When Thomas Partey joined the club, it was felt Xhaka would play the holding role whilst Partey would be further forward.
This would utilise Partey’s ability to get around the pitch and press and bully opponents.
It would be reminiscent to the Emmanuel Petit / Patrick Vieira partnership – where you have a fairly static, deep-lying midfielder who passes and a physical, energetic midfield further forward.
And this is how the partnership started.
But midway through this season Mikel Arteta made a subtle tactical change and begun to play Party deeper and Xhaka further forward.
This restricted Partey to doing the grunt work infront of the defence – and has led him to put in his best performances in an Arsenal shirt.
Meanwhile Xhaka further up the pitch dictates play and provides a key link in transitioning the ball from defence to attack via his world class passing ability.
It also means when Xhaka has one of his mad moments – dwelling on the ball or playing a blind pass – he is further up the pitch with more players behind him.
It can not be denied playing further up the park has made Xhaka a better player. His only glaring error in recent months was against Liverpool when Partey was at the AFCoN and he was back to playing as the deepest midfielder.
For Switzerland, Xhaka is a different player and this is because Denis Zakaria plays behind him in a similar role to what Partey has undertaken recently.
Would I be upset if Xhaka stayed beyond this season? No. But if he does leave, it is clear we need to replace him with someone who has similar attributes – a midfielder who can dictate the game through his short and long passing and also capable of putting in a defensive shift.
If real-life was Football Manager, Ruben Neves would be a Granit Xhaka re-gen.
He has all the attributes Xhaka has. And also lacks the attributes Xhaka is missing.
Neves should have been a global star by now.
It is 6 and a half years since he captained Porto in the Champions League at just 18 years and 221 days, becoming the youngster player to start as captain the competition.
In 2017 he made the surprising move to Wolves, who were in the Championship at the time. From Champions League to the Championship.
He was part of the Portuguese revolution at Wolves , and the feeling was he would have a couple of good seasons and be sold on for huge profit.
Neves is now in his 5th season at Wolves and turns 25-years-old in March. You feel if he does not move this summer, questions will begin to be asked about his motivation to play at the highest level.
Like Xhaka, Neves is a defensively minded midfielder who is extremely comfortable on the ball. He starts the majority of Wolves’ attacks with his range of accurate passing. He is also not shy putting in a defensive shift.
Like Xhaka, he is not the quickest player in the world and he does make the odd mistake.
Neves has also never been sent off in the Premier League.
I do think too much is made of Xhaka’s “discipline problems”.
He has only received 2 Premier League red cards since the 2016/16 season and 4 in 172 Premier League games. The fact that he has never been sent off for two bookable offence highlights he actually has a lot of self control.
On average, Xhaka gets booked once every 3.65 games; whilst Neves is once every 5.2.
There is an argument (which has been made a lot recently) that referees are quicker to book Arsenal players. But Neves averages less than once foul a game compared to Xhaka averaging nearly two.
Interestingly, both players have made an identical number of Premier League appearances – 172.
If we are saying that Xhaka is the right player, but the wrong person, than Neves would be a perfect like-for-like replacement.
I have adored Youri Tielemans for years and followed his career since I saw him play against Arsenal in October 2014.
It is incredible to think that was nearly 8 years ago and Tielemans is still just 24-years-old.
When he joined Monaco in 2016 for €25 million, I was disappointed that it was not an Arsenal shirt he was holding.
That was the same summer we signed Xhaka – as well as Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez. Two years later he was off to Leicester City.
For Leicester he begun to play further forward, behind a striker with James Maddison pushed out wide.
This season Brendan Rodgers has pushed him deeper, back to the more classically central midfield role he played in for Anderlecht and Monaco.
Tielemans is a fantastic passer of the ball. One of the best in the league. He is also a goal threat from around the age of the area (and at set pieces).
But he is not as enthusiastic doing the defensive work as the attacking. At Leicester, Wilfred Ndidi has to get through an extraordinary workload covering him.
Arsenal dominate 80% of the games we play, so you could argue that what Tielemans brings in attacking prowess would be more beneficial then what he does not bring defensively. But it is those 20% of games that turn us from Top 4 challengers to title challengers.
Were we to sign Tielemans, we would potentially need to bring in another more defensive minded midfielder who can play in those bigger games.
Tielemans would also provide cover for Martin Odergaard.
You could possibly make an argument that when we to play bigger sides, it is Odergaard that is dropped rather than Tielemans. That against Man City or Liverpool, we play someone more defensive alongside Partey, and then have Tielemans ahead of them.
Tielemans would add further creativity to the midfield at the expense of some defensive stability.
The on loan Arsenal youngster might be a surprise to you reading this.
If Matteo Guendouzi was not an Arsenal player, he would be one of those who would fit the criteria to be a transfer target.
He fits the profile of what Arsenal have recruited recently – a young, hungry player who has more experience than the average player his age.
Guendouzi is closing in on 200 appearances – over 130 of which have been in the top flight across England, France and Germany.
His career is on a knife edge at the moment.
Guendouzi has shown his talent for both Arsenal and Marseille. He is a potential leader who is capable of taking a game by the scruff of the neck and driving a team forward.
But he is also petulant, childlike in his behaviour. He has had fallings out with management everywhere he has been.
He reminds me of Mario Balotelli. The talent is there and if he grows up, he could be a superstar.
But if he does not grow up, he will be wasting his talent.
Whilst Guendouzi is a driving force in midfield, his statistics show a player who is lazy defensively.
He plays like a number 10 that is frustrated that he has been asked to play deeper, and as a result refuses to put in a defensive shift.
Arsenal need a midfielder next to Partey who can dictate the play, but also dig in when needed.
We have discussed Tielemans also being a bit lazy in defence, but you can carry that when you are as good on the ball as the Belgium. Guendouzi is not at Teilemans level.
With Guendouzi, you have all the defensive frailties Tielemans brings but not as much creativity.
Marseille have an option to buy Guendouzi at the end of his season long loan. As it stands they will likely take up that option, even if they plan to sell him straight on for profit.
If Arsenal wish to have him back, Edu might have to stump up £30million+ and waive the Marseille fee to have a player we currently own return.
Will Guendouzi return to Arsenal? Probably not. And it has been a worthwhile exercise explaining why.
A lesser known player on this list and one that is only now coming onto many fans radar.
When Monaco signed Tchouameni for £16million a few eyebrows were raised in France – the Bordeaux graduate had only started 13 league games for the club.
In the 18-months since, Tchouameni has become the lynchpin in Monaco’s young, talented midfield and also broken through to the French national team.
If Declan Rice is the best U23 midfielder in the world right now, Tchouameni is not far behind.
Playing in the Premier League, Rice has performed at a higher level. But that does not justify Rice’s reported fee being twice that of Tchouameni. English tax in action.
Despite being just 22, Tchouameni is currently vice-captain for Monaco. He would bring leadership
Tchouameni is simply a beast of a player – described recently as a “ruthless ballwinner” he has the physical and ariel presence to dominate midfield.
But he is also technically proficient.
Comfortable with the ball, he is a threat running with it and also has a good range of passing.
Cesc Fabregas stated “He has the potential to become a complete midfielder” when asked about his team mate.
Everything points to Tchouameni becoming one of the best midfielders in the world. If Arsenal want him, they will have to beat the Madrid’s, Juventus’s, Munich’s and Manchester City’s of this world to secure his signature.