Granit 2-1 Xhaka

I set myself a little experiment yesterday and took notes on the match. My first note is three minutes into the match, “Kolasinac w/a nearly disastrous pass. This is why he doesn’t play”. My second note, “Xhaka fouls Alexis”. My third note, “Xhaka ridiculous pass”.

From there there were only two notes – shots by Lindlehoff and Nelson – before the big moment, the 15th minute when Nelson lost the ball, United passed to Pogba, Xhaka dramatically went sliding in and Pogba just skipped over him and walked on by to score. I mentioned this fact on twitter, that Xhaka didn’t follow his man and that he made a crazy and unnecessary wild slide tackle, and you know what happened? People vehemently disagreed with me. It was Bellerin’s fault, some said, because he should have been covering Alexis.

Granit Xhaka is a polarizing figure for many and for good reason, because he’s often equal measures brilliant and crazy. This match wasn’t an exception. As I pointed out in my by the numbers piece on Arseblog News, Xhaka led Arsenal with 0.80 passes per minute and leads almost all players in total passes, is second in passes in the opposition half, and after yesterday he even has 7 assists, one fewer than Christian Eriksen!

The thing is that you can hold both facts in your head at the same time. It isn’t mutually exclusive to say that Xhaka is a brilliant passer and also makes a lot of mistakes defensively. That’s just reality, a reality he has carried with him since his days at Borussia Monchengladbach. Which, was pointed out to us all here on this blog by Naveen (who is in med school and doesn’t have time to contribute anymore) before he signed.

In yesterday’s match against Man U, Xhaka stood out on both ends of the pitch. In the 16th minute, there was the flying tackle and failure to follow his man, let’s look at the screen caps and see what happened:

The whole problem starts here when Xhaka flies in to try to tackle Pogba. Not only was it a dangerous and stupid, out of control tackle, but it was completely unnecessary. If he just squares up with Pogba and marks him, there is no danger.

At this point Xhaka is up, Maitland-Niles ran all the way back to pressure Pogba into the pass, and Xhaka is now strolling. Bellerin is aware of Alexis on his shoulder and has a quick look.

Mavropanos closes down Lukaku, Pogba walks by, and three Arsenal players are watching Lukaku with the ball. Not a good look for the Arsenal, and something the next manager will have to sort out. Why doesn’t AMN follow Pogba? Why doesn’t Chambo follow Pogba? Why doesn’t Xhaka follow Pogba? We don’t know. Xhaka was the captain, maybe he’s providing the leadership example. Regardless, Bellerin will be left covering both Pogba and Alexis.

Chambo does eventually go mark Pogba but it’s way too late. Alexis gets the shot off, Bellerin blocks and an unmarked Pogba scores. I like the Xhaka gangsta lean to get a better view of the shot, also Kolasinac’s head is down, Nelson has his hands on his hips, and Maitland-Niles is way out of the play.

It was all started with Xhaka’s weird tackle but after that no one defended Pogba. This goal really shouldn’t have happened.

Later in the match, Xhaka redeemed himself! It’s easy to forget that he won the tackle that set up the Arsenal goal. He nicked the ball off (Matic?) and passed to Mkhitaryan who scored with a nutmeg shot. Great stuff from the Arsenal midfielder, let’s be fair.

The third goal is probably a bit unfair to pin on Xhaka. He was the one defending Fellaini on a crossed ball but Fellaini is a specialist in aerial duels, he’s taller than Xhaka by a few inches and commands the space around him well. Xhaka is almost always going to lose that aerial duel. Tactically, what you’d probably rather see happen is for players to close down the service. That didn’t happen, Monreal tried to get out there but Young had too much time and had already picked out the run of Fellaini. The service was also pinpoint, and again, not the fault of Xhaka.

As an aside, I do revel in the fact that United have spent billions of dollars to build a club which relies on Marouane Fellaini to rescue them with route one football. I mean, if you wanted that, you could have just signed Peter Crouch!

Still, Xhaka did lose the aerial duel. He was the one in position, he missed the header, Fellaini scored. That’s not a harsh criticism of him, just a fact.

I think Xhaka is going to be with Arsenal for a long time. Hopefully the next manager can sort out his individual defensive problems and the knock-on team defensive problems that we saw in the first goal. If not, it’s going to be another long season at Arsenal.





  1. I just wrote a comment to Greg on your last post so I’ll just re-post it here:

    When taking stock of our central midfielders, namely Xhaka and Ramsey, as they are the two constants in that position when healthy, the question I ask myself is – do they contribute enough offensively to make up for the amount of mistakes they make defensively? For me, Ramsey does. Quite easily, even though he can be frustrating at times. Xhaka doesn’t – not by a long shot. Sure, if you pair him with some defensive elegant beast in midfield you could perhaps cover up his weaknesses. But who is this player? Does he even exist and are we actually ever going to a buy a player like that? I think a simpler solution is selling Xhaka and buying a better well rounded central midfielder. There are more options in the market for a player like that than this mythical elegant beast we have all been dreaming of since Vieira left.

    ” I think Xhaka is going to be with Arsenal a long time”.

