Recently I had a discussion with our friends over on YouAreMyArsenal about who Raul Sanllehi should be targeting to replace Granit Xhaka in the long term.
The produced this fantastic scouting report on Ibrahim Sangare; putting the 21-year-old Ivorian central midfielder as a long term replacement for Xhaka.
Whilst Sangare is a fantastic physical specimen, and would certainly add some power into the middle of the park, his passing is an issue.
Xhaka sees more of the ball than any other player at Arsenal. He is the main receiver in midfield when the ball is with the defence, and he starts most of our attacks.
On average last season in the Premier League, Xhaka averaged 77.4 passes a game. No player averaged more. He completed 85.3% of those passes.
Compare that to Sangare who averages just 49 passes a game, completing just 80.3% of them. Xhaka is completing 27 more passes a game on average than Sangare.
Xhaka’s pass completion has to be considered when we are discussing players to replace him.
Whilst it is easy to think that we need a hulking 6ft 3in monster of a midfielder who can break up play, we need that player to be able to pass the ball as he sees so much of it.
We are The Arsenal, not Stoke. A player’s ability on the ball is more important than his destructive impact. If he can not pass, he is useless for 60% of the time in the majority of our games.
At Arsenal you need to be able to pass the ball. That is highlighted in the pass competition of Arsenal’s other 2 central midfield options last season: Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.
Last season Torreira averaged 46.8 passes a game, completing 87.4% of them. Guendouzi with 48.4 passes a game at 87.7%.
Both of these players averaged less passes per game than Xhaka, but it has to be taken into account that both came off the bench 10 times in the Premier League last season. Xhaka was averaging more minutes per game.
Xhaka still comes out on top, but the primary reason for this is Unai Emery sets up for the Swiss man to be the 1st receiver off of the defence.
If we are looking at a long term replacement for Granit Xhaka, we should look no further than someone who is already at the club. Matteo Guendouzi.
At just 20-years-old, Guendouzi has quickly established himself as a 1st team regular.
Last season he might have been outpassed by Xhaka, but we have seen him take huge strides forward again this season, including a man of the match performance against Tottenham
This season Guendouzi has completed 88.2% of his passes. A slight improvement but still an improvement.
The Frenchman has still played 2nd fiddle to Xhaka when it comes to how much of the ball they see – Xhaka is averaging an incredible 92 passes per 90 minutes this season.
In terms of his passing, Guendouzi is a more accurate passer than Xhaka, but plays less passes. As his importance to the team continues to grow, expect both of these to grow.
What has been impressive about Guendouzi this season is his defensive shift.
Whilst last season he was bottom of the table defensively, and some rightly labelled him as lazy at times, this season he has stepped up massively.
He is not too far behind Ibrahim Sangare, when it comes to defensive output. And it has to be remembered Sangare plays in a team who do a lot more defending than Arsenal (Toulouse finished 16th last season) – which also explains why Sangare’s total passes is lower.
So in Guendouzi we have a central defender who is over 6ft, whose passing is already amongst the best in the team and getting better, and who has now added a defensive awareness to his game.
Guendouzi could become the complete central midfielder. Capable of being 1st receiver and dictating the play, whilst also putting in the defensive shift of someone less cultured.
The man to replace Granit Xhaka at Arsenal is Matteo Guendouzi.
He is already better defensively than the Swiss midfielder and with time could become a better passer.
Based on the passing statistics, he is not yet ready to take over from Xhaka as 1st receiver, but his pass completion rate does excite me. He gives the ball away less than Xhaka (his biggest criticism).
Xhaka is going nowhere soon. His importance can be seen in those passing statistics. But as Guendouzi’s influence grows, Xhaka’s will naturally shrink.
It will no longer be a question as to “who should replace Xhaka” but “who should partner Guendouzi”. That man could still be Xhaka. It could also be Torreira or Joe Willock.
Guendouzi is very quickly turning into an all round central midfielder, and at 20-years-old will only get better.