On Limpar & Legends, Xhaka and Captains

Whether a player from another era would thrive in the modern game used to be our idea of fantasy football. Then the Telegraph brought actual fantasy football to the masses and the argument faded; the cold, hard world of statistics killed the real fantasy in football.

Anders Limpar in his peak would thrive today. Not only that, he’d be a perfect fit at Arsenal right now. “I was like 99 per cent going forward and one per cent going back,” the Swede told dot com ahead of this weekend’s ‘Legends’ match against Real Madrid for which there are tickets still available here.

The difference is that back then he had Nigel Winterburn, who was a defender. He had some attacking instincts, of course, but George wanted his back four to defend which they as players, relished. Nutty according to the Swede, “made me look good”. It’s easy when his ethos was “Don’t worry about the defence, just go and attack and I’ll take care of the rest” according to Limpar.

When he arrived at Arsenal, Limpar was genuinely unknown. All we had of him was a fleeting glance at the 1990 World Cup; no wall-to-wall coverage of major and obscure leagues and certainly nothing was known of Cremonese, his Italian club at the time.

I’ve yet to see any footage of his time in Italy although I confess to not looking very hard. It’s hard to think the Arsenal scouting network back then knew about Limpar before the World Cup so he was a rare signing: a player spotted at a tournament which actually worked.

Gary Lawrence wrote an excellent piece on the original Super Swede a couple of years back, which is available here. That’s just one of many outstanding posts in the ‘Highbury Heroes’ series he pens.

One Misplaced Word From a Yellow Card

Players being spotted at tournaments is a recurring theme at the moment. Granit Xhaka’s ‘Albanian eagle’ celebration against Serbia caused a stir with FIFA and he’s apologised for it this week (again). Xherdan Shaqiri will be ‘protected’ claim Red Star Belgrade when he plays for Liverpool in the Champions League. Shkodran Leader Mustafi

The ‘consequences’ of their actions manifested in Stefan Henchoz’s view that Xhaka wasn’t ‘Swiss enough’ to become the next captain of the national team. Personally, I wouldn’t select Xhaka as a captain for temperamental reasons. You can’t have a leader who spends an hour a game looking over his shoulder for a second yellow card.

Henchoz chose to highlight the nationalism that is only a short step away from Chelsea fans forty-odd years ago who refused to celebrate a Paul Canoville goal because of his skin colour.

Xhaka apologised this week for his actions. He spoke of “the enormity of insults and hatred” he suffered. Mesut Özil understands where Xhaka is coming from, with his situation resurfacing, echoing in Toni Kroos’ criticisms of Leroy Sane.

During his time at Arsenal, Xhaka shows glimpses of being captain material. However, the over-riding sense is a player whose short fuse will hamper the team at some point. You never know when that point is either. Unai Emery showed he won’t tolerate this at Chelsea. Hooking Xhaka as he threatened to leave us with ten men sent a clear message to the midfielder. We’ll see if it was received next time he walks the disciplinary tightrope.

He reminds me of Steve Williams, an Arsenal midfielder in the 1980s. Similarly combustible, Williams was capable of landing a 70-yard pass on a sixpence but also of finding himself in hot water just because the day ended in a ‘y’.

Unai on the Future, One Foot in the Past

Xhaka suffers at Arsenal to some extent from being played in a role for which he isn’t best suited. The Swiss isn’t a defensive midfielder; he is a midfielder with some defensive qualities but his mindset isn’t like Torreira, for example. The Uruguayan is a ‘destroyer’ with a creative streak. His first thought, however, is protecting his goal; Xhaka’s isn’t.

That difference is crucial and one why Torreira’s omission from the XI baffles. There’s an element of adaptation which Unai Emery touches on periodically and Gilberto Silva refers to. A run in the side could bring the same advantage to the team the Brazilian’s influence brought a decade ago. He was a player who rarely grabbed the headlines but his absences were cruelly felt.

Torreira could have the same impact. At the moment it’s supposition. However, the gaps between attack and defence beg for a defensive player. If a struggling side such as Cardiff can score twice against us, we have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the game.

To be fair, everyone involved with the first team acknowledges that so perhaps Torreira’s time is coming. One thing is certain: Unai Emery is his own man. Price tags and reputations count for nought, it’s all about getting the job done.

’til Tomorrow.

19 thoughts on “On Limpar & Legends, Xhaka and Captains

  1. Thanks for the post YW.
    Xhaka isn’t the player for me I’m afraid,he’s had a stack of opportunities and yet his petulance surfaces every game.However,someone,somewhere must see something about him because he continues to get picked before a player that was bought to play in a very specific role.
    As an aside,I was reading about what Arsene had been up to since May……I still find it hard to not think he’s our manager any more!

  2. Good Morning YW top post comme d’habitude.

    Do We have the Players to carry out Emery’s ideas, philosophy? If We don’t then will Emery be forced to change,adapt his ideas?

    Ramsey 10 years at Arsenal. Ozil 5 years. What Is there future ?

    Ramsey, Ozil and Miki all decent players, however are they what We truly need.

  3. Good stuff Yogi.

    Sad that the phrase, ‘isn’t [nationality] enough…’ still gets battered around when things bad happen yet generally its coming from people who also want to fly the ‘Cut out racism’ banner.