    Ugh. I hope not. I am not a fan. He maybe a good passer but way too mistake prone and doesn’t seem to understand basic defending at times.

    1. Btw.. the comparison to Eriksen is hardly an appropriate one who also has 14 goals this season. So nowhere near the same offensive output.

    2. The problem with “pairing” Xhaka with anyone in CM is that Xhaka needs a shitload of space to operate. I think that’s why Wenger pushes players like AMN and Coquelin into such an advanced role (between the lines). In contrast a player like Cazorla, who has all the same passing range and a much better touch and control, allowed the club to play the DM in a true DM role which is why Arsenal had their best defense since the invincibles that season. The player Arsenal most need to replace is Cazorla. If we have a young Cazorla (Keita) in CM, you can pair him with a more defensive player (Ndidi) and you’d have the best midfield in the world.

      I mean, maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic…

      1. Keita is an excellent player. Technically he has got to be up there with some of the best in the world but I’m not sure if he is ready to take one for the team like Cazorla and just operate from deep. He is awesome going forward and most of Leipzig’s attack seem to flow though him. Looks like it’s done deal with Liverpool though and they are going to be one heck of a team with him. Like you, they are my pick to win the title next season. I think Klopp will give him the “Coutinho” role – furthest forward of the 3 midfielders. Those who have never seen him play are in for a surprise.

        1. I thought it is in fact a done deal. Liverpool paid 50m for him last summer but the deal was to leave him at Leipzig one more year.

          If Liverpool add Butland, City will have some competition.

          Shame when you consider Liverpool and Arsenal are clubs with about the same resources…

          1. Arsenal have more resources, surely? Bigger stadium, and don’t forget Arsenal is in in London, whereas Liverpool is in, you know, Liverpool. Which SHOULD make it easier to attract players to Arsenal.

  2. I think sometimes we forget that football is an athletic endeavor and not just an exercise in technique, decision making and tactical execution. Xhaka has wonderful skill, a great passer with vision, can be a very good metronome for the midfield passing game… but is just not a good athlete. He’s slow, can’t jump and his tackling stinks – all basically athletic failings.

    These are things that could still be improved upon and perhaps when we have that new manager he’ll have ideas on how to work on these things with Xhaka. But they can only be improved to a point and so we’ll be left trying to devise a system that hides his faults.

    He strikes me a player who could be Pirlo-esque. Pirlo was not a great athlete by any stretch. But he had Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba and a world class defensive line behind him to cover for his weaknesses.

    I’m looking forward to a new manager working with Xhaka – the right guy and I think Granit will be a very fine player for us. It’s not time to give up on him.

    1. I agree with this. He was rumoured not to know where to be (positionally) in his first season and was frustrated by that. I think that with a new manager who is focused on the details, I think that he will be a big player for us.

    2. Not just technique, decision making and tactical execution – yes, agreed but they are just as important in football as is being an athlete (some would argue they are more important). Xhaka’s decision making and tactical execution is poor. Let’s face it, he is not a great athlete either. So what are we left with exactly?

      The comparison to Pirlo is not a bad one. I think he is much better suited for the Italian game. I can’t seem him being a top level midfielder in England under any manager – unless we buy midfielders to try and cover up for his lack of speed and defensive awareness, which should not be what the new manager needs to focus on.

      1. It’s a nurture vs. nature argument on which is more important; athleticism or skill. In a perfect world you marry both at the highest levels and get a Cristiano Ronaldo.

        Anyway, I don’t think his decision making is poor at all when he has the ball – the passes he picks out, his weight on those passes et al are good. Tactically we don’t know where he stands because we don’t know what his education has been thus far in this regard.

        For me, too early to give up on him. I think a new manager might find a system that hides his flaws.

        PS – what would we get for Xhaka at this point in time? Mustafi is a similar question. I would argue we have a boatload of players whose market price has gone done based on the past couple years; Mustafi, Xhaka, Welbeck, Perez, Cech, Ospina, Kos…. none are going to fetch the prices we think they should fetch.

        1. I am a firm believer of the “stop loss” limit on players. I know we won’t recoup our investment but I think we can still get 20 mill for each for them. Plus, if the rumors are true and we only have 50 mill to spend, why not sell two of our most error prone players who can still command a decent transfer fee?

          1. I think most in coming managers will want to keep Xhaka; right age-range and most will see unfulfilled potential.

            Ramsey on the other hand… a British (homegrown) attacking midfielder, in this market? He gets you 70-80 million. There’s your transfer kitty, your Jan Oblak transfer fee, not pawning Xhaka and Mustafi off at discounted prices. (although I have suspicion Mustafi will be going anyway).

          2. Oblak is going to PSG from what I know. Doubt Ramsey will fetch 70-80 mill when he has one year left on his contract. That’s another potential slippery slope but we should try to keep our best players.

        2. We’re not selling Welbeck or Kos. Both still have a role to play in the squad.

          Welbeck’s looked better since he’s regained fitness. He’s never going to be elite but a hard working forward with decent technique (despite the comedic moments) and good size and athleticism has value. Plus he adds to the homegrown quota.

