So long Xhaka

In the last game of the 2022/23 Premier League season, Granit Xhaka scored two goals. Each time he scored he was met with a huge wave of celebration from his teammates and the crowd. He smiled from cheek to cheek, beaming with joy. It was the perfect way to end his Arsenal career.

When Xhaka arrived at Arsenal, I was ecstatic. I had looked at all the stats that season and by my metrics (age, long ball passing %, tackles, interceptions, and number of times dispossessed) he was one of the best CDMs in Europe. After years of begging Mr. Wenger to buy a DM, he’d seemingly finally gone and done it.

There was a small fly in the party punch however. One of my former writers on here, Naveen, wrote a pretty in depth article on Xhaka. He’d been watching him in the Bundesliga and while he agreed about the passing range, he saw a player who was a liability in the deep role. A player who would often get red carded because he wasn’t mobile enough to cover the ground needed to play as the shield for an Arsenal defense which played incredibly high up the pitch and played with very little organized pressure. Xhaka was also a player who was great when given time to make passes but if pressured wasn’t able to break the press with a dribble.

“I hope you’re wrong” is what I said, I’m pretty sure. He wasn’t wrong and it didn’t take long for teams to work out what to do with Xhaka. In his first season at Arsenal he got two red cards and gave up two penalties.

When Unai Emery took over he tried to “fix” the Xhaka problem by playing him in a double-pivot. This worked to a degree. The red cards went away (for a time) but he was still committing errors and conceding penalties. When Arteta came in he initially continued the double-pivot play and simplified everything about Arsenal’s play, getting the whole team to commit to playing defense and not playing so high up the pitch, thus exposing Xhaka a lot less. Arteta also stopped making Xhaka the main man through which everything started. I wrote about it at the time, saying that Arteta had solved the Xhaka problem by making him less of the focal point. His passing dipped from 87 a game to 67. His passing went back up to 80 per game the next year but then it went back down to 61 and this season it’s just 49 per game.

Xhaka is no longer the one dropping deep, collecting the ball, and spraying passes all over the pitch. Instead, he’s playing like Gundogan or another of the Man City midfielder/forwards, who attack the box from the half spaces, and it’s been a remarkable transformation. He went from a player who had less than one touch per 90 in the opp. penalty area to 3.18! He’s no longer being called upon to shield the back 4, to make a last ditch challenge, or to break the opposition’s pressure. Instead, he’s pressing up high and crashing the box in attack.

That’s how Arteta transformed him from a player that almost everyone wanted gone to a player that almost everyone loves. Seven goals and seven assists in a season where Arsenal finished 2nd in the League will do that for a player!

It’s a huge reminder that sometimes a player can seem like he’s the problem when the real problem is that the manager is asking him to do something that he can’t do. I think we’ve learned that lesson the hard way over the years with many of the players at Arsenal.

Rumor has it that Xhaka is going to Bayer Leverkusen to play under Xabi Alonso. I’m very curious where he’s going to play there. Last season, Xabi mostly used a 343 and they already have a number 8 (Andrich) which would suggest that Xabi wants Granit to be a number 6 but I hope that isn’t true. The Bundesliga is even more counter attacking than the Premier League, placing Xhaka in the DM role there would be a potentially disastrous move. My hope is that Xabi is looking to play more of positional football style and lets Granit continue in the left sided half-space. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s been good to see Arteta revive Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career. There was never any question about his dedication and professionalism and clearly Arteta saw that and figured out a way to make it work for the whole team.

The big question is who replaces him?

Apparently Emile Smith Rowe is staying at Arsenal next year and I have huge hopes that he can get some time in that position. His pressing, close control, and natural attacking flair would be a perfect fit there. Lokonga is another player who might be able to play that position, though his loan spell at Palace wasn’t great and he seems to be on the outs with Arteta. Of course there’s also Vieira (66kg), who I tend to think is far too slight to be playing in the Premier League but then Jorginho (64kg) is a DM, so I guess anything is possible!

Who do you want to replace Xhaka?



  1. ESR. We need to remember that he was our highest scorer season before. Fitness permitting, he should start the left 8 role.

