So it looks like Granit Xhaka is on the verge of “FOUR MORE YEARS! FOUR MORE YEARS!” as they say in the ol’ US of A when wanting their politicians to stay on. Only this doesn’t feel like a groundswell of Arsenal public opinion that will see the Swiss international captain get a slight pay increase and a couple of extra seasons bolted on to his contract. In fact, broadly speaking, from what I see of fan sentiment across the social media platforms I am on, it appears as though the vast majority of Arsenal fans are pretty baffled by this decision by the club.
Of course it still needs to be confirmed, but when it is, it really will show that Arteta is his own man and swayed by nobody. That’s because Granit Xhaka has had a chequered career at The Arsenal. Booed off, told fans to eff off at home to Palace, guilty of a few crazy lapses of concentration (think Burnley away last season, Burnley at home last season, Brighton at home a few season’s back, the crazy lunge on Son in the penalty box a few seasons back, etc) every once in a while, plus the fact that he’s not exactly the most physical and athletic of players to put on Arsenal’s red and white shirt.
We thought we’d be moving on this summer. The Roma deal looked pretty concrete and he even made eyes at them, saying he loved the city, etc, etc, blah, blah. So I think in most Arsenal fans’ heads – mine too – we thought that it was a natural conclusion of an exit that was being reached. And I think I was ok with that. I’ve been a Xhaka fan. I think his pass distribution is of course good, he is a good player to have in the dressing room because all of his teammates seem to love him, he hit a good patch of form when alongside Partey last season and I was pleased for him. There are some for whom he has burned too many bridges and they wanted him gone and last night when most media outlets reported a possible extension on his contract to 2024, I can imagine there were plenty of disappointed and angry people too. In fact I don’t have to imagine, because I saw it myself on Twitter, such was the outpouring of commentary on the news.
It’s a strange one for me because I’ve always seen him as a talented, but limited, player. Limited only because of his lack of athleticism in a league in which it feels like these days it should be a prerequisite. We’ve all seen that move; a box-to-box midfielder picks the ball up deep and just glides past Xhaka without much fuss at all. That’s the kind of move none of us want to see. But Xhaka has found a way to mitigate this under Arteta and stupid decision making every once in a while aside, he’s played some of his best football in the last year under the current manager. The problem is that this best football has coincided with some of the worst collective team football. So I think that’s not helping some of the frustration in this possible renewal right now.
The fact that it means we’re not undertaking that ‘ruthless’ side that Arteta spoke about is also irritating people a bit. If we’d have signed another midfielder as well as Lokonga, if we looked like we weren’t just kicking the midfield challenge down the road another couple of years, then perhaps people wouldn’t be that worried that Xhaka was sticking around for another season perhaps. Maybe it would even make sense as we bed Lokonga back in to the team. But by giving him a new deal it looks like we are saying to a 28 going on 29 year old, that he will be a first choice starter for the next two to three seasons.
Of course the other frustration is that if we’re signing Xhaka to a new long term deal now when we couldn’t sell him abroad this summer, what are the chances of selling him next summer? That’s the main logical reason we can all see for him getting a slight extension i.e. to protect the fee we get for him in 12 months. But the market won’t suddenly be awash with cash again in 12 months time. It is hardly going to be bulging with teams looking to spend £20million on a 29 going on 30 year old. Perhaps we get the £12million Roma offered in a year’s time? Perhaps Arsenal have said to Xhaka that they won’t sell, so he might as well sign a new deal, get more cash, then they’ll let him leave next summer? If that’s the case then I guess you could argue the toss, but you don’t really need to extend a contract and risk having yet another player on inflated wages that you can’t shift, do you? Haven’t we already had enough of that at The Arsenal?
The one thing it does do – this new contract I mean – is ensure that the player has the level of security that he can put his all in to playing for Arsenal from day one of this coming season. Imagine if he thought he was halfway out the door, only to be told he’s sticking around, then have him stay and spend a couple of months of the season trying to get his head straight. This deal enables him to fully focus on Arsenal and from that perspective it will be important, especially with Partey potentially injured for a prolonged period of time.
If we’re trying to talk around the sense of this deal, the other side of this particular coin is that Arsenal can use whatever money they were going to spend on another midfielder, to strengthen in a different position. The hope is that it isn’t Aaron-effin’-Ramsdale, when the Onana rumours have resurfaced. Apparently he’s rejected Lyon as there are other options that are more palatable for him. We’re all praying that those options are The Arsenal and I’d love that to be the case. £5million and we have ourselves a Leno replacement. You can even then go out and get a reserve ‘keeper who knows that is what he is. It all seems to make infinitely more sense than Aaron Ramsdale, but then again this summer has made little sense so far in terms of lack of addressing really key positions of issue, whilst strengthening in positions that were needed, but not as essential. We are desperate for a second ‘keeper, right back, creative attacking midfielder, so we’ve bought another centre half, a back up left back and a good up and coming but not ready central midfielder. Whilst offloading none of the first team players. Go figure.
Another quick aside from me; if Chelski go for Lukaku and get him, there’s no way that we get Martinez. It sounds like they’ll pretty much pay what Inter want, so I suspect we’ll soon have cold water pulled on those rumours. Standard.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling for one day. Have a happy Wednesday and with T-minus 10 days and counting until our first game of the season….