Arsenal’s midfield may be about to experience some turnover, but no matter who comes or goes, it’s still being built around Granit Xhaka.
I spent all yesterday trying to deduce the best way forward for Arsenal‘s midfield. It’s no secret that the triumphant trio that Unai Emery put together is still in need of improvement. It used to be that Granit Xhaka was the hub with two wings of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, but it just wasn’t enough.
Mikel Arteta‘s upgraded version looks much better—Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, and Dani Ceballos. You get the same effect as what Emery was trying to do, but with better effectiveness.
At least until Guendouzi grows into a steadier force, which he will. It’s a surefire bet. But until he does, the best thing we can do is not wait up for him. And loading up the midfield with Partey and Ceballos is one way to do that.
Notice though, that no matter what shape this midfield becomes, or no matter what personnel are added, the best course always involves building around Granit Xhaka.
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There’s a reason for that. I always jokingly point out that four managers have now made Xhaka a priority. Arsene Wenger started it, Unai Emery continued it, he passed it to Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta went so far out of the way to keep Xhaka that he’s taken the priority to a whole new level. The way forward is still and has always been Xhaka.
It’s just a matter of a supporting cast at this point. But that supporting cast is made infinitely better with Xhaka in it. Sure, a midfield of Partey and Ceballos is pretty special. It’s got all the diversity you’d think you’d want.
But when you add Xhaka to the mix, the potency multiplies. Because Xhaka makes everything better, plain and simple. He’s just not the kind of player that can make everything better on his own. If you give him the right support, he’s truly special, and that’s the trick.
With Torreira, Emery consistently misused the Uruguayan and he wasn’t the proper support for Xhaka. Guendouzi is too irresponsible to be the proper partner yet. We’ve borne witness to this. But Ceballos has added a sensational spark and adding in Partey would make this midfield something special.
But we’d have to retain Xhaka too. Otherwise, all those steps forward are hit with a rather large step back.