With the Fabio Vieira deal edging closer and Arsenal still in for Youri Tielemans, what does the future hold for Granit Xhaka?
When we were first linked with Tielemans, the conclusion was simple – Tielemans and Xhaka would rotate depending on formation.
Tielemans would play when we wanted to play more attacking football, at home to most sides and away to the “lesser” teams.
Meanwhile Xhaka would come in when we want to be a bit more defensive – playing against your top teams of those tricky away days against more physical sides.
If we started with Tielemans and wanted to go more defensive during the game, Xhaka would come on. If we started defensive and wanted to go more attacking, then Tielemans would come on.
With Arsenal set to play 50 games next season, there would be more than enough game time for the paid.
Through in Martin Odergaard and it would leave us with 3 players for two positions (if Odergaard needed a break, Tielemans would move to the right of Thomas Partey and Xhaka would be on the left).
With Fabio Vieira joining the club, what does this mean?
No more Tielemans
Could the simpliest thinking be the realist? That Arsenal have decided to go for Vieira instead of Tielemans? And that those now linking us to the Leicester City midfielder are doing it just to fill colomn inches?
You would then have the exact scenario detailed above, but instead of it being Xhaka dn Tielemans it is Vieira and Xhaka?
Whilst this might be the simple explination, I think it is the least plausible. I still think we will see Tielemans in North London next season.
No more Xhaka
Could it actually be that Tielemans is still a target for a more creative force in central midfield, and Vieira is coming in as a Xhaka replacement?
Whilst Vieira is more known as an attacking player, he has occasionally played as a “deeper 8”.
Arsenal will line up next year with Partey as the deepest midfielder, Odergaard one side and “someone else” the other.
That means we will have “two 8s” either side of the holding midfielder.
Both 8s will be expected to contribute in defence and attack.
If we signed Tielemans and Vieira, that would leave us with three 8s fighting it out for the two spots either side of Partey. Do we really need Xhaka as a “4th 8”?
You then have Mo Elneny as Partey’s “athletic” understudy (whilst Albert Sambi Lokonga continues his develop in the Europa League).
In the above we spoke about going a little bit more defensive in certain games. that would lead to Xhaka still playing as an 8, but his starting point would be a little deeper.
The question is can Vieira (or Tielemans) play as this deeper 8?
I am honeslty not sure.
Tielemans is certainly not as poor defensively as some make out – accusations that he is lazy in defence are fair of the mark.
As for Vieira, we do not really know enough about him as to whether he can be a more defensive option?
Keep Xhaka, Add Tielemans to Vieira
Squad depth is the name of the game.
We will play 50+ games next season. Can we accomodate all 3 as well as Odergaard, Partey, Elneny and Lokonga?
For that lets have a look at Manchester City and Liverpool who played 58 and 63 games respectively last season:
Manchester City gave 3000+ minutes to 5 midfielders – with Fernandinho being back up as a 6th. Meanwhile Liverpool utilised 7 different midfielders on a regular basis.
So what about if we filter Arsenal’s potential 7 midfielders into the equation?
Suddenly it does not look like we have too many players, but we have squad depth.
Taking into account Elneny has just one year on his deal and Lokonga has yet to reach the heights we expected, I would expect our end of season minutes to not be too dissimilar to Liverpool’s.
The core two will be Partey and Odergaard (Henderson and Fabinho). then Tielemans and Xhaka would play the role Thiago and Kieta have.
That will leave Vieira, Elneny and Lokonga sharing the minutes that Jones, Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain did.
In 12 months time, Elneny will be gone leaving us with 6 midfielders.
At that point we switch to what City have done.
Partey would be Rodri, Odergaard equal de Bruyne and Tielemans is Bernardo Silva.
Fabio Vieira then plays minutes similar to Phil Foden, Xhaka similar to Gundogan and and Lokonga plays the Fernadinho minutes.
With the Europa League, we will be playing a completely different XI in the Premier League compared to Europe.
If we sign Tielemans and Xhaka stays there will be enough minutes to keep everyone happy.
Add in that Vieira can also play outwide (some of Milner, Silva and Foden’s minutes last season have come out wide) and we are starting to have a deep, strong squad once more.
Last year, with no European football we only needed 5 midfielders.
If we played 25% more games next season (55 games v 45), we arguably need 25% more players.
That means between 6 & 7 midfielders.
With Vieira being a new signing, Elneny being average and the jury out on Lokonga, 7 would make more sense than 6.
In conclusion, we need to prepare to play close to 60 games next season. To ensure we do not fall off physically like we did this, we need the squad depth.
Tielemans is Premier League ready. Xhaka gives us a more defensive options. Vieira has to adapt to a new league.
Sign the two new lads, keep Xhaka. Finish top 4 and we go again!