          Mustafi and Xhaka still have value I’m sure. Especially if they have a good World Cup. Maybe around average 20m each. Likewise with Ospina and the World Cup.. Cech, and Perez are basically freebies. For that reason I’d keep them. I like Perez and thought he was unlucky with the timing of his injuries. He might just be handy next season.

          1. Welbeck is in his final year of this contract…. and he’s injury prone, not a good finisher and surplus when you consider we have Lacazette, Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhyi, Nelson, Iwobi, Nketiah…. all attacking talent. I would sell him in a heartbeat if someone came and offered 10-15m.

            The roster has to get overhauled dramatically for the new manager. Welbeck should not going to be one of the survivors.

          2. Agree with Shard on Welbeck. He is not the worst 3rd option CF to have around – and has done okay when deployed wide. Works hard, wins battles in midfield and in general gives us a different look. All in all, a fairly useful squad player. Plus there’s the home grown rule to think about. I would keep him and focus on overhauling the midfield and defense.

          3. Mustafi is not getting many games even if Boateng is injured, Boateng and Hummels are first choice. I’m not even sure he’ll make it to the WC, Süle is surely prefered, I reckon Ginter and RRüdiger as well. Mustafi hasn’t got much of a lobby as virtually no one knew him before Löw took him to the WC.
            I find 20 Mio. for Xhaka far fetched, I don’t see any takers. We could maybe move him on to West Ham or something after a season on loan but no straight deal.

    3. Also, Pirlo was a master of reading the game. Xhaka isn’t anywhere near that level. Are we really going to wait for him to learn? I say sell him. Sell him and buy another well rounded midfielder like Ramsey but someone who is more defensive minded and doesn’t average 2 brain farts in every game he plays.

      1. You mean buy someone like Ramsey, but not someone like Ramsey? 🙂

        Basically, Wenger isn’t a tactical manager, so let’s the players get on with learning on the job. Because of this, Ramsey plays as a striker and other players are usually out of position during phases of play in a game. With a new hands-on manager, these same players will be drilled and told where to be, so they will be completely different players next year and hopefully for the better.

        1. Heh.. yeah. Simply swap Ramsey’s propensity to attack with his propensity to defend.

          1. First off, very interesting exchange from NYC, Jack, et al. This kind of conversation reminds me of why, despite the frequent bickering on here (in regards to which I certainly am far from an innocent party) I enjoy returning to the conversations on this site: thoughtful analysis from articulate but otherwise ordinary fans with different points-of-view to my own.

            Here’s my two cents on the above:
            1. NYC, I agree that Ramsey is clearly the more valuable (not just on the market, but to Arsenal) of the two CM’s, and that his offense–when and only when he’s in the kind of form he’s been in this year–makes up for his other flaws.
            However, I think your assessment misses an important point, which is that, even though Rambo is a better player than Xhaka, he’s no less difficult (harder?) to partner in midfield with a single other player who really complements him. This is because, as I’ve argued on here before, not only does he play high up the pitch and so is often not in position to cover defensively, but he is also too high up the pitch to help build the play from deep (and isn’t all that good at this when he does do it). This is not a criticism of Ramsey; it’s just a point about the sort of player he is, being realistic about what he contributes and what he needs around him to flourish and to give the team balance.
            The result is that, to function well in a midfield two, he needs not only an elegant beast (which I always take to mean a physically beastly DM that’s nonetheless very comfortable in possession), but a SUPER-elegant beast: the combo of the intelligence and ball skills of (at least) an Arteta (better yet, a Cazorla/Cesc), with the defensive discipline, power, athleticism, and tackling of a Wanyama. If it sounds like this kind of player is a fantasy, that’s because it pretty much is. I think the top class elegant beast is hard but not impossible to find; but the super-elegant beast probably comes about once or twice in a generation (think Pat Vieira, but more willing to hold his defensive position and dictate play from deep).

            So Arsenal play Ramsey on the wing (no!), at 10 (still no, but for complicated reasons that I don’t want to get into now), in a midfield three, or you sell him. I don’t think we should sell unless he’s not going to sign a new contract or we have top quality replacements lined up (ha!). So that means we play a midfield three, with both a proper top class DM and a Cazorla type who contributes defensively alongside Ramsey. Or, more realistically with our current squad, we play Ramsey alongside Xhaka sitting and a third who’s got a bit of the Cazorla in him to help break the press with ball skills in tight spaces, and a bit of the nippy, aggressive box-to-box-er in him to help make up for Xhaka’s defensive flaws (I have no idea if Max Meyer is like that; if not him, maybe AMN?).

          2. 2. I think Jack nails it with respect to Xhaka’s biggest flaws stemming from a lack of athleticism. Sure he makes a lot of dumb defensive mistakes, and at his age he should know better, but he’s also been coached by late-career Wenger, and I feel like all our current players deserve some leniency when it comes to tactical naivety/stupidity, at least until we see how they do under a more hands-on tactical manager. Also, I think a lot of his rashness and diving-in is due to habits he’s formed trying to make up for the fact that he’s slow and has the turning radius of an oil tanker, which he really can’t do anything about (the failure to track runners on the other hand…).
            I don’t think Xhaka’s great (my opinion of him has certainly gone down based on this season) and probably never will be, but in the right set-up he could do well as a physically rugged version of a Pirlo/Xabi Alonso/Arteta type. Whether we want that in our midfield very much depends on the other players we want in there around him. Xhaka+Ramsey certainly isn’t ideal, and needs a third to have any hope of working longterm.
            That’s why I agree with Tim that we’re STILL looking for at least one top quality CM to balance our midfield, and that that’s just about (perhaps not quite?) as important as our CB and keeper needs this summer.

