Against Chelsea on Saturday, we saw exactly why some Arsenal fans don’t want Granit Xhaka in the team, but the match was also a great example for why the team needs him.
It’s easy to throw Xhaka under the bus after a performance like Saturday’s, and for large parts of the opening 45 minutes he deserved it. The midfielder’s passing was sloppy at times, he couldn’t help the defence as Chelsea raced to a 2-0 lead, and he showed his frustration at how the game was going with a silly foul resulting in a yellow card.
That yellow card is probably what tipped the scales on the day, as Unai Emery withdrew the Swiss international to bring on Lucas Torreira for the second half. After that, ironically, we all got to see what Xhaka had been doing right.
It often goes unnoticed, but Xhaka controls the pace of the game really well. He can play a pass forward, or a long diagonal ball, but he knows when to slow things down and just retain possession by laying it off to one of the defenders behind him.
Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi have bags of youthful enthusiasm, and Guendouzi in particular always wants to spin and put Arsenal on the attack with a forward pass. Fans love it, and it’s exciting to watch, until you get a second half like the one at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal sat back, and struggled to get on the ball for any prolonged periods of time. When they did pick up possession, there was therefore no one to play it up to.
The players would race upfield, and Guendouzi would try to pick one of them out. Even when he succeeded though, the Arsenal man he found would be isolated, and just ended up losing it to a Chelsea defender anyway.
That’s not to say Guendouzi did anything particularly wrong. He actually did fantastically well, making plenty of tackles and interceptions, and a couple of defence splitting passes. He just lacks the experience of a player like Xhaka, so he doesn’t have that feel for when to just play it safe and keep the ball.
Arsenal really struggled without that, and we couldn’t see the best of the two midfielders’ passing, because they couldn’t get out of their own half.
Xhaka needs to do better than against Chelsea, but until the younger midfielders learn to control the tempo of a match like him, he’s still an important part of the side. Watch Arsenal’s second goal again and pay attention to his role in it, if you want a good example of what the 25-year-old adds.
This clip outlines why we need to trust Emery and the process. Also highlights Xhaka’s importance in our build up play. Defensively he’s not the best, but it’s not surprising that we could barely build anything in the 2nd half after he came off. pic.twitter.com/FBVQrf7ruE
— AFCAMDEN (@AFCAMDEN) August 19, 2018