Granit Xhaka’s arrival at Arsenal has been welcomed by other squad members with Per Mertesacker and Francis Coquelin both positive about the contribution the Swiss midfielder can make this coming season.
Mertesacker told the official website:
“He’s a leader and that is really important, especially in midfield. He has got a very good attitude, is very composed on the ball and contributes a lot.
“He is a good passer as well, so he will set the tempo. I am looking forward to how he does it, how composed he will be in training and in the games. He will be the perfect signing for us.”
It’s been no secret that many of us have been frustrated in the past with the absence of this type of player. We have lacked individuals who are able to take a game by the scruff of the neck in a physical manner. Xhaka is no stranger to the disciplinary issues which come with that attitude toward the game and made it clear when he joined that he wanted to come to England because the football suited him.
Who will accompany him in the centre isn’t, I think, certain. At £35m, he hasn’t come to sit on the bench and nor will Arsène put him there; a manager obsessed by value for money hasn’t spent that much on a squad player.
To begin with, I don’t think Wenger is going to change the formation. Despite Olivier Giroud’s performances improving as part of a partnership for France, I think Wenger will stick with his notional 4-3-3. He could go to a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Alexis up front and Özil shifted to the left. With more Premier League clubs pitching the centre of their midfield with ‘enforcers’, the flank gives the German an elusivity he may not otherwise find so often.
The freedom of the role, drifting inside and wider may make his creativity more telling, although a consistent scorer would undoubtedly have a similar effect. Orthodoxy of thought means we all too often cast the wider players in the role of wingers. That’s not necessarily true of Arsenal. Wenger has preferred in the past to have a winger in the side, countered by a box-to-box midfielder on the other flank.
With Hector Bellerin willing to scamper forward, that may work on the right but reduces the effectiveness of Aaron Ramsey. However, the question of importance to the side has to be balanced by the individual, subsuming their personal desires into the team ethic.
One player eyeing the situation nervously must be Francis Coquelin. He isn’t complacent about Xhaka’s arrival:
“We’re playing for Arsenal Football Club. There’s always going to be great players around the club.
“It’s a positive fight for everybody one. It’s going to take the best out of every one of us.
“We know we are going to sign quality players and I think he is one. He’s going to add quality to the team and that’s a good thing.”
Coquelin’s contributions shouldn’t be undervalued but with Xhaka arriving, the prospect of the Frenchman becoming more conversant with life on the bench is very real. With Mohammed Elneny also competing, there are four spots and half-a-dozen players eyeing them up.
I suspect that one or two will fall by the wayside along the way. Santi Cazorla, 32 in December, is most likely to leave next summer; he’s still got much to offer the team but reduced playing time probably isn’t featuring highly in his plans.
Coquelin and Elneny are the interesting players in this sense. Even with our appalling injury record, there is a wealth of midfield talent in the squad. With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott rivalling Alexis and Aaron Ramsey for the wider roles, we are quite unbalanced in the sense of numbers across the middle of the pitch. Versatility covers several of the positions off and I think we could see some ‘names’ shorn from the squad over the next 12 months.
Talking of which, Bolton’s Rob Holding is set to join for a fee believed to be in the region of £2m. We’re negotiating it apparently; yes, I raised my eyebrow as well in a startling good Roger Moore impersonation.
And we’re also in for Matthias Ginter or Jason Denayer (Manchester City, if don’t know) as long-term replacements for Per Mertesacker.