Paul Merson believes that Granit Xhaka’s lack of vision is a major problem for Arsenal ahead of Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur.
Xhaka has been ever-present for Mikel Arteta in recent weeks, playing the full 90 minutes in the last 13 games.
He has impressed in the majority of those, adding a stability and metronomic distribution from the base of the midfield that has helped improve Arsenal’s form drastically after a difficult first half of the season.
However, last weekend, Xhaka’s flaws came to the fore once more, his errant pass inside his own penalty area careering off Chris Wood and into the gaping goal.
Xhaka’s error, which came from Arsenal’s inability to play out from the back, cost the Gunners two points. Had they taken those, they would have the opportunity to move within just two points of Spurs with a win on Sunday afternoon.
As it is, the Gunners are still languishing in 10th in the table, and Merson says that the major problem that Xhaka displayed last week is a fatal flaw for any midfield player that will continue to lead to mistakes happening.
“That will keep on happening,” Merson said on Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. “That’s not vision. He should know as soon as that ball comes to him, and it’s rolled into him perfectly by the goalkeeper.
“People can say that the goalkeeper has stitched him up. The goalkeeper has put in a lovely pass for him to go bang, first time out to David Luiz.
“There was no need to take a touch. My worry would be that you (Xhaka) haven’t seen that pass. That’s my worry. You are a midfield player and you haven’t seen that pass.
“It’s the same in midweek with Ceballos. There are four players around him. You see the picture. You have to know what is going on before you get the ball – I blame Xhaka. I don’t blame the goalkeeper for that.
“And you have to have the vision. And if you don’t have the vision, it will keep on happening.”
football.london analysed Xhaka’s error, drawing the same conclusion as Merson, while after the game, Mikel Arteta said that playing out from the back is the way he wants his team to play but they must do it better.
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“We did it usually with Bernd trying to use the holding midfielder in that situation and we scored a goal with Auba, all the way from Bernd Leno,” he told reporters in his post-match press conference.
“We conceded one [other] chance and that chance comes from Bernd Leno deciding to kick the ball long and we could not control the second ball with an open structure. It’s what it is, it’s the way that we play and the way that I want to play.
“We just have to know the risk and the rules that we have in certain areas in terms of the type of balls we have to play. But it is what it is.”