Is Granit Xhaka’s role at Arsenal under threat?
Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career has been turbulent, to say the least. The Swiss international divided opinion from the moment he first walked through the doors at London Colney, arriving with a reputation for being ill-disciplined while committing numerous costly errors on the pitch (Brighton at home, anyone?).
Despite these issues, he has always retained the trust of his manager at both club and international level, often to the bemusement of many fans.
It appeared that his north London adventure was drawing to a close following the infamous substitution bust-up last season at home to Crystal Palace, and a January move to Hertha Berlin was in the works.
More from Arsenal News
- 3 standout players from 1-0 victory over Everton
- 3 positives & negatives from Goodison Park victory
- Arsenal vs PSV preview: Prediction, team news & lineups
- 3 talking points from Arsenal’s victory at Goodison Park
- Mikel Arteta provides Gabriel Martinelli injury update after Everton win
However, incredibly, an eleventh-hour intervention by new boss Mikel Arteta sparked the beginning of a London renaissance for Xhaka and, courtesy of a few tactical tweaks, the former Borussia Mönchengladbach man thrived in his new hybrid left-back role – becoming, once again, an integral piece of the Arsenal jigsaw.
We all know about Xhaka’s limitations. He has a distinct lack of athleticism and is extremely dependent on his left foot, which not only adds an element of predictability to his play but also makes him particularly vulnerable to a high-press, an increasingly common demand in modern football.
Until now, this has not restricted his first-team opportunities, but it may do just that, going forward, thanks to the unexpected resurgence of Mohamed Elneny.
I’ll admit it, I thought Elneny’s Arsenal days were numbered when he sealed his loan move to Besiktas last summer, fully expecting him to be sent on his merry way upon returning. The former Basel man had never truly established himself at the Emirates and his importance to the team looked to be limited to that of a squad player.
However, the Egyptian has returned to the fold and his re-introduction to the Premier League has been quite remarkable (channeling my inner Martin Keown!). Bearing in mind the form of Xhaka and Dani Ceballos towards the end of last season, Elneny has been afforded a surprising amount of playing time this term and was entrusted with a lot of responsibility at Old Trafford on Sunday.
He repaid that faith in spades, putting in (un)arguably his best performance for the club.
Perhaps his new-found importance in the side should not be a major surprise. He has a good range of passing and is very safe in his distribution, similar to Xhaka, but he far exceeds him in terms of mobility and industry. Similar to what Guendouzi offered – only without the disciplinary problems – Elneny is a very capable ball-carrier and always plays with a degree of urgency.
While not really doing anything wrong, Xhaka is suddenly under a lot of pressure – which, from watching him play, is not something that he enjoys.
It’s a great complaint to have, that we now have multiple players battling out for starting places (it’s been a while!), and the increased competition in the squad will only help Arteta in his mission to galvanise what was a demoralised squad and make us competitive once again.