  3. That opening goal is a perfect example of what some of us were saying Arsenal didn’t do against Atletico Madrid. We don’t go for the jugular and attack in the 2-3 seconds after we win the ball back.

    Too often in that situation, an Arsenal player will pass the ball backwards and recycle possession. Every Utd pass went forward. Lingard chooses a sharp early pass to Pogba, who immediately sprints into that DM space we always vacate. Xhaka was tracking our build-up and stopped when we lost the ball. Fatal error. Mustafi did the same thing last Thursday and ended up on his arse as well.

    Stellar playmakers like Xabi Alonso and Pirlo cost their teams some goals as well. At Juventus, Allegri lets Miralem Pjanic play a very similar game to Xhaka but has two athletes like Khedira and Matuidi around him. So yes, it’s possible a new coach can accommodate Xhaka’s flaws in a strong system.

    Looking at the league table and the central midfielders playing for the teams above us, very few of them have Xhaka’s raw ability. In the 4-0 at Anfield, Wijnaldum controlled the entire game against us. We need a different approach. If Xhaka stays, Elneny, Wilshere and Ramsey (who only averages 20 starts a season) should be upgraded.

    1. Go for the jugular is also what we did for our goal against Man Utd.

      And against Atletico they had 10 men behind the ball, it was a completely different dynamic in that match. We weren’t winning possession off them in a broken field, we were trying to break the door down. We had to be patient and we created a lot of chances against one of Europe’s top defences. Still wondering what people saw in that game to be unhappy about that I wasn’t seeing… (apart from the errors for their equaliser, I certainly saw those).

      1. Guillem Balague did a post-game interview talking about Arsenal’s performance against Atletico. He had spoken to one or two Atletico players and Koke told him that at times, Arsenal were too comfortable on the ball.

        Some of us noted the same thing.

        1. Agree. But in that same interview, he was hugely complimentary of our overall performance. He said the one thing that made it not perfect was (paraphrasing) that when we were in the ascendancy we didn’t turn the screw and up the pace and intensity, but were “comfortable”. I linked to this interview in my post defending the overall performance last week, as I thought GB’s assessment was balanced and right on. But the tone of criticism on here after the game that Greg and I were disagreeing with was not balanced but overwhelmingly negative. The terms “awful” and “sh**storm” were used, and others echoed those sentiments or close to it.

          1. PFO, with the greatest respect, you gotta stop tone-policing reactions on a thread where people are writing immediate post-game reactions.

            Guillem Balague is not an Arsenal fan. It’s his job to be fair and balanced. We’re allowed to express anger and disappointment. We’re allowed to be irrational! Just allow it.

          2. Ok, deal. Just as long as each time you admit a week later that you were being irrational.


          3. But more seriously:
            I wasn’t “policing the tone” (or if I was in one initial reply to Bunburyist, it was an emotional response on my part, in defense of the team, as much as the emotion from you guys who were being negative).

            In general I’m quite happy for you to express disappointment and frustration on here, just as I often do!!

            Rather, I wrote that string of posts arguing with you guys (Bun in particular) because I was disagreeing about the *factual matter* of whether we played decently well overall in that match or not. I’m allowed to express my opinion on here that you’re wrong when I think you’re wrong, same as everyone else.

            When I said in the comment just above that the tone on here last week was super negative about the game, I was *not* objecting to having a negative tone per se, I was objecting to that tone being an inaccurate reflection of our performance in the game.

          4. My comment about Balague was directed at Greg’s reply to my initial comment. Not you.

            There was no need to belabour that debate with yet another long-winded self-indulgent explainer.

    2. Stellar playmakers like Xabi Alonso and Pirlo cost their teams some goals as well. At Juventus, Allegri lets Miralem Pjanic play a very similar game to Xhaka but has two athletes like Khedira and Matuidi around him. So yes, it’s possible a new coach can accommodate Xhaka’s flaws in a strong system.

      Totally agree.

      I haven’t seen enough of Klopp’s Liverpool, and haven’t been playing close enough attention to them when I do watch them, to know what I think of Wijnaldum. Some people seem to rate him super highly, others not so much. He definitely seems to be one of their more underrated midfielders. I need to pay closer attention.

  4. I’m somewhat on the fence with this one. I love Xhaka and think he’s improving. Xhaka as deep lying playmaker against most teams we face in the league is fine. His passing, and the threat of the long shot helps break down the deep block. But even against those teams he is a liability on the counter. This is something a better defense could help with though.

    All the same, what of the better teams. Against any decent pressing team, I would not play Xhaka, except maybe as a 3rd CB.