        1. Well, my first thought was that he was being sold but since that’s not the case, he’s always struggled with fitness so my guess is that combined with wanting to give Xhaka the best send off possible. It’s also possible that Arteta just doesn’t like him on the left and wants him to be Odegaard’s replacement. Let’s see what happens. He scored 10 goals just two seasons ago. But that injury REALLY seems to have set him back.

          1. Sounds plausible – we do have an alternate Odergaard gap so I’m interested in that – I saw it suggested that he may play behind Odergaard in a new formation. We will see – clues maybe in our midfield bids over next few weeks.

  2. Viera is so light weight, I have no idea how he gets so many minutes. He seems to get in Odegaards way more than anything. Key signing should be Rice, after that its tough. Gundogan would be incredible obviously but don’t see it happening. ESR should be firing again next season so it’s quite possible he could fill that role. If were allowed to go dreamland signing for direct replacement it would be Bellingham.

  3. Fair and balanced as always, Maestro. [Yes, I realize the irony of the phrasing :)]


  4. I pray Lokonga can find another club to activate his career. He is like an astonished antelope under pressue. Playing for a big club is too much for him now.

  5. Thanks Granit. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it’s clear that you were doing your best for the club.
    As for a replacement, ESR has a bunch of traits that line up well with the need; dribbling, runs into the box. He seems bigger and stronger too, which should help. Can he stay healthy and does he have the passing range we’d like to see?
    Rice seems pretty close to an ideal replacement.
    Bellingham would be great, but seems likely to be cost prohibitive. Think we’d need some of that money to spend on some more defensively oriented players,

  6. Granit was probably Mikel’s finest piece of work. And yes, I went from wanting him gone yesterday, to loving the guy. What has become clear is what he also offers off the pitch — blunt, straight talking professionalism. He was the leader of that group, armband or no armband. How your teammates respond to you says a lot. Their absolute delight in those 2 goals told a story. It’s tempting to think, because of his rehabilitation in the eyes of the fans, that we were wrong about him. No, we weren’t. He cut out a lot of the on field shenanigans from his game.

    His time has probably come. Wish he was signing off with the title.

    Not a fan of Fabio, but Arteta really bigged him up. Not literally (we can hope and wish). Maybe he’ll show us what Arteta sees in him. It’s not so much his slightness that bothers me… it’s the fact that games can seem to pass him by.

    btw, the Guardian picked 5 managers of the season (Pep, deZerbi, Howe, O’Neil and Sliva), but could find no place for the man who took his team from 5th to 2nd, won the most MOTM awards, and led the table for most of the season. Or Emery. Frickin clowns. I’m done with them.

  7. I’d have said Smith-Rowe but I need someone who’s going to win his duels, especially aerial duels as we’re the second worst team in that regard. What I want basically is a ESR+Xhaka kinda player, if that makes sense.

    1. That’s an odd thing to worry about from an attacking MFer. I haven’t looked at the percentages but I’d guess the problem with Arsenal’s aerial duels is probably a combination of Jesus, Saliba, and Zinchenko. I also think Xhaka, while big ish, is bad at aerials.

      1. Ok, so looking at the stats, it’s NOT Zinchenko, who won the highest % of any outfield player, but it IS Martinelli (14/77), Nketiah (10/41), Saka (16/54), and Jesus (44/122). Ode and Benjamin White are also not great at them. Xhaka is actually fine.

        1. It is a bit surprising to see that Saka’s number, he often seems to be a target of Ram’s long kicks and more often than not seems to get the ball.

          1. He does and he also gets those big switches when Arsenal drag the opponent into playing hard on the left but aerial duels are only counted when both players challenge for the ball in the air.

  8. an irony: xhaka may be going to play for a player he was supposed to replace in xabi alonso from a player he did replace in arteta. it’s also not lost on me that arteta and xabi alonso are mates that grew up playing together as young boys. if he’s leaving, i think xhaka will do well under alonso’s guidance.

    i remember xhaka’s first game for arsenal. it was a preseason game against chivas and i was like “oh lord!”…those mexican boys ran circles around xhaka. an out-of-shape cazorla came on for xhaka and saved the day. from that moment, i had no expectations of xhaka. when a chronically injured and clearly unfit (fat) santi came off the bench and showed that gulf in class between he and xhaka, i feared for the worst. this guy was supposed to replace arteta? it seems as if wenger authorized the £35 million transfer of this guy based exclusively on the same stats that tim used. i said the same thing about shkodran mustafi, who came in during the same transfer window as xhaka and cost the same money. at the start of the season, wenger didn’t play him. funny, i remember tim clamoring “i want my xhaka!”. i was like, “bro, he ain’t ready.” as awful as xhaka was that preseason, that wasn’t the first red flag.

    when he first signed, i remember xhaka saying how he felt the officials in england weren’t so quick to send players off like they were in germany. my thought is a red card is a red card, england or germany. he soon realized that.

