I think we’d all prefer that Arsenal were seen to to be a bit more proactive in the transfer market, but a signing sealed and delivered before the end of May?
That’s some going, especially for the Arsenal!
The signing of Granit Xhaka, finally announced by Arsenal seemingly weeks after his girlfriend let the £25m cat out of the bag, is a welcome one.
At 23 years old, he’s a bit older than the ones that typified the Project Youth years, yet he is still one with the best years of his career ahead of him. A bit like Mohamed Elneny in that regard.
At a stroke – okay, two strokes – Arsenal have changed the profile of their midfield.
This is a very welcome move.
It must be, it’s motivated me to write again.
I can’t claim to be an expert on Granit Xhaka, I didn’t even know how to pronounce his name until Anita Sambol’s intervention on this week’s Daily Cannon podcast.
I’m also wary of reading too much into a Youtube compilation, but the one I have just seen has me purring.
In fact, I had to stop before I got carried away (I’ve been suffering from chest palpitations recently – I think I’ve just been drinking too much coffee).
He looks to be a very composed player in possession and, boy, that left foot… the phrase “sweet as a nut” springs immediately to mind.
If I’m excited, then those of our forwards who love running onto through balls from deep and, in the absence of Santi Cazorla, have been starved of such service for months must be looking ahead to next season the way a pack of lions observe an oblivious wildebeest.
— Jamie Vardy (@vardy7) May 2, 2016
Sorry, I lost myself for a minute there.
The absolutely great thing about Arsenal going into next season, already, is the options we have at our disposal in that midfield area.
Of course, I say this in the full knowledge that there are other, important areas, that also need to be reinforced for the 2016/17 season.
Like, sorry Oli, the centre forward area; like giving Laurent Koscielny a partner in central defence who won’t fall over the next time someone faster than a tortoise runs at him.
But we’re all excited at this present moment, right?
So, let’s be positive.
This time last year, our central midfield options were; Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini,
Mikel Arteta, and Jack Wilshere. See what I did there?
Of course, Mohamed Elneny was signed mid season and, by dint of being able to receive the ball, pass, move and, most crucially, stay fit, improved us immeasurably.
With Arteta and Wilshere basically sidelined all season, we effectively played through ’til January with just four players for two positions, one of whom was Mathieu Flamini.
To lose Cazorla and Coquelin for months in the space of a week was unlucky, but it seems clear to me that such a happening was inevitable.
I mean, there wasn’t much scope to rotate or rest them, was there?
Not with Arteta unable to shake off the injuries which had blighted his previous year at the club, Ramsey used wide and then injured and Flamini being… well, Flamini.
And now look at us.
Arteta has gone and gone out like the champion he was. I mean, honestly, have you ever heard any footballer – not just an Arsenal player – talk in such brutal terms about their own shortcomings?
I’ve always loved Mikel Arteta, but I thought that really showed the measure of the man.
Thank you for everything, capitán!
Flamini (I think?) has gone. I do not want to use the phrase ‘dead wood’ in a section discussing Mikel Arteta, though Flamini is fair game to me.
It can’t be said, however, that Elneny and Xhaka are, by any means, dead wood.
As Stephen pointed out in a recent column, when Arsenè spends serious money on a footballer, you can bet your bottom dollar he’s going to be a mainstay in the team.
So the question is, who is going to play with him?
As is made clear here, Xhaka is a holding midfielder.
It seems fairly obvious that he has been signed to replace rather than complement Francis Coquelin. Aside from nights, or even days, when perhaps a little more defensive focus is required.
Instinctively, it feels as though Xhaka might just be the man to relight Aaron Ramsey’s fire, but without seeing him in action it’s hard to be definitive about that.
What is clear and what is most exciting now is that in Xhaka we seem to have a midfielder who will not only provide the defensive focus (and fight) of Coquelin, but also Cazorla’s ability to get us on the front foot with a twitch of his boot.
And that, ohmigod ohmigod, we have genuinely exciting options across the midfield area.
There are so many questions now, so many permutations.
Obviously, I very much hope Santi Cazorla continues as an integral part of the first team, but his permanence there feels less assured now.
How often will Mohamed Elneny get a look in? Or Coquelin? Or, for that matter, the recently reborn Jack Wilshere?
You have to chop through a lot of layers to get to any dead wood here.
Of course, I am asking these questions with three months to go before a new season begins and it is surely nailed on that at least three of these guys will be injured before August rolls around.
For now, though, let’s think of the possibilities…!
And hope that, rather than being one big signing to cover a multitude of sins, this is just the first stage of Arsenal actually going out and trying to properly compete.
As ever, time will tell, but this feels like a good start.