    I would hope we buy Meyer as a Cazorla replacement, and play him deeper, with Xhaka/Elneny and Ramsey ahead of him. AMN the other option. This should help us not lose the ball under the press, and still have the ability to switch to attack.

    But, much as I am reluctant to, I would have to agree with nycgunner that maybe selling Xhaka is the better option to make us a more balanced side. Xhaka out, and Meyer, and say, N’zonzi in and I think we have a more balanced, and yet versatile midfield.

    Though I’m reluctant to sell Xhaka, in defense I would sell Mustafi and bring in two veteran defenders. Even if they are less talented or athletic. If rumours of Sokratis are true then that’s one. I’d take Evans for cheap and sell Mustafi to cover the cost of the two.

    The names are only indicative of the sort of players. But that’s the general idea.

    1. Meyer is definitely Cazorla-ish; smaller, a winger converted to DM, can dribble out of tight spots.

      But he’s not coming to Arsenal unless Tedesco is coming in as new manager.

      1. Why wouldn’t Max Meyer want to come to Arsenal? I’m pretty sure he would love the chance to work with Ozil, Mkhi and Auba. Also, we can easily double his wages.

        1. Who the new manager and our prospects for future success will matter more for a 22 year old than who his teammates might be. Meyer will be leaving a team that is already in the Champions League next year.

          I’ve read also that City are interested in him because he’s the type of tactically flexible midfielder Guardiola loves. And that Yaya Toure’s 250k a week is coming off their books and they can offer him something in that range.

          1. Meyer is nowhere near good or talented enough for City. Goretzka is, but not Mmeyer. He’s not even a regular for Schalke.

          2. Playing time will matter too, and the teammates, and the growing German culture of the club can appeal to Meyer. I don’t get the pessimism. It’s far from a done deal, but you wouldn’t have said we’re getting Auba either, and Tim was sure we wouldn’t deal with Raiola for Miki. I think we have a chance with Meyer.
            Also we have a chance that we’ll employ Tedesco. Seeing as this is essentially going to be Mislintat’s team, he will likely get a major say in the coach to run it. I wonder how his Dortmund roots play out over in Schalke though.

          3. No, there’s no connection of Meyer and Tedesco. The problem also isn’t so much Thatcher Arsenal haverá no chance, it seems to be that Meyer isn’t actually not that coveted. Tedesco as coach is definitely not happening.

          4. I have no idea if he’s really good enough or not, but
            a) he’s the sort of player we should be looking at
            b) he’s absolutely gettable, unless someone like City muscles in, and even then he’d have to worry about playing time there
            c) I very much doubt it’s tied to Tedesco one way or the other, but it might be tied to the Champions League

    1. I think we will make a move for Meyer. How could we not? He is available for free. We won’t be able to resist.

      1. Meyer hasn’t t played for some time. It’s not clear if the links with Arsenal and Liverpool are genuine, it seems there’s a lot of power play going on with his agent Roger Wittmann and Schalke’s new management. Meyer is not really considered A-list talent and it seems he’s signing for Hoffenheim.

  5. Xhaka has flaws.. but the new CM coming in is also going to have one. Best way is to offest those with right team composition and style suiting playes strengths!

    Also, Bellerin needs support! Micki or a player who does his defensive duty upfront ahead and a hard working right central midfielder is the best for bellerin.

    Both are valuable assests that Arsenal must retain. If they do want to sell, atleast we must first raise their stocks high! Right now we would probably sell at a loss when compared to a player we could buy with same qualities.

  6. Yeah I was talking up Xhaka a bit on the last thread mainly because I was very encouraged by how the partnership with AMN really seemed to stabilize him.
    I’m not saying he’s the answer to all our prayers. He looked like a player yesterday when in the past he’s looked lost, and for me it just emphasizes the fact that the midfield balance has proved incredibly elusive. I couldn’t agree more with Tim that we miss Cazorla. What to do about that – who to keep, who to add, who to lose, I don’t know.

    And I do think that in general he’s got better athleticism and defensive ability than others seem to. I see him back in the box marking, reading movement, blocking passing lanes, being generally useful. His biggest problem is that switch-off-ability that plagues the whole side like a nasty virus.

  7. We don”t necessarily need a Cazorla replacement. Leaving aside the fact that Santi’s skillset was rare, that he was essentially a Number 10 who adapted to a tactical switch (and a glut of 10s) and made the position his own, and Keita and others are not exactly in his mould… We need someone who can read, tackle, sweep if necessary, and is assertive in front of the back 4. Someone like (don’t laugh) Nemanja Matic, who was quietly effective yesterday.

    Not much got past him, and while Reiss Nelson was lively, it looked sometimes like Matic was toying with him. Maitland-Niles gave him a contest, that matchup was more even, but it seemed to me that Matic won more than he lost. His positioning is quite outstanding. He gives Pogba a license to attack. But like Xhaka, he’s on the slow side, so what gives? Reading. Reading the game.

    It’s why Arteta, for about a season and a half was quite superb in the position. Xhaka’s problem stems from the fact that he isn’t seeing the unfolding play, and therefore is a reactive player. It’s the reason he slid in like a madman, and the reason he picks up such dumb fouls. He’s reactive. I said last year that he has a hint of the Vermaelens about him. Hope I’m wrong.

