Arsenal had a few really specific things go wrong against Manchester City, and Granit Xhaka’s injury can’t get swept under the rug. It was and is a big deal.
In case you haven’t heard my post-match narrative, I am, for the first time ever, pinning a loss all on one man. Which David Luiz did as well. Since he was that guy. But Arsenal had a few other things go wrong as well. One of which happened in the 7th minute when Granit Xhaka was stretched off with his injury.
Of course, before the match, fans were already making fun of Xhaka. Calling him not good enough, calling him a problem. As if they’d all forgotten how good he had been going up to the pause. I was thrilled to see Xhaka back in there because—and I’m going to get a bit abstract here—he’s the voice of reason in the midfield.
He’s the guy who holds things down. When it gets out of hand, give it to Xhaka, let him introduce a little calm. Arsenal had no calm in this match. They had no outlet. They could not build from the back to save their collective life.
Arsenal lost a lot with Granit Xhaka injury
While I think Matteo Guendouzi adapted admirably, a big reason why these key facets failed is because Xhaka wasn’t there.
Guendouzi, Dani Ceballos, and Joe Willock all have one thing in common—they are so active. They’re so go, go, go. All action, gotta move. Just keep moving, gotta make something happen. They are frantic.
And while we put a high value on athleticism, and all three of these guys have more athleticism than Xhaka, no doubt. But that isn’t the be all, end all of what this midfield needs. Did you notice how often Mustafi had to take the ball into the midfield himself? Did you notice how every single bit of possession Ceballos and Willock had involved pushing, pushing, pushing?
It’s okay to chill sometimes. And that’s often how you mitigate damage. Now maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in this one, we’ll never know. But I often find myself reverting back to this argument for Xhaka—he’s here for a reason. No one else can do what he does and removing that from the team so early cost us.
Not to mention that the injury looked serious so he’s likely to be missing for some time. As longa s he’s back before the next big clash, and that looks like either Sheffield or Tottenham, depending on your definition.