Xhaka’s Challenge, United & The Mustafi Principle

The back page barometer tells us Arsenal are in relatively good shape these days.

For the latest scoop, you must scroll a fair way down, negotiating the heap of rusting broken cannons hidden under tarpaulin in the corner.

The fat lady is gargling whilst loading her hunting rifle. Her target is the basketball beneath the chicken’s feet, ready to bring down the curtain on Mr Successful’s reign.

The scent of managerial change is in the air but strongest in the North West. Despite a vote of confidence from Robin Cook’s Spitting Image puppet, Ole’s still at the wheel and piloting the ship straight into the rocks.

There will be a brief respite for Solskjaer on Monday. Arsenal are in town and in the mood to donate points.

It’s interesting how a particular ground gets into the psyche of players. When I say “interesting”, I really mean “How the hell does it happen?”

United aren’t Ferguson’s title-winning machine of yesteryear but a crap tribute band to the Ron Atkinson era. Not even flattering to deceive; just a distinctly average gang of underwhelming expensive flops.

Yet we still shiver in their awe, freezing when we step onto the Old Trafford turf. Granted, some of the time, we’ve had poor teams taking to the pitch. But other times, we haven’t; not by a long shot.

And we still lost.

The reality is that we’ll beat ourselves before United get the chance to. Certainly, there’s good reason to believe we won’t keep a clean sheet which puts us immediately on the back foot.

I know Rob Holding is probably back but not even he can cover for Sideshow Bob. It’s the ‘Mustafi Principle’: one man can wreck a defence but one isn’t enough to save it.

Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, It’s Super Rob!

Not even Saint Rob. He can only perform as part of the Holy Trinity. When Tierney and Bellerin return, then superpowers kick in.

Even Unai recognised that. “We can be a better competitive team with them,” he told the assembled hacks.

Emery was surprised by the reaction the trio received on Tuesday night. “It was amazing to see the people’s reaction to Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin,” he said.

Not really, say I. There’s some relief, anticipation that we might get a stronger defence out of it. OK, the belief is it will be a stronger defence but I’m hedging my bets a little here.

Once the best players are back, does that mean all eyes on the tactics? Even more so than now, are they to be held as the weakness?

We shall see. Certainly, if our form picks up – and I don’t just mean results, performances as well – there’s a strong case for Emery seeing out the third year of his contract. If we continue to lurch from week to week, good to bad through indifferent, then this summer’s ‘break clause’ must surely be enacted?

At least Unai will know who his captain is. Or not maintain a bizarre radio silence on it. Granit Xhaka won the ‘Poll of polls’ and is the squad’s fall guy. Sorry, choice.

Emery description of Xhaka made him the ‘Thinking Man’s Footballer’ but is acutely aware of how unpopular – there’s no other way to package it – the Swiss international is:

We want to change that opinion outside because that respect that he has inside the dressing room is very, very important. And also keep moving ahead, playing, improving, and with behaviour, and his commitment. Each match for him, for me, for everybody, is a very good opportunity to show our capacity.

A Bowie moment with all these ch-ch-changes

Trust in Me…Just in Me

Having spoken about “living all the time under pressure, under criticism as coaches, as players, as a club,” Emery knows this is a divisive appointment. Not internally but between himself and Xhaka on the one side, the supporters on the other.

Not all of them; some welcomed Xhaka’s captaincy and there is an element of ‘as you were’ about it. He’s led the side in every game he’s played so far this season.

Unai trusts and believes in him because “he is a good man, a good professional and a good player.” Emphasising that he knows his neck is in the noose as much as Xhaka’s, Emery went on:

His challenge and our challenge is to change that opinion and above all, show personality and improve in each match and give us his help every time. The first match is on Monday at Manchester United.

Unai enters the Crystal Maze

Emery didn’t hide his preference but let the squad choose. If Xhaka hadn’t been #1, well, let’s just say that would have been awkward.

He was, so that’s it. Aubameyang, Bellerin, Lacazette and Ozil complete the leadership group so I wonder what happened to the Englishman Unai was so keen on having as part of that clique? Hector, the Catalan Cockney geezer, will have to fulfil that role.

As an aside, there’s a pleasant distraction in this morning’s Guardian. In an extract from “A Game Of Two Halves: Famous Football Fans Meet Their Heroes” by Amy, ‘Eck meets Romesh Ranganathan. Or is it the other way round? In any case, as usual, there are some interesting snippets about life as a footballer from Bellerin and some food for thought.

‘til Tomorrow.

13 thoughts on “Xhaka’s Challenge, United & The Mustafi Principle

  1. Femi says:

    I’m clearly not in support of Xhaka’s captainship. He shouldn’t even be in the starting lineup for some time. I guess the players and Mr Unai know better.

  2. Ferkov says:

    Up for the cup again YW. What a bloody disaster. Dented Irish hopes, but absolutely murdered us Jocks’ chances! Ffs.
    Great prose tho. Thanks. Is Poch doing a Mourinho? Looking for his early departure parachute£

  3. phil says:

    Hi YW,
    Still writing as well as ever .
    Xhaka is a strange choice,
    Not always an automatic choice to be in the 11 for mine. I guess that will now change,
    Mind you there are not many glaring choices.
    I see Holding as a future captain, too early now though.

  4. Paulie Walnuts says:

    Maybe UE thinks the only way he can get Xhaka to show some on field responsibility is to make him captain.

    I don’t believe he’s good enough to be a certain starter which would rule him out for captain but any criticism from fans at the game will surely be counter productive , so we have to get behind him (for now).

  5. Bill says:

    Great post yogi

    No matter what we think it’s pretty clear that Emery disagrees with the general consensus on this blog and he believes Xhaka is his best choice for DM. I don’t rate Xhaka anymore then the rest of us but he is certainly a regular in the first 11. I think we heavily over rate the other options at DM in our squad especially Torriera. The way Lucas moves is is eye catching and that is what fans love to watch but eye catching and effect are not always the same thing.

  6. Woolwich Freddie says:

    Great job in describing the inexplicable phenomenon that is our abusive relationship with Old Trafford.
    The captaincy is another missed opportunity. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up being too costly.

  7. Welsh corgi says:

    Well, seeing that our last captains been given a poisonous challenge which left them gone within 12-18 months maybe this a kiss of death to Xhaka?

    ”Good fucking riddance and don’t let the door slam your arse on the way out” is maybe a tad too hard? Though I wouldn’t be too upset if that was the case.

  8. Blue Yonder says:

    Paulie Walnuts,

    He tried that (the captaincy) with Ozil and it failed. And it hasn’t helped Xhaka so far.

  9. Welsh corgi says:

    Blue Yonder,

    Yea, true that. Though it seems like Ozils digging in hard and a special case with no takers. If there were I’m fairly certain he’d be long gone.

  10. C says:

    Captain, well I prefer Lacazette then Aubameyang but so be it. Time for Xhaka to either up his game or he will be dropped especially when you consider Aubameyang, Bellerin and Lacazette are likely 3 of the 1st names on the team sheet.

    Bellerin is clearly not in contention since he played in the U23’s match but interesting no Tierney or Holding. At this point, I hope to see Holding and Luiz against Manure with Chambers at RB. Lb, Tierney looks a player but to be fair to Sead, he hasn’t played poorly.

  11. Blue Yonder says:

    Xhaka as captain means he is unlikely to be dropped. That’s fine if he ups his game substantially and the team does too, but that’s a pretty big if. And probably a bridge too far.
    I don’t know why Emery seems so intent upon betting his Arsenal future on Xhaka.

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