Arsenal news: Granit Xhaka ruled out for three months; how will Gunners cope without key central midfielder?


Granit Xhaka will be out for the next three months after suffering a “significant” knee injury, Arsenal have confirmed.

Xhaka limped out of Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Tottenham on Sunday after Lucas Moura inadvertently collided with the midfielder’s planted right leg, causing significant damage to his medial knee ligament. 

“A specialist consultation took place in London on Tuesday evening which has determined that Granit does not require surgery,” Arsenal said in a statement. “Granit’s recovery and rehabilitation program will start immediately and we are aiming for him to be back in action in approximately three months.”

That would rule him out of almost all of Arsenal’s remaining games in 2021 and only if he makes a swift recovery will he be able to feature for Mikel Arteta’s side before the turn of the year.

How will Arsenal cope without Xhaka?

Xhaka is undoubtedly divisive, difficult and due for an upgrade but the simple reality is that in recent years Arsenal have been a better team with him than without him. In the 25 Premier League matches he has not played in since the start of the 2017-18 season — the Swiss international has been a consistently available player during his north London career when he has not been swearing at home supporters — the Gunners average 1.48 points per game. When he is in the team they average 1.67. For one player that is not an insignificant difference.

Similarly Arsenal’s goal difference in 133 games with Xhaka is plus 65. Without him it is minus one. Put the No.34 in this team and Arteta’s side have more of the ball, create more chances, have more expected goals and score more frequently per game. Xhaka himself is not really doing that but he is setting the table so others can. He does that in his own sedate, frequently frustrating, way and there are undoubtedly games where he loses his head and costs his teammates points. But, track back through Arsenal’s best performances since 2016 and it is rare to see them excel in big games without their deep lying playmaker.

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One could include the win over Tottenham in that list even if he did exit early. Without the ball Xhaka was firm but fair in the challenge. With it no one completed such a high volume of passes into the attacking third as accurately as he did.

There is not even an approximate replacement for him in the squad to drop in next to Thomas Partey. Albert Sambi Lokonga looks to be a fine prospect but was signed with a view to being an alternate for the Ghanaian, not Xhaka. On occasion Mohamed Elneny’s passing can be so sideways as to make you think he’s playing rugby. Ainsley Maitland-Niles aspires to be a midfielder but has struggled to excel in the role. That aside it is throwing highly rated youngster Charlie Patino in at the deep end. Hale End graduates swim more often than they sink but asking any rookie to take over a crucial role in this side is high risk.

Arteta’s solution may instead be to ditch the 4-2-3-1 system he used in the win over Spurs and instead move to the 4-3-3 that he aspires to make Arsenal’s default and which he used in wins over Norwich and Burnley (for which Xhaka was suspended). In that system, Partey serves as a one man anchor with a pair of free eights, in theory Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, ahead of him. On occasion it has seen the Gunners unleash the sort of expansive football that has been an all too infrequent sight over recent years; in an assertive win over Sheffield United late last season it allowed them to create two pockets of attack on each flank. It would also serve to place enormous strain on Partey, a player whose fitness often seems to be the deciding factor in whether Arsenal perform well or not.

In the long term it is perhaps best that Arsenal get a look at life without Xhaka. They were prepared for that eventuality in the summer when they negotiated with Roma over a sale. Ultimately the Italian club’s refusal to up their offer and the Gunners’ inability to find a clear upgrade on Xhaka at an affordable price extended what has begun to feel like a marriage of convenience, particularly as the 29 year old’s one constant is his ability to divide supporters. Eventually Arteta will need to build a winning team without Xhaka. The problem is that he had only just managed to build a winning one with him.





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