    Still, I like him. That passing range, and that cannon of a left foot that’ll get you 5 or 6 valuable goals from distance every season. Buy an elegant beast (sorry Ashley Maitland- Niles and Mo Elneny), and between him, Xhaka, Ramsey’s injuries (from having never fully recovered from being Shawcrossed) everyone will get games. When everyone is fit, it’s Ramsey box-to-box and Elegant Beast to play the Matic role, and Xhaka on the bench. But as I said, he’ll get plenty of games. We should offer Monaco silly money for Fabinho.

    That leaves no place for Wilshere, unless his squad role in Ozil understudy. Elneny’s improvement has been marked, and Jack is the odd man out, much as I like him and would be sad to see him go.

    1. I think the reading of the game comes with age too. (One of the reasons I’d pick N’zonzi over Fabinho right now) Matic is what, 30 now? Also, he wasn’t playing against a pressing team, so he could find room. He did well, but the same qualifiers that apply to Xhaka should apply to Matic too. I was surprised by how good he looked. I don’t think he’s better than Xhaka though.

      Also, agree on Wilshere.

    2. “When everyone is fit, it’s Ramsey box-to-box and Elegant Beast to play the Matic role, and Xhaka on the bench.”

      We’ve been ’round this block before, Claude, but I just can’t resist another attempt to convince you: the above isn’t going to work unless this mythical Elegant Beast is a Hyper-Elegant Beast, for the reasons I lay out in my reply to NYC above: Ramsey doesn’t contribute a ton to early stages of our buildup play, particularly when we’re pressed, so if we only play with a midfield two, the Beast is going to have to largely go solo on defensive covering of back four AND on building from deep under pressure, which means he’s going to have to be some extraordinary player with and without the ball, and certainly much better than Matic!

      1. Actually, Tim’s BTN for Arseblog, among others, has consistently disproved the notion that Ramsey doesn’t contribute besides his attacking runs. Those numbers show comparatively decent contributions interceptions, tackles, passes and key passes. Still, tactical needs must. Ramsey has played more defensively in tougher battles.

        Here’s the thing, though. Unless he chooses not to renew his contract, his contributions make him an ever-present. His attributes are valuable ones to our play. We have intelligent runners off the ball in Auba and Laca, so we need someone who can exploit that. And, like I said, the numbers have shown that he makes a more rounded contribution that is often appreciated.

        I do agree that he and Xhaka are not an ideal combination, but the Welshman’s is one of the first names on the team sheet.

        1. My comment (and the longer one where I lay my case out in more detail above), was not at all meant to argue that we shouldn’t keep/start Ramsey, so I don’t really disagree with anything you say, except for the point that Tim’s numbers discount the points I’ve made (more on that in a sec).

          Rather, my comment was meant to argue (1) against your view that we don’t need to replace Cazorla’s rough skill set in our deep central midfield, and (2) for the same reasons, we probably need 2 players to partner Ramsey if he’s an automatic starter, not just one.

        2. Ok, about Tim’s numbers, and my third (and last!) attempt to make my main point about our midfield today:

          Tim’s numbers show Ramsey “contributes” quite a bit both with and without the ball, which I would completely agree with this season (not so much the last few, when he form was much worse), based on my eye test. The issue is whether raw stats can count against the following two claims:
          1. Although he does work his socks off defensively in big games, his general tendency is to get himself far upfield, which means that on quick counterattacks from the opposition, he can’t be counted on to offer consistent defensive cover alongside Xhaka or whoever’s the DM. This claim strikes me as pretty much incontrovertible. It’s not his fault, and it could be that a new manager forces him to curb his attacking tendencies dramatically in order to be in better covering positions, but the effect of that would be to lose much of his offensive contributions, i.e. his runs into the box. He could do it (I’ve argued as much many times on here before), but he’d be a significantly different player from the one who’s had such a good season for us this year.

          2. Even more importantly in my book, and less something that could change: Ramsey has neither the natural inclination, nor the polished technical skills (NOTE: this is not the same as saying he’s not very skillful in his own way!), to be a deep-lying dribbler/passer/creator in the Cazorla/Dembele mold. But then almost no DM’s have even a fraction of this kind of ability either, so who does that job for us?? Your response could be, “no one, since we don’t need a Cazorla type,” to which I’d respond, “perhaps not exactly, but we do need someone with vision, skill, intelligence, and impeccable composure in tight areas to help beat the press, unless we’re going to cease being a possession-first team” (and maybe the answer is that we change our tactics entirely, but I’m assuming possession will still be a big part of our game). On his good days, Xhaka can do about half of that job. Matic is decent enough (elegant?) on the ball, but can’t do any more, and arguably does even less, than Xhaka.