  9. i recall when he had that meltdown and so many wanted him gone. i extended grace. this guy was a human who, like gallas, had a human moment. these are men, not robots. they may not even be fans or arsenal, just employees. you can’t disrespect a person then be angry at their response to your disrespect. xhaka had enough and gave it back. i’m sure he still cringes at the thought of his reaction. like i said, he’s human.

    so many thought xhaka would leave after that. nuts! i didn’t. arteta didn’t want xhaka to leave so i knew the club wouldn’t budge on the £18 million price tag they’d put on him. likewise, i knew roma didn’t want to pay the full £18 million. the guy told the fans to fuck off, he asked to leave, and arsenal told him he could leave. surely, a negotiation on that price was in order, right? wrong. WRONG! xhaka wasn’t a bad guy to have around the locker room. why not keep him around? the redemption story is told. well done, mikel arteta.

    if he leaves, this young arsenal team will miss his leadership. like claude says, armband or not, he was the leader of this team. will zinchenko continue to fill that gap? we’ll see.

  10. This is a great move for X inhaka if it happens. Xabi Alonso and Arteta are both Basque and grew up together, though Arteta left the Basque region for Catalonia and La Masia while Xabi eventually started at Real Sociadad.

    They are Basque brothers through and through and will engage in “co-optition” for the rest of their managerial lives. Hopefully, Arsenal will benefit as Xhaka will.

  11. as for xhaka’s replacement, youri tielemans. emile is a 10. fabio is a 10. rice is a 6. caicedo can play as a right-sided zinchenko. tielemans is a proper, league proven, 2-way #8…and he’s free.

    likewise, i’d make known a serious interest in jude bellingham. why not see if he’s interested in what arsenal have to offer? you get your xhaka replacement/upgrade. you get two players for the price of 2 as jude is expensive. however, tielemans is free and you can offset the jude transfer more with the xhaka (and lokonga) sales. a choice between rice and jude, it’s jude. in that case, i’d like to see lavia come in and compete with partey. likewise, i believe carlos alcaraz has a higher cieling than both fabio and emile to compete with odegaard.

    arsenal need to make these types of moves to establish depth and win the league and the champions league, which should be the ultimate goal.

    but there’s arteta. the difference between guardiola and arteta is guardiola’s ruthlessness is rooted in an incessant desire to win. arteta’s ruthlessness seems to be rooted in eternal personal vendettas. guardiola can hate you today but love you tonight. if arteta hates you, that means you’re dead to him. lastly, guardiola rotates his squad. if he could, arteta would play the same team every game. rotation keeps starters on their toes, keeps the squad fresh, and everyone feels like they’re part of the team. you also you avoid situations like the one arsenal currently has with reiss nelson.

    1. Leicester is going down, so Tielemans is likely to want to move, but I sense his star has dimmed a bit, along with many of the other Leicester players. Still, might be a useful option for not a lot of investment. Not sure about Iwobi. He’s been OK from what I’ve seen of Everton, but not a lot better than OK. With them staying up, doesn’t seem like it would be worth it unless we have some super cheap buyback clause.
      Rice has certainly been a 6 and would likely do well there for us, but feels to me like he has the skillset and attacking chops to also play a little further forward.
      ESR was supposed to be a 10 (and has the number) but for me the jury is out on whether he’s enough of an “orchestrator” to play that role. Seems like he might be more effective as a 8. Or maybe even a role similar to what Gabriel Jesus has. ESR has gotten bigger over the years and is now closer in size to Xhaka than to Gaberiel Jesus, Odegaard or Viera. I suspect the getting bigger has been part of the injury problem and why he’s being brought along slowly. Hopefully he ends up with the same trajectory as Martinelli, who was brought back slowly as well, but ended up very successful.

