Arsenal’s players have been off around the globe on international duty in the past week.
Included among them was Granit Xhaka who played the full 90 as Switzerland held Spain to a 1-1 draw in the Nations League.
What would have piqued the interest of Arsenal fans was the role the 28-year-old played. He sat deep allowing for Atalanta’s Reno Freuler to play his box-to-box game more effectively.
This task of lying further back to the pitch to facilitate attacks is what many expected Thomas Partey would do after his arrival from Atletico Madrid. But in his man of the match performance in Arsenal’s victory at Old Trafford the Ghanaian proved that he is so much more than just a defensive midfielder.
So, the question now turns to who can be the ideal partner for Arsenal’s deadline day signing in midfield? If Mikel Arteta persists with his 3-4-3 formation, then there is only one spot alongside Partey available in midfield. Let’s take a look at who it could fall to.
Xhaka’s ability to dictate play from deep and cover for other teammates as they charged forward was a staple of the early days in Mikel Arteta’s reign.
However, before the international break it appeared as though he had lost his place in the starting line-up with Mohamed Elneny starting the Manchester United and Aston Villa games.
Despite his limitations in terms of mobility and defensive acumen, there are few players capable of switching play quite like the Swiss captain. His 81% long pass completion rate is evidence of this.
At his best Xhaka can be the man to allow Partey’s box-to-box capabilities to truly flourish. Finding that consistently is his main problem.
Had this article been written in August then there’s a good chance that Mohamed Elneny’s name wouldn’t even have been on it.
But through a positive attitude, hard work and a series of impressive displays the Egyptian has got himself to a point where he was even given the honour of wearing the Gunners’ captain’s armband.
He is not the answer to Arsenal’s creative problems in the final third. But his 96% short passing completion is demonstrative of how vital he is in playing out from the back. This was on show in his role during the build up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goals against Liverpool and Fulham earlier in the season.
Mikel Arteta is a big fan, and highlighted Elneny for particular praise after the victory at Old Trafford.
Again though, consistency is an issue for Ceballos. A bit more end product than the two goals he managed last season wouldn’t go a miss either.
Joe Willock hasn’t played a single minute during the Premier League this season and has been restricted to Carabao Cup and Europa League appearances.
In those appearances he has done more than enough to suggest he deserves to be a lot closer to Mikel Arteta’s first team.
His three goals this season are already more than any other Arsenal central midfielder managed last campaign.
However, playing such an attacking option may well mean that Thomas’ attacking instincts have to be curbed to ensure the backline remains protected.
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