, we let them know in our own inimitable way, that they aren’t very welcome round these here parts.

To do it to one of our own players though, is simply ridiculous.

First it was Shkodran Mustafi who was the subject of vilification for his performances in red and white. The German’s propensity for high-profile boo-boo’s meant he was an easy target for mock-up’s, meme’s and general anger.

Now, criticism is part and parcel of being a fan. We are allowed to bestow compliments on those who do it week in and week out for our team, and the same goes when highlighting how erroneous a display has been.

If a player is dipping far below what is expected of them, then it is moronic to say we cannot hold them up and say “this is far from good enough.”

The same thing can be said for the treatment that has been doled out to both Mustafi and Granit Xhaka.

Xhaka and Luiz.jpg

Now Mustafi is out of the side, a portion of our fanbase needed another punch bag to aim their vitriol at. Step forward Granit Xhaka, and some out of context stats that show the Swiss star in a terrible light.

So far this season, he has been dribbled past the most, been tackled the most and his rash tackle on Son that gifted spurs a spot kick in our last North London Derby was yet another example of the weaknesses in Xhaka’s skillset.

It does hide the fact that when he doesn’t play, we so often lack a bridge between defence and attack and how prolific he is in sparking attacks from deep.

This article is not an affirmation of Xhaka for the first team. It is merely intended to highlight the awful critique he and Mustafi have to deal with from our own ‘fans.’

It goes far beyond ignorance. You can overlook the benefits of both players – Mustafi for example had better tackling and aerial battle stats than £80m man Harry Maguire last season – but the negativity aimed at both from people who purport to be Gooners?

Unforgivable.

Criticise, show that they have screwed up and we should play alternatives from now on – but when they are in our shirt, we must support.

That is the very essence of being a supporter. Through thick and thin, through awful players and soul-crushing losses. We continue to stand, to shout and to sing.

We represent the club, and at the moment, some of the hate that is directed toward our own players is at times shameful.

Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi obviously have their own failings and they are perhaps below what we need in our team right now.

But they both give their all for us and, Xhaka especially, continue to be picked by coaches that know far more than we do about the minutiae of the sport.

If they make a mistake in the future – and we all fear that there will be more to come – can we put a stop to the threats and hatred?

We have a squad that is capable of lifting us above the level we have been at recently. Let us unite behind our men and give them the support they need to elevate themselves further.

Players need backing just like we all do.

Skipper On Our Shopping List

The summer transfer window may cure some ills for Arsenal, but at least one of our failings may well be carried over into next season.

It will require targeting from our recruitment team to rectify the situation, otherwise our next campaign we will still be bereft of a true captain.

Unai Emery changed much in his first season, and one of the myriad of variants he brought in to dispel the old era was to appoint five nominated skippers. All five brought a little something different to the table and perhaps combined, they made one true leader.

Mesut Ozil brought a true example to look up to for the younger players, and his ice-cool temperament is a skill that many could need.

Petr Cech is a born winner and has been victorious in every club competition he has entered.

Granit Xhaka is a motivator, rallying the troops vocally and attempting to rouse the warrior within them all.

Aaron Ramsey is the consummate professional and is the prime example of where hard work can take a young prospect as the Welshman is the purest evidence of this.

Then there is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been at Arsenal for eight years and has put his injury-ravaged body on the line every time he has put on the shirt. He is still probably our best defender at a tender 33 years of age and the squad look to him for a mixture of all of the above.

Next season is a different story though. At times we have missed a captain of the ilk of our previous luminaries. Players who can grab their teammates and the match itself by the scruff of the neck and change things.

Koscielny deserves the armband, but is he vocal enough? Does he have the right mixture of fear, adulation and respect?

Only the squad can answer that, but at times last season we looked a little rudderless, games slipping from our grasp because of our sloppiness, mistakes that could have been weeded out by a captain who makes sure everyone is accountable.

arsenalcaptainarmband1705

When was the last time we had a skipper who gave the team that 5% that lifted them above the ignominy of another poor show?

Previously, we awarded the armband to our stars as a makeweight of sorts, another thing to add to the plate that is offered to a star that is looking at pastures new; “Instead of leaving, please stay, you can be the captain of the team.”

Patrick Vieira then, was probably the last time we had someone who was the embodiment of a captain, someone who naturally has an air that lends itself to turning heads, opening ears, inspiring performances.

Koscielny is the nearest we have to that in our squad. He never lets the side down, he gives his all. Those are mandatory for the captain, they need to show the level that is expected.

We may need to look for a player in the window that has the DNA strand that is true leadership though. With Koscielny on his last legs and Rambo no longer a Gooner, we are in more need than ever of a player to take the armband.

Our rivals have players of that ilk, or at least captains who can scream a player into playing a little better. Cesar Azpilicueta and Vincent Kompany especially are true leaders and give their sides that little extra when they struggle.

Now Raul Sanllehi and Emery must put someone on their shopping list that isn’t weighed down by the armband. Instead, they see it as an honour and use it to eke everything than can out of themselves and their comrades.

Emery and His Summer Plans

It is irrefutable that Unai Emery has helped us make progress this season.

It is also undeniable that he has made errors that have cost us.

The Spaniard is not infallible, and our suspect away form and some questionable decisions when it comes to rotation have been the difference when it comes to certain results this campaign.

It is very important that Emery isn’t hung, drawn and quartered by his mistakes, and while the jury may be out for some, his approach has certainly added more than it has subtracted.

How does Emery help us go one step further though? Next season should see us go into the season with a top 3 position firmly in our sights. With Manchester United still rebuilding and unsure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term suitability, it should put us on a firmer footing than the Red Devils.

Then there are Chelsea and spurs.

