On a recent Daily Cannon Arsenal podcast, recorded before Sunday’s events, Matthew, Anita and Chris got into a discussion about Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and how Unai Emery was going to cause problems for the Swiss midfielder with fans…
If you missed the podcast you can find it in your podcast app of choice or by following this link. In the meantime, here is that discussion:
Matthew: I mean, we’ve talked about, or we’ve tended to talk about this before but do either of you have any idea [what Emery wants them to do]? The thought must be that he wants to try and win the ball up and play in transition, and Torreira’s a ball-winning midfielder to a degree, but is there anything beyond that that I’m just too stupid to grasp?
Chris: No, that’s certainly got to be the plan. But I think the flip side of that is that he is the sort of Xhaka loyalist and it wouldn’t surprise me if Xhaka’s the first name on his team sheet every game and you know I think that causes problems because I think that Xhaka’s a lot of the reason that we’re sort of, quite turgid in midfield.
We know about his defensive liabilities. We’ve known about them since the first season. But what he used to be quite good at was the transition between defence and attack and I think this season in particular he has failed in that area.
But you know, Emery keeps sticking with him.
I think Mesut Özil must be a bit annoyed. He must be like, why can Xhaka drop subpar performances and seemingly be free from Emery’s wrath? Whereas Özil’s seemingly sidelined for good now.
I think that’s obviously why Torreira has to ultimately play out of position because, you know, Xhaka’s in there taking up the space that Torreira would otherwise take up.
Matthew: But I mean, we saw last season in the unbeaten run that you mentioned before, Chris, we saw a Torreira-Xhaka deep-lying partnership with someone, be it Özil, be it Ramsey, ahead of them, which worked and Emery liked it and only really stopped playing when suspensions, injuries, and then eventually Torriera’s not having had a rest for two years kicked in.
And Torreira was injured really, his legs didn’t really come back until towards the end of the season.
So is it that he’s a Xhaka loyalist and is that why Torreira’s out of position? Or is it that actually Guendouzi in a deeper role has bypassed Torreira in the manager’s mind? I don’t know. Do either of you have any thoughts on that?
Anita: It could be because, as you said, it did work, Xhaka-Torreira. I mean, it used to be my preferred combination last season. But right now, there comes a point when we have to admit perhaps Torreira should be dropped for his performances as well.
When he arrived we were all pretty much ecstatic about him. He looked really like someone…something that we missed over the last few seasons. But it’s normal that he can’t always perform at the highest level and his performances did drop a bit with some injuries and everything. So Guendouzi jumped in.
I’m not sure if there’s a possibility to incorporate all three of Xhaka, Guendouzi, and Torreira in this team and it’s obvious Xhaka gets the preferred spot on Emery’s team sheets, and I’m really not sure that is working at the moment.
Chris: Yeah, I completely agree with that. I’d personally like to see a sort of Torreira and Guendouzi partnership. I’d like to try that out. I think it could be a bit more enjoyable to watch, I think, than watching players sort of run rings around Granit Xhaka and the sort of slow fouls that he likes to give away.
I’d be more interested in seeing Torreira and Guendouzi in that base of midfield. But I don’t think we’ve got much chance of seeing that outside of the League Cup and Europa League.
Anita: Just one more thing that really baffles me when comes to Emery. Like, he obviously has no problem with giving a chance to young players like Saka, he did extremely well in Europa League and League Cup, and then got a chance in the Premier League as well. Joe Willock, who had a really great preseason, got a chance in the Premier League as well, while on the other side you have Xhaka, who you would watch in one match and you can see he is struggling, that he isn’t as good a player as Emery makes him out to be. And yet he’s never dropped.
Matthew: Well it’s an interesting one because not only is Xhaka, much to everyone’s annoyance, not available to be left out as things currently seem, but also the manager’s not putting him in a position for him to be his most effective, which not only hampers the team but also is leading the fans to turn against Xhaka properly.
I personally put a lot of blame on the coach for that more than I do on the player because everyone and his mother knows what Xhaka’s weaknesses and strengths are. And he’s put in a position which helps with a couple of his strengths but totally exposes his weaknesses.
I’ve always thought that Xhaka needs to be the slightly more advanced of a midfield central two pivot unless the other midfielder is a real box-to-box type player because we know he’s got no agility, we know he’s got very little pace, and we know that he’s a very good passer, particularly spreading the ball wide and what have you.
He has played that slightly higher-up-the-pitch role before with a degree of success and we’ve got two obvious potential partners for him who are comfortable playing a bit deeper, albeit Guendouzi has less positional discipline and is more of a roamer.
So, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Xhaka because I think he’s been slightly dropped in the shit by his manager.
Chris: He definitely needs someone a bit more defensive-minded than Guendouzi alongside him. He needs Torreira alongside him in order for him to thrive in a way where he’s not going to be exposed as much and where he doesn’t need to worry too much about the defensive side of things.
But the trouble is that’s very Emery, a quite negative approach to have both Xhaka and Torreira starting when you’ve got a talent like Ceballos, Joe Willock, and Guendouzi that could fill that second spot as well.
It’s an interesting one. It actually surprises me that he doesn’t play Xhaka and Torreira together more because that sort of more conservative approach really seems to be what Emery’s all about. So I’m surprised he’s not persevered with that.
Matthew: It’s clear that Torreira was bought to play alongside Xhaka because no-one knew how Guendouzi was going to turn out. We didn’t know that a year later we’d be getting Ceballos on loan or that Joe Willock would look ready to contribute at this level.
And so it sort of adds to the extra impact of the fact that Mesut Özil a) had a massive loss of form after the World Cup, and then b) is now persona non grata despite being one of the captains of the club. And of course, we can have the Özil-Emery conversation round and round and round indefinitely, but we haven’t given Chris the opportunity to have his opinion on the Özil-Emery conundrum.
It seems clear that it’s more than just tactical considerations coming into play. Do you think that the club and its executive are complicit, shall we say, actively complicit in the ostracization of Özil to try and basically get him to bugger off so we don’t have to pay his wages?
To find out the answer, go listen to the rest of the podcast…