After news broke of Arsenal’s reported €50m bid for Granit Xhaka earlier this week, much of the focus went towards how he would fit into the team and how other players may or may not be better purchases.
But there are several issues that this bid has highlighted, yet no-one has picked up upon.
- Arsène Wenger is not going anywhere.
If it wasn’t obvious from his comments a couple of weeks ago that he intended to see out his contract like always, then this should clear up any doubt. No manager spends money on a player if they don’t intend on staying around to actually use him, and no board would ever verify such a move even if the manager tried to do it. Wenger is staying for one more year for certain, whether you like it or not.
2. Wenger’s not going to change the way we play.
There are two schools of thought as to how a defensive midfielder should be deployed. One is that he should be nothing more than a destroyer of opposition attacks, sitting just in front of the back four, waiting to pounce on any loose balls before immediately giving the ball to a teammate and then retreating back to his own half. Claude Makelele literally made his name by doing this.
The other train of thought is that you don’t need to commit one midfielder to being solely a defensive option and that both central midfielders can be effective on both sides of the ball if they have the work rate and tactical awareness to be in the right place at the right time. To make up for any defensive weaknesses, the players in this ‘double-pivot’ have to be really good at keeping possession and initiating attacking moves from deep. Players like Xabi Alonso or Toni Kroos are masters at this.
What is clear from the attempts to bring in a player like Xhaka, is that Wenger is going to continue with how he feels is the best way of deploying a defensive midfielder, that being the second of the two options described above. This will always baffle me as his best results in Europe, when Arsenal got to the Champions League final in 2006, came when he played 4-1-4-1 with a system that played a defensive midfielder in the mould of the first option listed above. It’d be nice to be able to go back to that whenever it was needed, like we had to in the 2005 FA Cup Final, but it seems that won’t be happening.
3. Someone in the first-team is about to become dispensable
I wrote about this last month, but if it isn’t obvious that Xhaka would be a guaranteed starter if he arrives at the club, then just look at how our other two big-money signings are treated.
Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez are as undroppable as a new born baby. If they’re fit, they play. Simple as. There is no reason to think that the same won’t apply to another player who cost just as much.
With that in mind, who’s going to be the first player knocking on the manager’s door asking why they can’t get a game? With Xhaka, in both appearance and style of play, looking like Jack Wilshere but in a higher weight class, one can’t help but wonder as to the long-term future of Arsenal’s golden boy.
If Jack does become Xhaka’s midfield partner, then what of Aaron Ramsey? Is he banished to the right wing for good? If so, Alex Iwobi’s route to the starting XI is blocked. Does Santi Cazorla get a look in? Who is cover for Xhaka, Mohammed Elneny or Francis Coquelin? We’re about to find out who Wenger trusts in midfield, and more importantly, who he doesn’t.
4. This is a huge departure from Arsenal’s transfer playbook.
Arsenal’s reticence to pay over the odds for a player is as well documented as a Kardashian family holiday. It usually takes the emergence of an exceptional opportunity to encourage Arsenal to loosen the purse-strings and offer big money for a player, like they did for Özil and Alexis. It was big money, but it could be justified in their eyes by the fact that they were getting a big name in return. They weren’t just buying a player, they were buying credibility along with it. They were buying the chance to say to fans ‘Look who we just bought, he’s amazing and everyone knows it!!!’
Is this the case with Xhaka? Absolutely not.
This isn’t a case of Arsenal buying a player because they think he’s worth the money, this appears to be Arsenal buying a player because they think he’s good enough and not worrying about overpaying for him. Xhaka is available for €30m next summer, yet Arsenal have decided not to wait that long to get him, unlike how they went about getting Marouane Chamakh. If this is how they intend to conduct their business from now on, it will be a welcome improvement.
5. If Arsenal spend €50m on another player, and don’t make a serious challenge for the league or Champions League, then Wenger’s position is untenable.
This is the key issue that the Xhaka bid raises. If Arsenal repeat this year’s mundane route to third in the league, after spending so much money on one player, then you won’t need a banner to sum up the fans’ discontent, as it’ll be blindingly obvious as to everyone involved at the club that change will be needed.
But if Wenger does end up leaving without winning the league in 13 years, if he spends that money on Xhaka, he’ll at least have given it his best shot. That’s all the majority of Arsenal fans want to see at the moment, a legend trying everything he can to win one last time. The mistake he made last summer was not using all of Arsenal’s resources.
It appears that he won’t be making that same mistake again.