Tag Archives: Granit Xhaka

4312 for The Arsenal is not “too defensive”

Arsenal’s best performance this season came against Chelsea. A 2-0 victory in a game that The Gunners dominated.

The formation we played in that match was 4312. It is a formation we have played numerous times since; and one which Unai Emery has come in for some stick for.

Fans wrongly claim that we are playing 3 defensive midfielders. Lucas Torreira Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. They are not all defensive midfielders.

Gunners Town recently spoke to a Lorient fan about Arsenal target Alexis Claude Maurice. During the discussion they talked about Guendouzi, who signed from Lorient last summer.

They expressed surprise at Arsenal fans labelling Guendouzi as a defensive or holding midfielder, as he has only ever been box-to-box growing up and was utilised in an attacking free role last season in French Ligue 2.

And that is the truth, Guendouzi does not play as a defensive midfielder. He is more box to box. A proper central midfielder. Like what Patrick Vieira was.

It seems in many fans mind, you are either an attacking midfielder (Mesut Ozil) or a defensive midfielder (Claude Makelele). There is nothing in between. But there is, and that is where Guendouzi sits.

Xhaka has also never really been an out and out defensive midfielder. In fact he struggled at Arsenal when he was the primary defensive midfielder.

For Borussia Mönchengladbach and Switzerland, he always played with someone behind him doing the bulk of the defensive work.

A hulk of a man, Xhaka did contribute to his sides defensively, but his man job was transitioning the ball from defence to attack with his excellent passing. He is not as box to box as Guendouzi, more a deep lying play maker. He certainly is not a defensive midfielder.

Lucas Torreira is the closest we have to a defensive midfielder, but even he is not a Makelele or Gilberto Silva.

The Uruguayan gets forward a lot more than someone who is simply a shied in front of a defence. And he is a much better passer and creator then people like Makelele, Gilberto or Fernandinho.

Whilst for Arsenal he is the deepest of the midfield 3, he is more than capable playing further forward. He is a talented guy.

The reality is, Emery is building a high energy midfield trio who can provide solid cover for the defence, but also push forward and press high.

Playing all 3 ensures that they can push forward backing up the front 3 when they press, knowing that one will still sit so that they are not all cut out with one ball through the midfield.

They also allow Hector Bellerin and Saed Kolasinac to bomb forward and provide extra cover for them.

I like the 12 upfront as well.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both love dropping out wide. This then creates space in the middle for an attacking midfielder to bomb into. Aaron Ramsey would have been ideal for this role with his goal scoring record.

Back to the midfield, I can see us continuing to play 3 in the middle next season. It is why Emery is looking at the likes of Adrien Rabiot and Christopher Nkunku. If we play 3, we need 6.

If we secure both Frenchmen, it will enable us to cash in on Mohamed Elneny and, alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles, we will have the midfielders we need to play the way Emery wants.

As for those who are still moaning about it being too defensive, let me ask you a question:

Is Liverpool’s midfield too defensive?

Liverpool also play a midfield 3. A trio combination of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho.

Let’s compare their Premier League statistics to the lads at Arsenal:

Xhaka – 1885 minutes played – 3 Goals; 1 Aassist

Guendouzi – 1466 – 0G 0A

Torreira – 1790 – 2G 2A

 

Fabinho – 1096 – 1G 2A

Wijnaldum – 1774 – 1G 0A

Henderson – 1234 – 0G 0A

Keita – 970 – 0G 1A

Totals:

 

Arsenal midfield:

5140 minutes played

5 goals; 3 assists

Liverpool midfield:

5074 minutes played

2 goals; 3 assists

Yet no one is saying Liverpool’s midfield is “too defensive.”

The truth is, playing Xhaka, Torreira and Guendouzi is not too defensive. It is probably the only part of the Arsenal side that is solid and actually working at the moment.

Keenos

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5 changes Unai Emery needs to make at Arsenal

Return to 4 at the back

I have never been a fan of 3 at the back.

It puts too much onus on the full backs, less to too much space in behind them and not enough cover in front.

To play 3 at the back you need your wide centre backs to be comfortable at full back.

Tottenham can do it as in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweild, they have two central defenders who have previously played full back.

Arsenal need to return to 4 at the back.

Play Xhaka/Torreira in the middle

The axis of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira is the best central midfield pairing in the Premier League.

The pair compliment each other. Both can defend, both can pass.

Torreira has allowed Xhaka to push further up the park, allowing him to be his aggressive self on the half way line. The Uruguayan also gives us that extra bit of protection when Xhaka miss reads a tackle or pass.

Both also have tremendous ability on the ball. Playing the pair gives the defence and goal keeper 2 options when playing out from the back. It is no surprise our passing is a lot better when both play.

Ultimately, the statistics speak for themselves:

Sign genuine width

Alex Iwobi is not good enough to play week in, week out. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are not natural wide men. Arsenal need to invest in a pair of wide forwards.

Playing 4 at the back, with Xhaka and Torreira in the middle, Arsenal have a stable base and centre. Add two wide men either side of a number 10 and the team is starting to take shape.

In the early part of the season, we were a threat in behind the opponents fulls backs. This was due to Iwobi and Aubameyang getting in behind – or making space for Bellerin and Monreal to get in behind.

