Back in March Mikel Arteta was asked how Arsenal were to being a side that he viewed as his own.
“Very far. Very, very far,” was the Spaniard’s sobering response.
“There’s still a lot to improve, a lot of quality to add. [We need to be] much more efficient in decision-making, much quicker to open situations up when advantages are there, many more situations to feel when advantages are obtained.
“More control of games, more defensive actions in the opponent’s half, fewer giveaways in our own half, more clean sheets. There’s a lot to do – more goals to score, more creativity. A lot to do.”
If was the case back then, the question surely now has to be asked how the decision to keep Granit Xhaka at the club helps him move closer to his dream line up.
football.london understands that the Swiss international has signed a new contract to extend his stay in North London until 2025, despite previously seeming certain to join Roma this summer
There are undoubtedly arguments for this course of action.
The 28-year-old is a leader among the squad and a rare experienced voice in Arsenal’s youthful dressing room.
He is also key to how they play.
Kieran Tierney would simply not be able to get forward to put dangerous final third deliveries as often as he does were it not for Xhaka’s selfless covering.
But given Arteta‘s previous statements, the decision to offer him a new long-term deal now just doesn’t quite add up.
The Spaniard has previously stated that it is his long term aim to transition the Gunners towards a side that plays 4-3-3 in order to dominate games more completely.
Due to his profile perhaps the most obvious role for Xhaka to fill in this system would be as the deepest lying midfielder. Here his duty would be to receive the ball with his back to play and give quick ball to his teammates to start attacks in a manner that Sergio Busquets has perfected throughout his illustrious career.
By Xhaka’s own admission though this is not something he feels comfortable doing.
When discussing why he was enjoying his time under Arteta so much during an interview in February, the Swiss international revealed what best suits his game.
“The key for one player is to understand the philosophy of how the coach wants to play,” he said. “I think I understood his game very quick.
“He put me in a position where I have freedom and the game in front of me. This is what I like. I don’t like to play with my back to the opponent’s goal.”
That was on full display during the 2-0 defeat to Brentford on Friday where Xhaka was almost caught in possession on the edge of the box while facing away from the play due to his lack of awareness of the high press from Sergi Canos behind him.
For a midfield three in the Premier League the 28-year-old also lacks the mobility to get up and down the pitch in one of the ‘free eight’ positions, even if his progressive passing is pretty decent.
This is by no means his fault, and it’s clear to see why his game might be better suited to the slower pace of Serie A.
That’s why the move to Roma appeared to make so much sense.
It also gave Arsenal the chance to move on from a midfield experiment that has been tried under three different managers at this point.
Names like Yves Bissouma, Ruben Neves and Manuel Locatelli were linked as a potential fourth summer signing for the Gunners, but all talk of bringing in another new central midfielder seems to have stalled for now.
Perhaps Arteta is thinking by keeping Xhaka with a new deal was to protect his value to ensure a higher sale that could help a rebuild next summer.
Had the Swiss midfielder stayed and not penned a fresh contract then he would have had just one year left at the Emirates, reducing his value considerably, whereas now Arsenal have a very saleable asset come the end of the season if any teams come in for him.
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The transfer window is in full swing and things are beginning to ramp up with Edu and Mikel Arteta’s dealings at the Emirates.
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But with pressure ramping up after a disappointing start to the Premier League season Arteta will surely be aware that there is a real possibility that he won’t be in his current job next season if things don’t improve quickly.
After 19 months in charge the expectation of a ruthless overhaul to ensure his preferred style of play this summer has not materialised.
There might not be much time left for the Spaniard to get this Arsenal side playing the way he wants, and with that mind prolonging the evolution by extending Xhaka’s contract seems a risky decision.