Arsenal should offload Granit Xhaka in January if the Swiss continues to underwhelm
It has been a poor start to the season for Arsenal with back-to-back defeats in the Premier League. However, the win against West Ham should do their confidence some good.
Although it would be too early to write them off considering the quality of the opposition that they have faced, it cannot be denied that new manager Unai Emery has a lot of thinking to do to reassemble his unit ahead of the next game.
One of the areas that has given Emery a headache is the midfield. Arsenal strengthened their midfield ahead of the current season by signing 19-year-old Frenchman Matteo Guendouzi from Ligue 1 side Lorient and the youngster has made an immediate impact in the middle of the park for the Gunners. His energy, tenacity and pressing ability has proved to be a perfect fit for Emery’s system of play.
On the other hand, Swiss international Granit Xhaka has had a dreadful run in his first three games and Emery was forced to take him off in two of those games.
Xhaka, who joined Arsenal in 2016 for £30m, has found it difficult to adapt to Emery’s pressing and running philosophy and his game has looked below par, to be honest. In the first game against Manchester City, Xhaka was hassled off the ball way too easily. The physicality of Fernandinho and the sharpness of the City attackers was too much to deal with for the Swiss star.
Although an excellent passer of the ball, Xhaka has struggled to find his range of passing and failed to retain the ball long enough to find support from his teammates. He was guilty of giving the ball away too easily against Chelsea and Emery had to take him off at half-time.
Xhaka was apparently sluggish on the ball and rarely contributed to Emery’s pressing tactics. While it can be said that Xhaka’s fitness levels are not satisfactory, another way of looking at it would be that Emery has deployed him in an unfamiliar position.
The former Borussia Monchengladbach man is not a defensive midfielder by trade. Emery has looked to use him as a box-to-box midfielder. However, he is not a ball-winner by any stretch of imagination.
Although he boasts of good physical ability, Xhaka is more of an attack-minded central midfielder who is more likely to flourish in a free-flowing style of play.
Not only can he pass the ball effortlessly to his teammates in the attacking third but also has the knack for playing pinpoint lobbed through balls to the attackers up front.
Another new signing, Lucas Torreira has looked much fitter and brighter in the limited game time he has been given and has looked like a player who suits Emery’s tactics.
The Uruguayan has clicked in his preferred deep-lying role in the midfield, and has been impressive with his tackling, passing and work rate.
Emery might give Xhaka a few more games to get accustomed to his style of play but the Swiss international is unlikely to flourish. Mesut Ozil has misfired in the two games as well and Emery might consider playing Xhaka as the central attacking midfielder behind the striker as he can be more effective when given a free role in the attacking third.
Aaron Ramsey can compete with Guendouzi and Torreira for the deep-lying role in the midfield and Xhaka can give Ozil a fight for the attacking midfield role.
With the English transfer window having already drawn to a close, the Premiership clubs are not allowed to buy any players. Having said that, Emery has little room for choice and he has to continue to work with Xhaka at least until January.
He has to make every possible effort to help Granit Xhaka fit into the system. The manager can obviously choose to bench him but that would be too harsh considering the potential that the Swiss has.
Eventually, if the player fails to adjust to the team dynamics, Emery will be left with no choice than to offload him in January and bring in a possible reinforcement.