How on earth is it Thursday already? I tell you what though, I’ll take it, because this month has officially been declared “Sh*t September” by yours truly here, on account of the fact that in prep for a trip to the States in October I’m giving up booze, bread, cola, chocolate and crisps, all vices that I regularly partake in.
One vice I wish Granit Xhaka would give up – for longer than a month though (like, forever) – is stupidity in dangerous areas. Like inside our own penalty box. Or losing the ball on the edge of our penalty box.
His errors were accentuated in the North London Derby and of course he cost us with the concession of his penalty. The same happened at home to Brighton towards the end of last season and we’ve seen plenty of instances of where he loses the ball and we are punished during his time at the club. He’s become the current pariah and there are plenty of Arsenal fans baying for his blood right now, which I get, because I was too on Sunday and Monday. But as the week has moved along and we’ve seen the outpouring of polls from Arsenal fans shouting amongst themselves to ‘get rid’, I can’t help but think that perhaps some people are being a bit, well, reactionary.
I accept that Xhaka is a divisive character and certainly I don’t think longer term that he’s one for the future of our midfield. The Premier League is just not suited to his game and that has become more obvious as we’ve come up against the better teams and those that can press us high, because it puts us under pressure and forces a player like Xhaka, with his attributes, to fall foul of opponents. It costs us and ultimately I think we need to move away from this type of player. Perhaps that will happen as the season progresses.
But to basically label him as ‘useless’ is a bit strange to me I’m afraid. I still think, despite his idiocy, that he has a role for us this season and it can be a valuable one. Take games against lesser opponents at home, where we play our front three and they want to be compact and tuck in their full backs to see if they can stifle us. In that instance you need those clever players. The ones that can quickly spot movement and make those accurate passes through the small gaps that exist. Players like Xhaka, Ceballos and Özil are all crucial in that instance. So why not use them for that type of game?
If Xhaka is partnered with a player – or two players – who are combative and can cover ground behind him to mop up instances where we turnover possession, wouldn’t it be good to have a player with passing range, for example in games away from home where lesser team do press a bit more and if he can be fed the ball in our defensive third, Xhaka can find those channel balls for our rapid front three to exploit?
Again, let me reiterate, I suspect Xhaka’s long term future should probably be away from the club, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see him being of value this season. And I’m not just talking about dropping him to League and Europa League matches. I’m talking about Premier League games where something different is needed. To get in to the top four and try to go see in the cup competitions we’re going to need to try different things, look for different solutions, so I think Xhaka needs to be considered as part of that, albeit with a view to slowly phasing him out over time.
And again, the reason for me that he should be phased out is not because of the mistakes he makes, as frustrating as they are. Nope, for me it’s that his lack of mobility just doesn’t seem as suited to the Premier League as it once was, as the latest fashion for higher pressing has been adopted by teams across the division.
So, in summary, I’m hoping that longer term we move away from the type of player Xhaka is and look instead to more athletic and mobile footballers, like it seems we are doing. But for the ‘here and now’ I think he has a place and I genuinely think Unai should continue to use him.
Let me know what you think.