By Matt Farr
Arsenal have been hit badly by the news that midfield playmaker Santi Cazorla will be out for up to three months as he undergoes surgery on an Achilles injury.
Arsene Wenger has admitted Cazorla’s absence will be a huge loss for the club, while fans have taken to social media to voice their own concerns.
The Gunners have struggled in the Spaniard’s absence, and have yet to settle on a preferred centre-midfield partnership.
Cazorla last played in the 6-0 Champions League group-stage victory over Ludogorets on October 19, and Wenger has tried as many as five different combinations in Cazorla’s place.
Wenger’s preference has been Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, but the fit-again Aaron Ramsey, summer signing Granit Xhaka and youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles have also featured.
However, some fans have also called for Wenger to recall Jack Wilshere from his loan spell at Bournemouth in January, hinting that none of Arsenal’s current options are up to the task.
There is no need, however, as Arsenal already have the perfect replacement within their ranks. Granit Xhaka.
The Switzerland international has made 16 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, but he has started just nine of those matches; and it appears, though, that Wenger does not fully trust his £30 million summer signing, and does not yet know his best role.
Back in September, Wenger revealed his plans to deploy Xhaka as a box-to-box midfielder; however, in a sensational U-turn, the Gunners boss claimed that the 24-year-old was more of a deep-lying midfield player in the build-up to their Premier League clash with Bournemouth on 27 November.
Cazorla’s role in the Arsenal line-up was to operate from deep, allowing the likes of Mesut Ozil and co in the Gunners attack to push further forward; and use his passing ability to pick out team-mates all across the pitch – something that Xhaka prides himself upon.
In the German Bundesliga last season, Xhaka made 88 passes on average every 90 minutes – the fourth highest in the division. That is a statistic that Wenger would have known when he bought the player last summer. He seems the perfect replacement.
His no-nonsense style and tough-tackling nature will pick up yellow and red cards along the way, which may not bode too well with the fans; but how is that role any different to that of Francis Coquelin? Xhaka has three yellow cards and one red this season, compared to Coquelin, who has five yellows.
He is still adjusting to the Premier League – for some it takes longer than others – but Wenger and Arsenal need to show more faith in his ability. His age means he’ll be a long-term asset to the club – like Coquelin (25) and Elneny (24) – so the club need a bit more patience.
Arsenal have a lot of games to contend with this month, and every player will have a major role to play as Wenger looks to rotate his options.
Xhaka is expected to feature against West Ham in the Gunners’ next Premier League clash on Saturday.
In other Arsenal news, fans have reacted on Twitter has high-flying RB Leipzig boss reveals Emirates talks.