Friday, March 1, 2024

Granit Xhaka in the departure lounge again?

On the Arsecast Extra on Monday we had a question about which player, currently considered important to the first team, might be a surprise departure this summer.

I chose one of Granit Xhaka or Thomas Partey. Yesterday, it was reported that the Swiss midfielder would be leaving in the summer, with advanced talks going on between Arsenal and Bayer Leverkeusen. A fee of somewhere around £13-15m was being mooted. I saw someone on Twitter suggest that Xhaka had a conversation with Xabi Alonso, and there’s a kind of symmetry between leaving one Basque coach for another. Alonso and Mikel Arteta came up together at Real Sociedad.

On ESPN, James Olley reports that Xhaka is ‘ready to leave if Arsenal are not willing to offer him a new, longer-term contract’. It feels like we have been extending Xhaka on and off for a couple of years now. He currently has a deal that runs until 2024, with an option to take it to 2025, and while there was a certain amount of teeth-gnashing when it happened, it would make sense if it was done to protect his value with a view to cashing in on him while there is still some value left.

Which sounds very cynical, especially given the excellent season he had, but how many times have we had the conversation about players leaving for free and all the rest? Clearly there were footballing reasons to extend him, not least because he’s a player Mikel Arteta has a lot of trust in, and that was rewarded with his fine form in the last couple of seasons. However, we haven’t sold well for some time – for reasons we all understand – so putting in place deals like this to help us generate revenue from the existing squad were important.

I do find it a curious one though. After so many years out of the Champions League, it would be strange timing for him to go having helped us back into it. There are some suggestions there might be family motives behind the return to Germany, and when you’re being linked with high profile, and very expensive moves for Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo, somebody has to make way. Not to mention incoming revenue in will offset some of the expenditure. When you look at the squad, Xhaka has greater transfer market value than either Jorginho or Mohamed Elneny, and while we’ll probably look to sell Albert Sambi Lokonga, it’s hard to know what he might bring in after an underwhelming loan spell at Crystal Palace.

There is a touch of the Mark Twain to Xhaka though, in that the reports of his Arsenal departure have been, previously at least, greatly exaggerated. We’ve been in this departure lounge before and the plane never took off. Still, there does seem to be plenty of smoke, which suggests some fire too. We also saw some team selections and substitutions this season which hinted that the manager might be looking in a slightly different direction. They didn’t necessarily work out, but they happened. In the absence of any further information in the meantime, we can closely observe the rigorousness of Xhaka’s waving after the final game against Wolves. You can nearly always tell when a player is saying goodbye, so let’s see how that goes.

I’ve seen talk that this deal might also be a bridge between the clubs to facilitate interesting Moussa Diaby. With 14 goals and 11 assists this season, playing primarily on the right but with the versatility to play elsewhere, you can see how he might be a player Arsenal are interested in. He’s 23, doesn’t have a super-long contract at Leverkeusen, and he is quick. There’s a lot of talk about how Arteta is looking for that injection of pace in our final third, so putting two and two together gives you a reasonable-sounding four. I would just say that the summer hasn’t even begun, we’ve already been linked with more players than I can count, and it’s only the beginning. Expect more names, more rumours, more scuttlebutt. That’s just how it goes.

We still have two games to play, let’s not forget.

In other news, Flo Balogun will play his international football for the US having represented England at U21 level up to now. There were stories in the last Interlull about how he’d travelled to Miami for discussions, and the New York born striker has made his choice in that regard. It demonstrates he’s not afraid to make significant changes, and after reports last month which made it clear he’s looking for regular first team football next season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there was another one in his club set-up. Let’s see.

For some extra listening, we have an episode of The 30 for you over on Patreon. Finally for today, regardless of our own issues in the last few weeks, football reporter Gavin Cooney makes an excellent point in the video below.

Till tomorrow.

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