      1. tielemans’ contract was up. i’m not worried about how he looked in that bad leicester city team. madison and barnes looked bad too but we know better. i’m more worried about his quality. wenger used to say that class is permanent.

        i don’t know about iwobi either but when i’ve seen him, i thought he looked good; just wondering if someone else had insight.

        rice is too valuable as a 6 to play him higher up. good cdm’s are hard to find. we know tielemans can do that job.

        we know emile can play as a #10. however, i’ve never seen him play as a #8. i’m in favor of keeping him as cover for odegaard and recruiting 2 new #8s. in an emergency, we’ve seen that odegaard can play as a #8 but only in an emergency.

  12. oh, i forgot but i’ve kicked this name around in my head for a while now.

    who would be opposed to bringing alex iwobi back to north london as a xhaka replacement? had everton gone down, i would have mentioned it but, since they’re still up, it might be a bit tougher. he’s an ever-present for them. who’s watched him enough to say whether he might be a proper fit?

    1. There’s a guy named Alex who I follow on Twitter and he’s a huge fan of this idea. He’s usually right about these things so I would be ok with it.

  13. Nobody it seems mentions him, and often I was surprised that Arteta didn’t experiment with Trossard more in the 8 role. Such a tricky player, with an eye for a goal and an assist he can rotate in a match with Martinelli and Jesus. Maybe not one to use if you are sitting behind the ball, but in matches against lesser opponents he seems perfect.

    1. trossard, although talented, is not a center mid. he’s a striker. it’s difficult to ask him to do such an unfamiliar role against the top-class opposition in the premier league or the champions league, especially when the expectation is to win silverware. it’s pretty unforgiving for guys who don’t have their thing together.

  14. We are all out of our minds about ESR; I can’t remember a time when there was such unanimous admiration and single-minded obsession with getting a player back in the team. He’s my pick for the Xhaka replacement, and I’m in agreement with Adrian Clarke about loaning Fabio to a mid-table Prem club to see if he can cut it.

    Still, I wonder how much of our collective Emile-love is sepia-tinged. He was really, really good for that spell starting with the Chelsea win (was it 2? 3 seasons ago?), but his body of work is a small sample-size. At least it seems we’ll get to find out how much we’ve romanticized his quality as he’s staying. Phew.

  15. I’m surprised to learn that Charlie Patino is leaving Arsenal this summer. I’ve watched him play at Blackpool and he looked sharp. He’s only 19. I don’t see the logic in letting him go. Loan him out another year maybe. I’m afraid we’ll see him back in the PL in a Manchester United or Chelsea outfit someday.

    1. That’s an odd one for sure. The frame is there, the skills are there, he’s still under contract until 2025… Maybe he’s flat out said he doesn’t want to sign another deal with Arsenal? In which case we have to sell him. That’s the only thing I can think of.

  16. Rice (if he comes in) is not a Xhaka replacement – he’s a Partey replacement. He’s brilliant defensively, but not a box crasher.

    There is a rumor that Arteta has been working with ESR to repurpose him as and LCM. It may be the reason that he’s been used sparingly at the end of the season because he’s not considered a winger anymore. Against Wolves he came on as a RCM to replace Odegaard – similar position, similar tactical instructions.

    The last two games Arteta experimented with Partey as an inverted RB, to offset the loss of Zinchenko, but keep the same team tactics, just flip them. An even better inverted RB would be Caicedo, who played RB against Arsenal and did a stellar job, or if you want a discount version, Tyler Adams, who plays RB occasionally for the USMNT and did for Leeds also.

    Can’t believe that LCM is actually going to be a priority over Rice, a RW to back-up Saka or, if Partey is sold to a Serie A team as rumored, an RB/DM combo player (not Ivan Fresneda). If all that gets sorted, then you could even look at someone like James Maddison as an LCM – a free kick specialist, proven at Premier League level. But he would be third or fourth on the priority list. Just run with ESR as the main man at LCM.