The Blues will be suffering from a transfer ban so cannot strengthen. They have Christian Pulisic to come in and perhaps some of their loanees could come in to fill a gap, but with Eden Hazard’s head turned by Real Madrid and no avenue to replace such a talent, Chelsea could easily be weaker than this season. Then there is the small matter of Maurizio Sarri and if he will even be at Stamford Bridge next season.

Spurs will be thankful to keep hold of Mauricio Pochettino, but transfer funds will need to be freed up if they want to continue their upward curve. Despite all of the brass band sounding and the fawning from the media, they are further away from the title than ever and their trophy cabinet is still emptier than Chris Sutton’s IQ.

The stage is set for us to move up and re-establish ourselves amongst the elite, perhaps even put some pressure on the top2 – although the gap is a sizeable one.

It all hinges on what Emery does in the transfer market – well, he and his new Director of Football that will be coming in.

His first summer at Arsenal saw more success than failure when it came to additions. For every Stephane Lichtsteiner, we had a Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno. Sokratis too, has enjoyed a solid first season.

We need more though.

 

Xhaka and Iwobi

We have the large aperture created by Aaron Ramsey’s departure to fill. That requires an intelligent attacking midfielder who has a wide range of passing and is blessed with a deft touch for intricate link-up play.

That won’t be cheap.

Then there is the small matter of our defence and midfield.

Our club captain is in his latter years, as is Nacho Monreal. That is two integral parts of our first choice defence with a significantly lower chance of contributing the same amount of matches next season.

Yes, we do have Rob Holding returning, and with Calum Chambers coming back into the fray, we POTENTIALLY have the makings of a solid core. It is still untested though, and Emery will run the rule over them as a duo in pre-season.

If it doesn’t work, then that is another dip into the transfer coffers – an amount that according to hearsay, is not sufficient enough for two world-class additions.

In midfield, in Torreira and Guendouzi we have our near future looking decent, but two midfielders doesn’t make a midfield. We need alternative options to enable Emery’s famous switching of approach, we need able backups as the season wears fitness thin and inflates fatigue.

In that regard, we can see that Mohamed Elneny isn’t quite up to scratch, and Granit Xhaka has already made noises about seeking new pastures. Much will hinge on Champions League qualification on whether the Swiss star stays, but he isn’t the complete player we need.

So we could maybe need two central players to come in, one more established to push the first team and another prospect that can help our team in years to come.

Our attack is in decent health. If we had players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan hitting the heights their obvious talent allows them to, then we would be all set for next season. But the Armenian and Alex Iwobi now need to step up and make a difference far more frequently than they do currently if we are to push on next season. If they fail to do so, then Arsenal is a stage that isn’t best suited to them.

 

Furious Emery

 

The potential for quite a busy summer looms large on our horizon. One that involves deeper pockets than our short arms can reach, and some tough calls on players futures.

If we are to move up and get back into contention, Emery and his backroom team will have their phones on during their summer break. Excellence doesn’t rest.

Guendouzi Appreciation Society

Let us take a moment to appreciate Matteo Guendouzi.

The young Frenchman has taken to the Premier League like Tottenham to a semi-final exit and defied his years to put in performances that have filled us all with optimism for his near future.

Joining as a 19 year old, we had been linked with some promising players prior to Guendouzi putting pen to paper, but all had fallen by the wayside. Guendouzi was the kid chosen, and from his displays so far, it appears we have made the right choice.

What makes him so special though? At the time of writing, the kid with the untamed hair has made 28 appearances so far in the campaign, a huge number for a player touted to make his mark first in the Under-23’s.

Guendouzi crazy hair
Guendouzi – The Lion-Haired Talent

Why has Unai Emery invested so much trust in the precocious youth? From what we have seen, one of the main reasons is his fearlessness.

In tight situations, both on the ball and in scoreline, Guendouzi has shown an incredible hunger for possession. He always shows for the ball, and even better than his desire to be on the ball is his instant decision to always be on the front foot.

What makes him different to the midfielders we have is that the sideways pass is his safety net, but his first choice is always to progress up the pitch. He can make that happen with or without the ball – Guendouzi is a decent dribbler and can carry when the need arises, and his eye for a pass highlights a decent eye for someone so young.

His transitional play gives us something we don’t have in our ranks and he has stamina to burn. We must remember his age and lack of experience, however.

At times his decision-making – the last skill normally developed by kids as they grow – has been found wanting, and the negative to go with the positives of youth is that they will make errors on the pitch. That is how anybody learns, and footballers are no different.

We as fans are an impatient bunch, and mistakes on the turf are always met with groans, but when he inevitably makes a boo-boo and puts the team in danger, we must give him the time to learn.

The problem with Guendouzi is that he has made remarkably few since joining the team. He has made a rod for his own back as we expect so much now from him.

Emery obviously realises that Guendouzi is a real talent, and his box-to-box mentality and style is an arrow in our quiver that gives us the ability to adapt tactically. Guendouzi’s midfield versatility is perhaps his biggest strength and it will make him a lynchpin in the side in a year or so.

We have an opponent with a high press? Play Torreira alongside Guendouzi and have the Uruguayan and the Frenchman sitting deeper and tracking. What if we have a team that are sitting deep themselves and willing to hit on the break? A midfield 3 perhaps or Xhaka with Guendouzi, to push forward but have Guendouzi’s pace as a contingency.

Either way, whoever partners Matteo will know they have a player who puts it all in, and leaves nothing behind. They will have a partner willing to muck in when the going gets tough, and the ability to make thing happen or at the very least, get the ball quickly to the dangermen who can create.

Guendouzi is a real find, and his progress rate is quite astonishing. Let us hope he is given the room to grow into the player we all know he can be.

Square Pegs In Round Holes – Xhaka at LB?

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.

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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!

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.