Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Return of the Xhak?

Morning. A quick Saturday round-up for you.

I’m having some derby anxiety dreams. I can’t remember which player it was, but they got a red card for something stupid and in the post-match press conference Mikel Arteta announced his intention to kill that player. Properly kill though. Not the ‘I’m going to kill you!’ thing a parent will say when a child does something wrong, but literally kill. To death. Fatally.

He was asked about red cards in relation to one particular player who, in his last Premier League game, got sent off, but made a general point about the need for discipline, saying:

“Obviously, if we do what we did last year and we play four or five games with 10 players then we are going to suffer in this league.

“It’s something we want to eradicate. We need 11 players on that pitch, that’s 100 per cent sure and we have to play with cool minds and understand what are the limits in the game and what you can and cannot do.”

Perhaps a not so subtle message for Granit Xhaka who, I suspect, will return to the team tomorrow after his suspension. Last season we had five red cards in the Premier League, and in those games we took just 2 points from a possible 12 (two of the red cards were in the one game, Luiz and Leno v Wolves). There were draws against Leeds and Southampton, but it’s fairly obvious that a team which finds winning a challenge at the best of times is going to struggle even more when reduced to ten men (or fewer).

Luiz, with his tired old legs, was a bit of a red card magnet though, and Xhaka’s last red before Man City was Burnley at home last season when he was stupid and grabbed an opponent by the throat. However, he did go through the entire 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons without being sent off, so he does have periods where he can manage not to be stupid so hopefully if he does play tomorrow all the stupid will have gone from his system and it’ll take some time for the stupid to build back up again and then explode like some kind of zit.

There is one way of making sure Xhaka doesn’t get sent off tomorrow, and that’s not picking him, and let me state for the record I’d be fine with that. I liked the set-up against Burnley, even if it didn’t quite come off from an attacking perspective, but it’s just one game with that system and if it is to develop, surely you need to use it more. That said, as Phil Costa pointed out on the Arsecast, what Sp*rs do in midfield – which required some tinkering from Thomas Tuchel last weekend – might play a part in our line-up, as much as Xhaka’s apparent indestructibility when it comes to being selected.

Arsenal with Xhaka this season (Premier League): 3 games, 0 wins, 0 goals (1 red card).

Arsenal without Xhaka this season (Premier League): 2 games, 2 wins, 2 goals (0 red cards).

I know that stat doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny, there was a lot more going on in those first three games than his presence, but in his absence others have stepped up, others have contributed positively, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Xhaka to have to wait for his chance. There are some players who could get sent off for something ridiculously stupid, but whose talent level means they come straight back into the team without any question.

For example, if Thierry Henry – in his pomp – flicked a referee in the balls and got sent off, you’d say ‘That was very stupid’, but as soon as he was available again you’d pick him because what he’d bring to the team is so valuable. I don’t think that applies to Granit Xhaka, to be honest. He’s not so fundamental to the team that his place should be assured.

Anyway, we’ll find out more tomorrow about the team. It’d be fair to point out that Xhaka has had good games in the derby, and his relationship with Thomas Partey saw him produce some of his best form at times last season, so I can see why he might get picked – an experienced midfield around which the younger players can hopefully do their stuff. It’s just a personal preference for me, I’d rather something different.

Right, well I’ve written far more words about Granit Xhaka than I had intended to, and I feel like I need some coffee and possibly a bacon sandwich of some kind which will be difficult because I don’t have any bacon and my legendary bacon sandwich outlet ‘Matt the Rashers’ has closed down.

There’s a Premier League preview podcast available right now over on Patreon, we’ll cover any news throughout the day on Arseblog News, and I’ll be back tomorrow with a full North London derby preview.

Until then, take it easy.

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