With Iwobi and Mkhitaryan playing narrow, we lose all width and cover for the full backs.

Reiss Nelson returns in the summer. We need someone one the left hand side.

Decide his best striker

A tough decision needs to be made up top.

We have two top class strikers who broke our transfer record. Unai Emery needs to decide who his first choice is; and stick to it.

Do not panic

We have just lost our first game after going 22 unbeaten. We are in the race for 4th and progressing nicely in Europe.

Against Southampton we were a defensive mess. We were without our 3 first choice centre backs and started the game with a midfielder and a right back in central defence.

At the final whistle the only two defenders on the pitch have not started a league game for a combined 12 months.

There is not need to panic. No need to be rash in the transfer market.

Emery is here for the long term. Sanllehi and Mislintat have a long term vision. There is no need to rip that up just because we lost 1 game.

Keenos

How would long-term Arsenal target Adrien Rabiot fit in?

Long term reported Arsenal target Adrien Rabiot has announced that he is set to leave PSG on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The 23-year-old central midfielder was linked with Arsenal over 6 years ago; when he was just a 17-year-old who had yet to play a game.

Over the years, he has been in and out of the PSG team and missed out on France’s World Cup success after refusing to be put on the reserve list.

A tall, elegant central midfielder, he has never really fulfilled his potential that he showed as a teenager – with PSG preferring the midfield partnership of Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti as he struggled to break through.

Last season under Unai Emery he played 50 games – starting 27 in the league and 8 in the Champions League.  He has continued to be first choice under Thomas Tuchel.

With Aaron Ramsey set to leave Arsenal as a free transfer, Arsenal could well see Rabiot is an indirect replacement.

Signing Rabiot would mean that Arsenal could cash in on Mohamed Elneny and line up with midfield options of:

Grant Xhaka
Lucas Torreira
Adrien Rabiot
Matteo Guendouzi
Ainsley Maitland-Niles

It would be an exciting group of central midfielders with plenty of strength and would more than cover Emery’s preference of playing 2 deep midfielders; with one out and out defensive and the other box-to-box in his favoured 4231 formation.

A sticking point would be as to what role Rabiot would play.

Emery has previously spoken about Rabiot being a defensive midfielder rather than a box-to-box; with the Frenchman believing he is more box-to-box.

Emery said: “Let’s talk about Rabiot. He’s a central midfielder, who is more comfortable playing as a defensive midfielder rather than a creative one. Even if he remains more of box-to-box, rather than a defensive midfielder.

“When you want to play with a defensive, creative and box-to-box-midfielders in fixed positions, Rabiot finds himself confronted to a problem. He has to run, run, run and not play in a fixed position statically. And even less so with his back turned on the action.

“Rabiot doesn’t really like playing as a defensive midfielder, he likes playing as a box-to-box, but I prefer him as a defensive midfielder. That’s why after the elimination against Real Madrid [in the 2017/18 Champions League], I told him he would play as a defensive midfielder.

“In that position, he can be faced with play and switch around with [Marco] Verratti. He is more competitive in these conditions. With certain players, you can’t impose a strict idea. You have to adapt yourself to their characteristics in order to win in individual and collective competitiveness.”

Another sticking point could be salary.

BeIN Sport reported earlier this month that Rabiot had turned down a new contract for a third time, with PSG reportedly offering him £6.32m a year to remain with the Ligue 1 champions. That works out to a little over £120,000 a week.

Granit Xhaka is reportedly on £90,000 a week; Lucas Torreira on £75,000 a week.

All 3 players are equally as talented, and would be in a fair fight for the 2 central midfield roles. What would it do to squad harmony if we bought Rabiot in on twice as much money (potentially) as Lucas Torreira?

Some will say that Rabiot is superior to Xhaka and therefore justifies the higher salary. However Emery is unlikely to see it that way.

Xhaka is box-to-box in the current set up, with Torreira as the more defensive option. Rabiot would more likely be competing with Torreira to play behind Xhaka.

Regardless, all 3 are close when it comes to their talent. To have vastly different salaries could be dangerous.

As seen, Rabiot would not be guaranteed a starting place at Arsenal. Himself, Xhaka and Torreira would be rotated – so would all still get plenty of game time. Would Rabiot go from regular starter at PSG to rotational starter at Arsenal?

A move for Rabiot would be a positive one for Arsenal. There are plenty of minutes to accommodate 3 top class midfielders and still find enough time to bleed through Matteo Guendouzi.

Guendouzi is still just 19 and would not have expected to have played so much this season – 9 starts in total in the league. He is still developing and is not yet at the standard of Rabiot, Torreira or Xhaka.

You can easily see a situation that in 3 years time, Arsenal cash in on a then 29-year-old Xhaka and promote Guendouzi. He will still be just 22-years-old (the same age as England’s next big talent Harry Winks is now!).

Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ramsey & Torreira have started 44 league games between them this season; so it is clear that there are plenty of games to go around.

The one loser would be Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but he would still have a future at the club.

Firstly he is a home-grown talent; which is very important. Secondly he can cover central midfield, left and right back, and is competent on the flanks.

Maitland-Niles is still just 21. He would get plenty of game time in the cups and would get the odd league game. His future at Arsenal is as a utility man.

Would I sign Rabiot on a free? Yes

Keenos