          In short–unless we’re going to become a defense-first, possession-phobic counterattacking team, or sell our soul entirely to the god of the high-press a la Pool/Spurs–we absolutely need a “Spanish type”: Xavi, Xabi, Busquets, Iniesta, Cazorla, Cesc, Thiago, Pirlo, Verratti, Kroos, Modric, Gundogan, Dembele, Koke, De Bruyne, latter-day Silva, and (to a lesser degree) latter-day Arteta. Not all of these are superlative dribblers, but they’re all superlative in possession in tight spots, and they’re all very good passers.
          Xhaka+Ramsey doesn’t give us that skill set AT ALL. But it also doesn’t give us nearly enough defensive discipline and beastliness. So if we’re going to replace Xhaka with only ONE other player, and expect that guy to partner Ramsey on his own, he needs BOTH DM beastliness AND the Spanish special sauce (shall we say). Who even comes close to having that combo???

          1. Reasonable points. And no, Matic isn’t elegant by any stretch, but he played what I’d call “the Busquets role” very very well indeed. I noticed, by the way, that is the one name you didn’t mention. Busquets. Matic. They’re neither elegant nor beasts (they are positionally and football-wise very intelligent players), but they do the simple stuff well. Win the ball, give it to the creators, cover the space, protect the back 4, be positionally disciplined, and above all, read what’s unfolding in front of you. Which could call for — I agree with with you here — a Santi-type ferryer out of tight spaces. That could have been Wilshere, but Im not sure anymore that he’s up to the demands of the role. I think he’s a 10, not a deep-midfielder. So, to your points, you could play Ramsey and Beast in a midfield 3, or Ramsey wide. That’s an option.

            But I still think he and Beast can play in the middle of a midfield 4, or part of a 3. I disagree with you about exceptionality required. I agree with Shard that an Nzonzi can play that role quite adequately.

          2. Take that back about Busquets, the unheralded virtuoso who lets the bigger name Barcelona players play. He IS elegant. In a simple, understated, unfussy way.

          3. Nzonzi’s a good shout, but not sure if he’s quite good enough to play this very demanding and crucial role in our team at a very consistently high level against the very best teams. And he’s not young. So while I’d be happy to get him, can’t see him as the longterm solution.

            Of course, the stuff we’re talking about isn’t either/or, but comes in degrees: plenty of players like Nzonzi would be a step in the right direction–i.e. partner decently well with Ramsey in a two, or at least better than what we have–but still be far from ideal.

            Actually I did mention Busquets in my “Spanish type”–which indicates that I don’t just have a very narrow Xavi/Iniesta/Cazorla type player in mind. The point is rather about supreme composure and quality on the ball, and Busquets has that in spades (Barca players always emphasize what an underrated ball player he is), even if his game is all about keeping it simple. Busquets is your Elegant Beast nonpareil (except he’s more crafty than outright beastly), and maybe even verging into Hyper-Elegant Beast territory. But Busquetses don’t grow on trees.

          4. The reason I like N’zonzi is that he’s not young. I think a lot of defensive reading comes with experience. He’s still got good speed (he seems faster than Fabinho to me somehow). He’s got good technique and size, and experience of playing in England. His age means he won’t ‘kill’ AMN and could mentor him.

            I think he would also make a good two man defensive screen with either Xhaka or Elneny if we play a 4231.

    3. Two points to agree or disagree with:

      – Arteta is getting lots of praise but even during that season and a half when he was superb, there were criticisms that he wasn’t defensive enough and too slow. Just making this point because basically you can critique any player for not having the attributes that they don’t have – but complete players are basically non-existent. Steven Gerrard is the premier league player most often held up to be the complete player, but a team of 11 Steven Gerrards would have been mid-table.

      – Relatedly, it’s clear that Ramsey is our most complete player, putting in good defensive and offensive stats. However, I put this more down to his engine than anything else – he never stops running, so he gets in a lot of tackles and interceptions by simply getting to men withe the ball early. His actual defensive skills/technique/positioning are really not great, I would argue. When play is more structured, slower, and his engine does not give him an advantage, he contributes less defensively than a glance at his top line stats would suggest. If his versatility is his chief value to the team, this observation, if true, undermines his value.

      I’m beginning to think that he suffers from Wilshereitis – he’s good at a lot, but every job you could ask him to do, there’s a better player available. Number 10 should be Ozil, wide forwards should be Auba and Mkhi, striker should be Lacazette, midfield should be Xhaka and AMN (or another solid technical holding mid). I have a feeling that with his contract running down, with his residual value, we might be seeing the back of Ramsey this summer. Unless the new manager decides to build around his skillset. I would prefer we build around Ozil.

      1. I love Ramsey, and I can see why people may think talking about getting rid of him is madness, when he’s one of our most important and most productive players, but it’s one of those things you feel more than think.

      2. I don’t think the two are exclusive, rather are complimentary. Ozil needs runners, and Ramsey’s late runs into the box help create that movement.

        Agree on Arteta, and yet, he and Ramsey worked. Which suggests that PFO is wrong about Ramsey needing a hyper beast next to him. I think Xhaka was supposed to be what Arteta was, but bigger and faster. I actually don’t think Xhaka is slow. I think he’s just not defensively aware (also true of Kolasinac. The German league isn’t the most defensively sound from what I’ve seen). This could improve in time.

        Meanwhile, I think it is better for us to have a 3 man midfield anyway. If that means playing a diamond in some games to best use Ozil, that is fine too. With Auba and Laca/Welbeck, we have the ability up front to widen the field of play there,(And this is why I said Perez might be useful next season as another option) and Ramsey and Miki/Iwobi making runs beyond Ozil.

