So there you have it. Even Arsenal’s social media team saw the funny side of the leaked Granit Xhaka at the weekend or at least used it to their advantage when the Swiss international was officially announced as an Arsenal player yesterday.
As we knew, a feelgood factor comes from a new signing, especially one who has cost anywhere between £25-35m. Whilst every signing has an element of risk, for that kind of money you expect the player to settle quickly and be adding quality to the squad. Johan Djourou seemed to think that’s what Arsenal were getting,
Granit is a great ball player. The guy has a magical left foot. He can ping the ball all over the place. He is a strong tackler – he is very hard going into tackles – and overall he is a very, very, very good player.
He can see a pass. He can tackle, he can assist. I would say, if I am being honest, there is a little bit of a Pirlo about him, just in terms of the precision that he plays the ball with. Granit can play those types of ball.
No pressure. Football is all about hyperbole and Djourou didn’t let us down. The recommendations come thick and fast for Xhaka; Hitzfeld compared him to Schweinsteiger, Djourou believed him similar to Pirlo. Granit was having none of it; to him, he’s the first Granit Xhaka.
The biggest expectation is created by the view that he isn’t scared to leave his boot in. The player himself admitted that he is relishing English football and the laissez-faire attitude of referees when it comes to the physical side of the game, compared to their continental counterparts.
Rather than being a defensive midfielder in the traditional sense – as Coquelin is – Xhaka talks about his role being played in more of a Vieira style; supporting the team with intelligent distribution whilst providing a physical presence in midfield.
In the tough games, we’ve been out-fought in recent years. It’s been getting better but pairing Coquelin and Xhaka in midfield for those matches may prove to be a strong pivot from which to build. Whether that means a change of shape to accommodate Santi Cazorla – perhaps moving to the Spaniard to his lesser-favoured flank role – or Ramsey providing another hard-working barrier will be interesting to see.
It raises questions about where the likes of Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit in but with the level of injuries we have continually suffered – unfortunately usually these two – I don’t know that it’s necessarily a problem. The biggest issue with any assessment is the (false) presumption that a player who is not included in the starting XI every week, is immediately seeking a transfer.
Players of that calibre with international aspirations shouldn’t be happy at being out of the team but they should have the drive to put themselves back into contention with substitute appearances and work on the training pitches at Colney. If they have to display patience to get back into the team, a little from us on their futures might not go amiss either.
Whatever the case, it seems he is a strong-willed member of the team and unafraid to lead on the pitch. With the annual question marks over the mental strength of Arsenal’s squad, is this a sign that Arsène is taking action in that sense?
Wenger has never made any secret that he expects his XI to feature eleven captains and that the armband is more ceremonial than anything else. Like the ‘socialist’ pay structure, it is not working. Having strong characters on the pitch is nothing new, all of Wenger’s title-winning sides had that but the key difference is that they had an even stronger captain as well.
We have experienced captains now but whether they are prepared to be as abrasive when needed is open to question. Perhaps that’s not the case; maybe the bigger issue is that there are too many who can’t handle that kind of rollicking on the pitch, sulking or taking it to heart rather than as a tool of improvement. Only the players and manager can really answer that question.
All of which is something of a distraction from today’s real celebration: Happy 26th May! Still English football’s greatest match.
With Barcelona recently ‘live tweeting’ the 2006 Champions League final, will Arsenal be doing the same on social media. Somehow, I doubt it, more’s the pity.