    1. strangely, i agree and disagree with most everything you said.

      first, rice is not a xhaka replacement as he’s a cdm, not a #8. with that, he’s not a partey replacement either. i’d like to think of him as competition for partey.

      emile is a #10 who replaced another #10 on sunday; nothing to see there. we all know emile can play as a cam and as a striker. the question your idea asks is can he play as a #8. that’s a different skill set…gotta proceed with caution. simply throwing a young striker like emile into the center of a premier league midfield could see him struggle when he doesn’t need to. that’s bad management that could ruin his career. why not just go out and get another #8 and let emile do what we already know he’s good at? this is why the #8 is a higher priority than the ones you mentioned; if xhaka leaves, arsenal don’t have a single #8 in the entire first team. they need 2.

      i agree with caicedo’s performances as an inverted rb. i think i even mentioned here on 7am how good he was against rashford about a month ago. the sad part that no one is talking about is that ben white should be able to do the job partey’s being asked to do. seriously, why did arsenal pay £56 million for him? he’s supposed to be this great passer who can play rb, cb, and cdm. it should be easy work for him, right?

      james maddison, like emile, odegaard, and even fabio, is a #10. arsenal don’t need him. he brings nothing new to the team and he’d cost a fortune. arsenal don’t need another cam. they need 2 box-to-box center mids. that’s why getting in a #8 is the priority.

      1. a part i want to dig deeper on is the part i mentioned about rice being competition for partey.

        look, folks can snivel and whine about how much money city has. the bottom line is this; man city are arguably the best team in the history of football by virtue of the fact that every day, those top class players have to compete against the best players they’ve ever played with just to be in the team.

        imagine this. every single training session, each player knows there’s another player at the club in their position that’s good enough to play. you know that and the other guy knows it too. likewise, you both know you have a manager who will drop you like a bad habit if you have a bad day of training. if the other guys goes out and has a blinder while you’re on the bench, it could be a while before you even have a chance to get back into the team.

        this is what arsenal need to build; a place where players simply can’t afford to be complacent. if your “starter” doesn’t have competition, you need a club that will buy you competition for your spot, not just a backup. this competition on the training ground is how the game grows. this is how your training sessions are more difficult than your games. this is how you become the best team in the world.

      2. Have you forgotten that we have a certain Jorginho? And he isn’t going anywhere. He’s the competition for Partey or Rice, not Rice and Partey for each other. Jorginho has no sell-on value this summer. And we don’t need three CDM’s. Even City – the kings of squad depth – runs with just Rodri and Philips, the latter of whom barely played. When those two weren’t available they threw Gundogan in the CDM role for the odd game.

        Ben White has been the best RB in the league this season. When Zinchenko inverts, Arsenal become a back three and so the fact that Ben knew when and how to push up and support Saka (granted with Saliba behind him as a fast 6’4″ insurance policy) was a testament to his excellent form.

        What I believe Arteta and Edu’s transfer strategy this summer will be as follows:

        We continue with the 4-3-3. We don’t play with a #10 per se – it’s a midfield triangle, with two #8’s and a #6 that becomes a box when the LB or RB inverts to create a double-pivot. It worked wonders all season, don’t fix what isn’t broken.

        Sell Balogun, Tavares, Lokonga, Pepe, Patino and Xhaka. Probably earn about 60-70m from those sales, with Balogun and Xhaka being 2/3 of that.

        Saliba will sign a new deal.

        We buy Rice for 100m give or take. Sounds like he wants to come in.

        Partey, 30, on big wages, injury prone and despite being a senior member of the team, demonstrates limited leadership. He has unresolved off-field issues.
        He’s also a bit of a Goldilocks player – he needs everyone purring around him to look his best. If another team wants to take him off our hands, we sell. Another 20m in sales.

        Tierney, 26, is a square peg in a round hole on the current team. Sell. That means you have just Zinchenko at LB. Another 20m in sales. We’re over 100m now in total sales.

        It’s all good when Zinchenko is healthy – Zinchenko inverts next to Rice or Jorginho. But Zinchenko is injury prone. What’s the alternative?

        If we sell Partey, Caicedo comes in as a CDM/RB combination player who can spell Rice or Jorginho or play RB when Zinchenko is hurt.

        When Caicedo plays RB, then Ben White slides back to RCB (to spell Saliba) and Tomiyasu plays the LCB (not Kiwior who is right footed).

        Tomiyasu becomes the back-up to Zinchenko then at LB. Problem solved with the sale of Tierney. Look at buying a young 18/19 year LB that can be loaned out for a year of development.

