When Arsenal sold Granit Xhaka in the summer, it seemed like the right decision to let the Swiss man play out his days as a starter in a good Bundesliga side while Mikel Arteta made the necessary recruitments to replace him.
However, in the first three games of the season, Arsenal have been off-balance and shaky at times, and there is a Swiss warrior-shaped hole in the team. In Germany on the other hand, Xhaka and Bayer Leverkusen have enjoyed a perfect start to the season with 14 goals in three games (if you include their first-round DFB-Pokal victory).
KaiHavertz has so far played in Xhaka’s #8 role but hasn’t looked convincing. In both attack and defence, the German has looked a bit tentative and complacent. The relationship with Gabriel Martinelli hasn’t yet blossomed and when Havertz was subbed off for Fabio Vieira against Fulham, the team seemed much more dynamic and fluid.
Piling criticism onto Havertz doesn’t seem fair in this extremely early stage of his Arsenal career, but something needs to change. Xhaka was an imperious presence in the Arsenal team in both defence and attack, sniffing out transitions and popping up in the unlikeliest of attacking positions.
His departure has created problems for this Arsenal side, which Arteta has tried to solve with Havertz and plenty of tinkering (21 outfield players have already played for the Gunners this season). It looks like more alterations are needed for Arsenal to really hit their stride.
3 ways Arsenal can fill their Granit Xhaka-shaped hole
So, how do Arsenal solve their Granit Xhaka problem? Here are three solutions.
1. Play Declan Rice in a more advanced role
Like Xhaka and unlike Havertz, Declan Rice is an all-phase midfield player capable of helping out the attack just as much as the defence. He can run with the ball, he can shoot well and he is already building a relationship with the attackers.
At West Ham, he was almost always employed in a double pivot alongside Tomáš Souček. I think this made it more difficult for Rice to show his offensive capabilities but they are there and Arteta is certainly able to get them out of him.
Defensively, Rice is superior to Xhaka. Rice has the ability to lunge into tackles with seemingly unfaltering precision, destroying attacks before they even begin. He can also cover great distances to recover balls and will be more useful in defence than the Swiss man, who was never the most mobile.
The question is whether Rice can have the same impact as Xhaka in attack. The only way to find out would be to play him in that role, and I feel confident he would bring goals to the team.
The #6 role would then be open to either Thomas Partey or Jorginho, who’ll be supported by an inverted Oleksandr Zinchenko when Arsenal have the ball.
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