Well it has been quite a week supporting The Arsenal. A stirring come back in the Premier League, an exciting victory over Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, a first glimpse of Kieran Tierney, the return of Holding and Bellerin and the captaincy decision played out in the public arena.
The decision to name Granit Xhaka ahead of the trip to Old Trafford was always going to divide the Arsenal supporter base but then most issues do these days. This is a player who has captained his country for years, has over 100 caps and skippered his previous club at a similar age to Adams taking the armband here. So why are so many up in arms at Emery’s decision, particularly, whether you agree with the poll or not, when Xhaka reportedly had the support of his peers?
I won’t pretend to answer for everyone, but I will answer for myself and the reasons for my doubts are multiple.
I am a believer that the captain of Arsenal should be one of the first names on the manager’s team sheet and his place in the side should be beyond doubt. For Arsene Wenger and also for Emery last season Xhaka was certainly ever present if fit. However, that was before the signing if Ceballos, the stepping up of Guendouzi and the emergence of Joe Willock. Add to that mix that Lucas Torreira now has a full season of Premier League football behind him.
Emery is fluctuating between 4231 and 433 as he shuffles his pack to accommodate his attacking flair but either way, we have 5 candidates, all with strong claims, for 2 or 3 central midfield positions. We will all have personal view on the formation and the personnel, but I am sure most of us want to see our captain playing every week. Certainly, we have recent memories of Vermaelen, Arteta and Mertesacker for various reasons being non-playing skippers. Emery has come out in defence of his decision on Xhaka but that, along with the making of the player vote public, seem to demonstrate to me, weakness and uncertainty. Why did he need to tell us the players back him and why have that vote at all? The very fact that our coach feels a need to justify his process, his thinking and his ultimate decision suggests he is aware his decision is perhaps controversial and not universally popular.
Of course, Emery is not assisted by Xhaka’s form and high-profile errors and poor decision making but for me that is largely down to him. The Swiss has many attributes but playing him as the deepest midfielder, don’t allow him to show his passing strength and vision, whilst highlighting his weaknesses – lack of pace, average anticipation, one footedness and occasional reckless tackling. In reality, three of his weaknesses are inter-linked. His lack of anticipation exposes his lack of pace and that can lead to the need to make last ditch challenges. His inability to turn onto his right foot can make it easier for the opposition to pressure him when he is facing his own goal, which as the deepest midfielder, playing out for the back, he will often be.
I, along with many, would prefer to see Torriera, back in front of the back four, utilising his superior speed, anticipation and tenacity. The Uruguayan is not a perfect defensive midfielder but of the five options he is the most obvious choice and after all it was the position we brought him in to play. Having Torreira at the base allows Xhaka to play slightly further up the field, on the left of the three as he does for Switzerland or in a two if we opt for 4231.
If when Emery has Lacazette fit, he reverts to a 433, with Aubameyang on the left, which, for the record I hope he does not, then, in a three-man midfield, Xhaka would have a strong claim to play. However, if he continues with Aubameyang centrally with Pepe and Saka or Nelson wide he needs a partner for Torreira and a centrally attacking midfielder, presumably, Ceballos or Ozil. It is in this situation and this is what I would like to see, that I struggle to justify our captain’s selection. I simply prefer Guendouzi and what he brings to the team.
You could even add in to the debate that Ceballos, in Spain played alongside a DM, in a two and not at 10, so he could easily play with Torreira. His two footedness and his ability to play himself of tight situations brings to mind Cazorla, when he played deeper alongside Francis Coquelin. We could discuss multiple combinations and of course the come back against Villa was completed with a young midfield trio of Willlock, Torreria and Guendouzi and when Xhaka was withdrawn.
I guess what I am really saying is that I believe in the traditional role of a club captain at a club like the Arsenal. I accept the game if ever changing and the off the field role is also crucial as well but when the chips are down and in the really big games, I want my skipper to be a go to player on the pitch. I want that man to be virtually certain to play in every stern test and for me Granit Xhaka should not have that assurance. I also would like the coach to make a decision that can have some longevity and I do not see Xhaka in the role, having that. If he is struggling to justify a weekly starting berth this season, it will only get worse as Guendouzi and Willock grow and mature. Certainly, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are both likely to be integral to this Arsenal team for many years and both would have been better candidates for me.
Enough rambling for one day. I cannot change it but I hope for Emery’s sake he has not made a decision that ultimately ties him to a selection or a formation to accommodate that selection that could cost our Champion’s League aspirations and even his job.