    Xhaka, there is a player there and you see it in the transitions we play, or the raking cross field passes or big diagonals that put defenses on the back foot. Defensively, he can be taught because you can teach a player positional defending. I do think though that both Guendouzi and Xhaka have looked much better played next to Torriera who not only brings a calm defensively to the midfield but also allows does the covering when Bellerin bombs forward along him to recovet.

  4. Great post Yogi

    Xhaka is the perfect example of what happens when Arsene scouted players with uTube. He looks like the best midfielder in the world if you watch a few of his left footed passes. Before he came we heard that he was a brilliant defensive midfielder and he would be a game changing deep lying playmaker who would speed up our transitions from defense to attack. As we have seen neither of those are true. Hopefully we will be one of casualties when we rebuild the squad

  5. Thanks for the post and quick trip down memory lane. Always looking for excuses to watch/read about arsenal instead of writing code here at work. Limpar sounds like the little magician that we have been lacking for a while. We had little players who could tear up a defense, thinking of arshavin, alexis, even Nasri for a while when he was at his peak. Not sure we have anyone quite similar today but oh well. It seems like the key ingredient to quality attack is certainty at the back. Let a couple players focus on shredding the defense while maintaining shape in the back.

    @johnnygunner RE: xhaka
    Sometimes things look dead simple on the TV but maybe it is different everyday in the club and on the training ground. How anyone would agree to drop biggest contract ever on Ozil at this stage seems laughable to many here, but all the suits at arsenal somehow decided it was a good idea! I feel the similarly watching Xhaka each week, have to trust Unai and let him do his thing for a while i ‘spose

  6. Anders the SuperSwede was good enough to get into some of the best footballing Wenger sides. It was a pity he was marginalised during the latter part of his Arsenal career.

    I’d prefer Xhaka to leave as I don’t think he has ‘the legs’, let alone the positional sense , defensive responsibility or game management skills required at the top end of the EPL.

    The problem Emery has is that he’s just walked through the door & he has to be careful not to upset too many too quickly. Dressing rooms hold the power these days , not the manager’s office.

  7. Arsene was always obscessed with technical skill, ball possession and passing which is why I think he wanted Xhaka and why we have Mustafi. Technical skill is a good thing but the first 10 criteria for your deepest midfielder and your center backs should be how good they are at defending. If players in those positions are not very good at defending they are a liability no matter how much technical skill they have. I know this is speculation and its easy to make assumptions in retrospect but if our scouts had spent 1/2 a season watching xhaka closely or if Arsene would have had the time to spend dozens of hours of watching him on tape then its hard for me to imagine they would have concluded he was a good defensive player. I think part of the problem is they were anxious to get his magical left foot and they wanted to believe he could play defense adequately and just like fans they saw what they hoped to see when they watched.

  8. Not so sure Xhaka can be taught to defend better – he doesn’t have the legs. Xhaka lacks something – either the agility, energy or desire to defend……and when he tries to defend there is the ill-timed yellow card resultant tackle – which ensures he’s even less so inclined to defend for the rest of the match. IF he is going to play he needs a defensive oriented partner.
    it is perplexing why Unai has resisted Starting Leno or Torrieira in the last 2 games.
    It is PAINFUL watching Sokratis and Cech passing the ball to each other. I guess they must really do it well on the training pitch because no manager would let this persist. We’ve been extremely lucky not to have shipped at least 3 more easy goals to our opponents thus far.
    And the team looks so much better when the lil Uruguayan is on the pitch.
    This is going to be a long painful season. Our defense was not good last year when we had Kozzer for the whole season – and when he returns I am not sure he will be even close to the player he was last year.
    Teams probably look forward to playing us – they won’t be physically challenged or punished playing the lightweights of Arsenal. We need more bastards instead of a stable of nice technically accomplished players.

  9. Philmar I agree with ya. When watching xhaka something just seems off. I’ve said it before, he *looks* the part but appears to move at 80% the pace of other people. Hate to say it but the crab-like stature reminds me of a Denilson or Arteta type.

    People praise Xhaka for being able to hit pinpoint long passes , that doesnt seem that amazing to me in fairness. I’d wager i could walk thru london and pick some random hooligan and say hey hit me with a 40 yard pass and they would happily oblige. We also praise his left, he has given us a few long shots but most of his efforts go 10 yards over the bar , do they not? Being so dependent on one foot makes you limited as a player. RVP had the same cultured left but he could just as well smash one in on his chocolate peg.

  10. Xhaka just doesn’t have the urgency to close the gap on his opponent that any central midfielder needs. It’s partially trying to be in a good position to receive passes and partially poor reaction time.
    He’s actually calmed down a lot on the tackles but it’s too late; he has a rep and is already one of those players who gets a yellow for his first foul everytime. This is a disadvantage when your opposite number gets three or so in before going into the book. He has his upside but I’d rather another defensive specialist, preferably one with some strength and athleticism – I don’t think you have to gave those qualities to be a good DM but I think it hurts us in certain games not to have the option in our squad,

  11. Ramsey scores a goal and then what does he do, takes too many touches, gets his pocket picked right infront of goal then Ireland score immediately.

  12. GK is analogous to what I said about technical skill vs defensive skill for DM and CB. The first 9 reasons you have a GK is to stop shots and prevent the other team from scoring. A GK ability to distribute the ball is a secondary consideration. I suspect the reason Cech is still playing rather then Leno is because Emery believes Cech is significantly better at preventing the other team from scoring and that has to outweigh any differences in their ability to distribute the ball.

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