        Tomiyasu will work better with Trossard on LW, because he operates more like Saka on the RW. Tomiyasu is completely capable of duplicating Ben White’s performances on the right next season.

        I don’t see City selling us Joao Cancelo. He could play an inverted LB or RB for us. Guardiola knows this. He will never sell us someone with that much tactical flexibility and who would save us spending money on two positions.

        We need to rest Saka more. Marquinhos needs another loan spell. If Wilfried Zaha could play RW, that would be amazing – a lifelong Arsenal fan. The team will probably re-sign Reiss Nelson and leave it at that.

        ESR is the new LCM. But need a quality back-up. Some Brazilian wonder-kid on the cheap.

        Rice + Caicedo = 150m in spending. Plus another 50m for young LB and young LCM.

        Sales = 100m+

        So, +/- 50m net spend but considering we’re bumping all the players’ contracts (Saka, Saliba, Ramsdale, Odegaard, Martinelli… Rice will be in the 300k range), that might be all we can afford at this time. And it keeps some powder dry in case we need a reinforcement or two in January.

        There. Hire me Edu.

        1. once again, i agree and disagree.

          partey, at his best level, still needs competition. jorginho, even at his best, is no competition for top-form partey. in fact, the only reason jorginho is at the club is because of the injury to elneny…and arsenal’s preferred choice, caicedo, was unavailable. jorginho is not competition for partey, he’s merely cover. however, rice would be competition.

          btw, elneny also has another year on his contract meaning there could be 4 cdms. also know that ilkay gundogan, guardioa’s first signing for man city, was the cdm at klopp’s dortmund. lastly, partey was available for nearly every game for arsenal this season. how does that make him injury prone?

          i wasn’t really being critical of ben white as a right back…only highlighting that, on paper, it seems he should be fully capable of playing the inverted wingback role but arteta hasn’t tasked him to do it.

          it may be tougher than you think to sell the likes of lokonga, tavares, and pepe. that’s not including the fact that partey is on like £165k a week. no one in italy is going to give him that so what makes you think he would go to italy?

          likewise, it’s been tough getting saliba to agree an extension. he wants to get paid and who can argue that? last year, arsenal gave their 3rd-string center forward, eddie money, a 5-year deal worth £100k a week. saliba’s got to be worth significantly more than that. ramsdale is on that and rumor has bukayo is on £300k a week with odegaard due to get the same.

          saliba got injured and watched arsenal’s title bid disintegrate without him in the team. yeah…..he’s about to get paid. if not, he’ll go somewhere like real madrid as a free agent, where he’ll definitely make more than what he’s asking from edu. arsenal have no leverage. tim and i argued about eddie being on that high a wage upsetting the wage structure in the coming seasons. i said it would and he said i was exaggerating; hyperbole was the word he used. i think we’re seeing it.

        2. I’d be shocked to see us landing caicedo and rice…as total price likely over 200m for the pair. Could see Chelsea doing a mudryk in our caicedo designs and starting the bidding where we left off in Jan.

  17. I do think if Arsenal can create a defensively stable system with øde and ESR in the same MF and re integrate balogun, they can improve to being a 1.5 xGD p90 team.
    Øde behind martinelli and ESR beside Saka would improve their already outstanding numbers too.

    It’s a big shame we sold willock.
    He would get 20 G+A as an #8 easily.

    We will need to bolster defensively so that we can play 2 offensive #8s.

    1. that’s just it, brother. i can’t see a defensively stable midfield featuring both odegaard and emile…unless you play odegaard as a #8, which he can do but it would be a waste of his talents. odegaard just equalled kevin debruyne’s record for most goals from open play by a midfielder in premier league history with 15. nah, arsenal need to acquire a more robust pair of #8s and allow emile to compete with odegaard for the #10 spot.

      1. Øde is playing #8 anyway
        I don’t think it’s impossible in the non big games to play both.

        City used to play D. Silva and KDB in the same MF and won the league with 100 points.

        We can do that, Rice and inverted FBs can make it work atleast in non big games

        In big games, bench ESR and play a right footed,proper B2B

        A creative passer behind Martinelli and a runner to combine with Saka will improve this team offensively.

        I hope Arteta gives balogun a chance too.
        We would smash 100 goals every league season with this.

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