Legs in midfield
Granit Xhaka is an excellent passer and controller of tempo, but the Swiss international is very slow, which has caught him and the team out multiple times. To compliment him, he’ll need someone besides him to be the N’Golo Kanté to his Danny Drinkwater, the Claude Makelélé to his David Beckham, the peri-peri to his chicken thigh.
That man is Allan. The current Napoli midfielder can run around for days, both forwards and backwards. At Napoli, he plays in a deeper role, covering for Piotr Zielinski and Marek Hamsik who carry the ball forward, and the Brazilian did so by putting in 2.8 tackles and an interception per game in the Serie A this season.Embed from Getty Images
At 5’9″, he’s not the most physical presence. His sheer willingness, aggressiveness and his incredible engine, however, more than make up for that.
Plug him in next to Xhaka in holding midfield, and I think you have a great combination of passing ability and defensive toughness. Especially the latter is something that Arsenal really lack at the moment.
Depth in attack
The last thing that the Gunners need is squad depth in attack. Their current front four of Lacazette, Aubameyang, Özil and Mkhitaryan is very dangerous, yes. But who is on the bench? Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi? Please.
A great versatile forward who is certainly available right now is Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke. He might have gotten relegated with the Potters but it’s been his most productive season in the Premier League, getting eight goals and seven assists.
That is very impressive, given the season Stoke have had as a whole. The Swiss captain was often isolated in attack and had to create something out of nothing (which he’s very good at).
His problem has always been consistency and commitment. Unai Emery, Arsenal’s newly hired manager, famously drills his players very, very hard, which could bring the very best out of Shaq. Here’s an excerpt of a Sid Lowe-article which he wrote in 2008 when Emery was still coaching Almería.
“Emery,” admits one player, “is a colossal pesado (pain in the arse). The players hate him. Training sessions are long and unbelievably boring. Team talks go on forever – he makes you watch videos for hours, with endless replays of corners and free kicks, even goal kicks. It’s so dull I’ve seen people fall asleep. He tells you the same things every week, like you’re a little kid, ramming home his point. (…) He goes on forever, you get bored stiff, you think it’s all bollocks … but it works. It’s so relentless that in the end every single player knows exactly what he wants.”
Whether Shaqiri starts or Mkhitaryan starts on the right is a debate in itself, but it’s a good problem to have. Someone in that front four is definitely getting injured at some point, and Shaqiri can slot in nicely in every position of those four.
For Switzerland, he plays as a number ten, pulling the strings in attack. At club level, he either plays on the right- or the left wing, and he can even do a job as a striker.
Arsenal should be able to get a good price on him in the relegation fire-sale that always happens.
So, we’ve saved Arsenal. Well, we’ve rebuilt it a bit, setting the club up to bring the best out of the players and out of their new coach.
This is how our line-up looks in the end:
I’m not saying we’ve built a winning machine here, but I do think we’ve tackled the main issues that Arsenal have been suffering from in the last years; Getting the best out of Özil, getting legs in midfield, getting Danny Welbeck off the pitch and solidifying the defence.
I’ve tried to keep it as realistic as possible, meaning I haven’t gone with big names to fill up positions as Arsenal reportedly don’t have a lot to spend.
Let me know what you think of my ideas in a comment!