|Arsenal are currently very close to completing the signing of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Mönchengladbach for £30 million and the Swiss international has arrived in London for a medical which will be completed this weekend. The big question on everyone’s lips is whether Granit Xhaka is the answer to Arsenal’s holding midfielder problems. In my opinion the answer is yes.
The signing of Mohamed Elneny in January was a masterstroke from Arsene Wenger and Granit Xhaka would solve all of Arsenal’s problems in central midfield. Arsenal’s problems in the centre of midfield were never really apparent until the injuries to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin occurred half way through the season. Throughout most of 2015 Cazorla and Coquelin were exceptional in the midfield for Arsenal. So much so that Arsene Wenger didn’t believe he needed to sign another Midfielder. This effectively cost the gunners the league in my opinion because when Coquelin and Cazorla both got injured at roughly the same time, Arsenal’s season began to slowly deteriorate. I think Arsene Wenger had too much faith in players like Arteta and Flamini and the injury prone Jack Wilshere to fill in, in case they both get injured and it cost Arsenal the title. The period between November and March is where things began to go wrong and Arsenal were then left with an impossible task of winning the league. After March the criticism towards the manager and players intensified and the supporters were left feeling very let down by everyone at the club. Ironically though, from March onwards Arsenal actually went on an impressive run of form winning five and drawing five out of the last ten league games of the season. They managed to stay unbeaten during the last 10 matches of the season keeping six clean sheets. They weren’t an easy run of games either as Arsenal travelled away to Spurs, Man City, West Ham and Everton. The fact that Arsenal got through a tricky run of games and managed to stay unbeaten in 10 matches shows a lot progression. Progression that was epitomized by the introduction of Elneny.
Elneny first came into the starting line up at White Hart Lane as Arsenal came from behind to pick up a spirited draw against there local rivals after going down to 10 men. He started 9 out of Arsenal’s last 10 games of the season playing alongside Francis Coquelin and he has clearly added some steel to the Arsenal Midfield and the signing of Granit Xhaka would be the icing on the cake. The gunners went into the start of last season with Coquelin, Cazorla, Arteta and Flamini as the only defensive minded midfielders in the team. Obviously Cazorla isn’t naturally a defence minded player but his role along side Coquelin was very deep and there was a huge element of defensive discipline required from his role in the team. When the Xhaka deal eventually get’s completed, Arsenal will have much stronger options in Central Midfield. Arteta and Flamini were both good players in there day but unfortunately there times as Arsenal players have come to an end. In twelve months it is quite remarkable how Arsenal have gone from Coquelin, Cazorla, Arteta and Flamini to Coquelin, Cazorla, Elneny and Xhaka. The Arsenal midfield is now beginning to look stronger and stronger with the signing of Xhaka and i actually believe that the gunners have a complete central midfield with no weaknesses, ready for next season.
People are probably reading this thinking I’ve completely forgotten about Aaron Ramsey but the reason i haven’t mentioned him in the central midfield bracket is because i don’t think he has the defensive discipline to play in the Arsenal Central Midfield. I think Ramsey is an outstanding footballer but for me he plays his best football when he is more further up the field. Last year when Ramsey was playing out on the right wing, a lot of the Arsenal fans were complaining about it and thought that Ramsey should have been played in the middle. But it just so happens that Ramsey is actually better off on the right because he then has the license to cut inside from the right and become a massive goal threat. If you look at Arsenal’s record when Ramsey played on the right with Cazorla and Coquelin in the middle, it was remarkable. The other thing i loved about Ramsey on the right was that he gave Bellerin a lot more freedom to get forward on the right hand side. When ever Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain play on the right wing they always want to get on the ball and almost hog it on the right hand side but when Ramsey plays there he always cuts inside to the middle and that allows Bellerin to have responsibility of the right and as a result, the right hand side becomes less congested. Not only that but Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Joel Campbell hardly ever track back and they leave Bellerin exposed. Aaron Ramsey on the other hand is a lot more hardworking and will chase down and press a lot more.
Granit Xhaka is a player that Arsenal have needed for many years now and they finally have him. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal teams of the past have always had two tough central midfielders. When he first took over he had Petit and Vieira, two very tall, strong midfielders. Petit was a left footed playmaker who just sat in front of the back four and gave them protection. He was a terrific player because he could tackle and pass the ball well. Vieira was more of a box to box player who used to drive up and down the field winning the ball and using his sheer power to run forward with it. Arsene Wenger had Vieira for nine years and Petit for three years. When Petit left, Arsene Wenger bought Edu as a replacement and was almost an identical player to Petit. He was tall, strong, left footed, a great passer and someone who again just like Petit, would sit in front of the back four. Arsenal had Edu for five years and he was pivotal to Arsenal’s double win in 2002 and invincible year in 2004. Edu always get’s overlooked when the invincible team is spoken about. People always think that the arsenal midfield that year consisted of Vieira and Gilberto and those two only, but Edu was actually Arsenal’s best midfielder that year, he was simply unbelievable. Gilberto was a fantastic player don’t get me wrong, but Edu was more influential in that season and people forget that.
Edu and Vieira both departed from the club in 2005 and Arsenal haven’t signed a single midfielder like those two in eleven years. Arsene Wenger went from signing tall, strong central midfielders to signing smaller and more technical ones. I think this has played a big part in why Arsenal haven’t won a title in twelve years because in order to win a title you need to have two disciplined leaders in central midfield who know how to defend. You only need to look at Leicester City’s central midfield to understand what it takes to win a league. Kante and Drinkwater are not the strongest or tallest players in the world by any means but there work rate is funemonal and they give the Leicester City back four so much protection. They both know there jobs and they are a massive reason as to why Leicester have been so tough to beat and why there champions.
The signing of Xhaka has now filled me with a lot of optimism going into next season and it’s also proved that Wenger has finally come to terms with the fact that to win the title in the modern game you need to have strong leaders in midfield, just like what he had in the first ten years of his Arsenal Career. Granit Xhaka is a very similar player to both Petit and Edu, which gives me a nostalgic feeling that the good times at Arsenal may be returning. Xhaka is a terrific passer of the ball and his composure on the ball is remarkable. He’s a real team player and isn’t just a playmaker, he’s also a very hardworking midfielder with great stamina, very good strength and very good tackling ability. His height is a bonus too because we’ve been crying out for a tall midfielder for years. He also has a very good shot on him. He tends to play as a deep lying midfielder and very rarely goes up field. This is why I’m so impressed with this signing because we have enough attacking midfielders already, Xhaka is something different and is exactly what we need, A play maker who will sit in front of the back four and protect them alongside either Coquelin, Elneny or Cazorla. We now have four world class options in central midfield to choose from and i can’t wait to see this man play alongside them in an Arsenal shirt.
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