Monday, December 14, 2020

Xhaka is an Emblem of Arsenal's Toxic Culture


"In terms of recruitment, don't even wait for January - make sure that Xhaka and Lacazette never play for the club again." - Your's truly from last week's blog.

I guess it's easy to be right about Arsenal at the moment. We keep starting the same players every week and every week they let us down. So why expect anything different? 

The club has a toxic culture that has dragged us into a bona fide relegation scrap. If you think we're too good to go down, I've got news for you - we ain't. The stats are brutal. We've lost four home games in a row. We haven't scored more than once in the league since early October. We can't keep a clean sheet. But stepping away from the numbers, just look at the players on the pitch. Their body language is terrible. They look confused. Their heads go down at the first hint of struggle. And they lash out in anger. 

A few week's ago it was Pepe, deciding to headbutt a player out of frustration. Today, it was a more predictable culprit. Arsenal's idiot-in-chief, the one, the only, Granit Xhaka. 

Look - Arsenals' troubles run deep, as I outlined last week. But if you wanted to put a face on our struggles in recent years, it's hard to look beyond Xhaka. Looking back, the summer of 2016 was a doozy: Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez signed for a combined 100m in what was a catastrophic outlay of money for the club. Holding, signed for 2m quid from Bolton, has probably given more to the club than those three combined.

It was the transfer window that ultimately got Arsene sacked. After failing to take advantage of the historically poor form or our rivals in 2016, and letting Leicester win the league, 2016 was meant to be the year we went big and pushed home our advantage. Xhaka was seen as a necessary upgrade on the middling Francis Coquelin, and I was excited by the prospect of his arrival after Xhaka impressed in the 2016 European Championships. 

Instead, he anchored the midfield that finally saw Arsene and Arsenal fall out of the Champions League. And it's all been downhill from there. For some reason, I thought Xhaka would be some form of defensive lynchpin to our midfield, closing down players and building our attacks from deep compared to the limited destroyer role that Coquelin played. 

In reality, Xhaka is an average player at best. He clearly does not have the defensive nous to read the game, spot patterns and break up play. He gives away half-decent tactical fouls to stop attacks and, even then, these are typically clumsy enough to earn him a card given his snail-like speed. He doesn't track runners or break-up play in an intelligent way. As a defensive midfielder, Xhaka is extremely limited, and typically compensates by dropping deeper and deeper until a chasm emerges where our midfield should be. 

This might be ok if Xhaka was some titan of midfield passing - but no. He is painfully one-footed, constantly working around the ball to get it onto his left foot. To boot he is incredibly susceptible to pressing. Put Xhaka under any form of pressure and he panics. 

What you're left with is a painfully slow player, who can't really defend, and who can only pick his passes when given time and space. These are not the ingredients of an elite premier league midfielder. Even if one looks simply at his player profile, it's beyond me why he's been given so many chances at the club.

And all this is before you get to the real heart of Xhaka - his temperament, or lack thereof. There are too many examples to name, but the ones that come to mind are his brain-dead penalty against Brighton in 2019 which helped put an end to our champions league tilt, and his infamous shirt throwing against Palace. The latter should have been the end of his Arsenal career. Instead, it merely hastened Emery's departure. 

The red card against Burnley was typical Xhaka, more concerned with playing the hard man than thinking about the team and the result. With a three-game suspension incoming, hopefully that is the last we see of him in an Arsenal shirt, but honestly who knows given Arteta's current proclivity to pick him. 

But Xhaka is emblematic of a broader poisonous streak running through the club. There is a cadre of experienced players who simply let Arsenal down over and over again. There was a reason why Freddie ditched half the first team for his last game in charge. He was trying to send a message that there is a group of professionals who are on fat contracts, who don't want to change, and who are prepared to sink the club rather than change their ways or leave. It's a toxic culture and Arteta has been throw in the deep end to fix it. These players have brought down Arsene, Emery and even Freddie and they are now sinking Arteta's ship. 

In a 'normal' environment, half these players would have been shown the door this summer. But we couldn't find buyers for even relatively premium assets like Guendouzi and Torreira, much less the likes of Ozil, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Mustafi, Bellerin, Sokratis, and Xhaka. If anything we've swelled the ranks of discontent by adding David Luiz and Willian. The former, as others have noted, almost seems to be a harbinger for dressing room unrest and managerial downfall wherever he goes. 

This is the problem facing Arsenal at present and it's massive. We have such a bloated squad that we couldn't even register the likes of Ozil and Sokratis for the prem. Yet the massive deflationary pressure placed on the European transfer market by COVID means we can't shift a group of toxic players that are dragging the club further and further down. To boot, we have a first-time manager, a Director of Football that is completely out of his depth, and a Chief Exec who has no record or experience to draw upon. Above that, we're basically being managed by a billionaire's son who's treating the club like a glorified internship. It's fun times all around. 

It's reached the point where some big moves have to be made in January. If there are players in the last six months of their deal and we can't shift them, cancel their contracts. Why have experienced pros hanging around the club spreading a poisonous atmosphere? Get rid or ban them from the club till their contracts expire. Promise agents fat premiums if they can get their players out of the club. Try anything.

At the same time, we have to sign some creative midfielders and hope that Partey can return to fitness. Until then, play some of the kids. Balogun looks like a baller - give him minutes. He's shown more presence in about 30 minutes of Europa League games than Lacazette has in three years. I'd rather see Reiss Nelson play than Willian. And,  as I said before, I think Smith-Rowe is a clever player who can create chances in the final third. Crucially, these *don't* always involve a cross. 

Much will depend on Arteta now. I am aghast that he keeps picking the same players in the league, no matter how well the Europa League players do. We need to do something different and that involves rolling the dice. If he doesn't, the future looks bleak and he deserves to go. 



ebere said...

That baffles me too. Same players who are getting bad results are still the ones he is picking.

Something is wrong with Arteta.

Andrew Banks said...

Couldn’t agree more. Xhaka should be nowhere near a PL club. Players letting another manager down but why oh why does Arteta continue to choose them. When does Willian get dropped? Try some young players, mix it up a bit. Get rid of Xhaka and others who have been a disaster for the club.also, why does Arteta continue to praise the way the team plays. They were so poor against Burnley yet Arteta thinks they played well. Does he really think that. Last game they played well was the Community Shield. Yet Arteta keeps praising them. It is a toxic club. So sad for the team I have supported for 49 years.

Unknown said...

Ashburton is so Toxic,its laughable...Xhaka is a thug,and should be playing for Maccabi Haifa or something....