        I think AMN is an option at the base of midfield because he has technique and ability, but also great speed. His play at fullback would also have given him some understanding on covering for them when they go forward. Elneny has shown improvement too and keeps the ball ticking. He’s basically a more defensive minded Ramsey with his engine.

        The only reason to sell Ramsey would be his refusal to sign a new contract. And he would wait to see who the new manager is and talk about his plans. Otherwise I think Ramsey is the guy you build your midfield around.

        The only thing I am torn about is what kind of ‘DM’ we should look at. A cazorla type dribbler like Meyer, or a more traditional big guy with defensive reading and focus, though elegant enough to keep possession. Like N’zonzi. This confusion is why I am open to selling Xhaka to get both.

        New DM – Ramsey – Xhaka (AMN, Elneny, Miki)

        442 diamond
        New DM – Ramsey – Xhaka – Ozil (AMN, Elneny, Iwobi, Miki)

        1. Dude, Shard, I love you (honest, you’re like my favorite regular commenter on here), but…
          “I actually don’t think Xhaka is slow”????

          Huh?! He’s at least as slow as Arteta at the bloody end of Arteta’s career!!! He’s not as slow as Per (slowest player in the Prem?) or Chambers, but otherwise I reckon he’s slower than every other outfield player in our squad.

          1. PS I’ve also come around to the diamond idea, basically because I want to see both Auba and Laca up top together for a significant period of time, and because I don’t want to see Ozil awkwardly (and lopsidedly) shunted out to one wing. Ramsey as right-sided runner on one side of diamond, Xhaka or someone better at the base, new box to box player with aggression and ball skills (Jack or Micky or AMN could work too) as the left-sided runner.

      3. Greg,
        Completely agree with both points. I like/admire Arteta as a man and footballer, but not as much as some on here. We bought him on the downward slope of his career, and after a couple of serious injuries at Everton (if memory serves). His intelligence and leadership made him a very valuable player before his legs completely went, but he was never a proper DM and even in his best run in that position (the super Ramsey year) he was overmatched by more physical, athletic midfields. By the end of his Arsenal career he absolutely drove me crazy with his steady stream of sideways and consistently underhit(!) passes that slowed our play down to a snail’s pace–and I’m not even one of those fans that complains about slow buildups!!!

        Anyway, this is all just to agree with you, and to clarify that I don’t think a new Arteta (which is absolutely what Xhaka was supposed to be anyway) solves our problems. On the contrary, my point is we need someone who combines Arteta skills with (say) Wanyama skills (or better, Cazorla skills with Wanyama skills) if we’re going to partner one player with Rambo.

        And this is also why Shard is wrong to say Arteta+Ramsey “worked”. It was pretty solid for about half a season, they certainly complemented each other well, but that combination, even as it worked well together, still was several notches short of a really top class midfield, in my book.

  8. Jack

    Martinez (club), Chambers, Holding, Bellerin(club),Ramsey (club), Wilshere(Club), Iwobi (club), Welbeck,

    These are the Over 21 Homegrown players at the club. The club HG are for the Uefa quota of 4. The U21s will be AMN, Nelson and Willock.

    But basically, we’re at the limit of HG quota, and we’re likely losing Wilshere. No way should we sell Ramsey and Welbeck. Also those attacking players lack the athleticism of Welbeck. I think we keep Welbeck, and we should keep Ramsey because he is an asset to the team. I hope we can get him to sign a new contract.

    I also think you overestimate the churn required anyway.

    A GK, a CB, and a CM are the priorities. We’re losing a CB (Per) and a CM (Wilshere – likely) anyway, plus Cazorla. Which should free up some salary space. We can also add more in salaries with the new shirt deal and the expected sleeve sponsorship. And are allowed to increase salaries by 7m even without those. If we also sell Ospina and Mustafi, I’d estimate our budgets become serviceable, even with another CB required. I mean come on, we’re not buying Oblak for 70-80m anyway.

    1. Perhaps you would like to explain why you think the post and comments are idiotic. Failure to justify your comment will only lead us to suppose that the only idiot around is your good self.

  9. I think in addition to Goalkeeper, center back(s) and midfielder, we also need a winger, a dribbling type in the mould of sanè or Martial. We lack that type of player.

  10. Surely the issue is that Xhaka can’t play in a team which already has at least five attackers who won’t defend (whoever plays striker, Ozil, the two wingers, and Ramsey). Add in Xhaka and you are left with just the defense, including two full backs who are pushed up most of the time.

    It’s the same eff-ing story as it has been since Vieira and Gilberto left, and it’s why I’m so happy we are soon to get a new manager.

    1. Yeah, it’s the declining quality of our central midfield options since those two left that marks the decline of our title-winning ambitions.

      I won’t be sorry to see any of our midfielders leave.

  11. Aah, Naveen is in med school. Good luck to him. Really loved his posts.

  12. The latest rumour is that Klopp’s long time assistant Zeljko Buvac will be the next Arsenal manager, and I find this oddly believable.

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