Santi, Rambo, Elneny, Jack, Coquelin: Who to Partner Xhaka?

Arsene signed his annual star man early this summer. In the last four years we saw the arrival of Santi, Ozil, Alexis and Cech and I reckon Xhaka will become to be regarded this summer’s star signing, whatever happens next in the transfer window.

Defenders mainly defend and attackers mainly attack but midfielders have to find the balance between the two, and it is in the double DM pivot were football is undergoing most of its innovation at the moment.

Wenger bought Elneny and Xhaka to strengthen the central midfield area, but they are both not classical DMs. Yet they know how to defend even if they do not rely heavily on their ability to  tackle. Le Coq is the more typical DM, and it is great to have such a player in our midst: I will always have a lot of respect for him. But it looks like we are gradually moving away from the hard-ass DM so many of us love to have in our team.

I am not sure whether Francis will be having many PL starts this season, as we should expect Wenger to build the midfield around Xhaka. Granit likes to play deep and organise the midfield, and with his laser sharp diagonal long distance passes combined with great overview and anticipation of the game, he will offer something very different to our team.

When I saw Granit play for Switzerland, he reminded me a bit of Ronald Koeman, who was both a formidable central midfielder and centre back for club at country in his career. The ability to defend deep, keep it simple with calm and accurate passes, and launch attacks with a long ball without blinking an eyelid, is a great asset to the team. Players like Alexis, Iwobi, Welbeck and Theo are likely to benefit tremendously from this. It will make us play differently: more deep and compact and more focussed on counter-attacking.

Of course not every team will  play football against us and opt to park the bus, but with Xhaka in the team we will be able to find a better balance between attacking and defending. I expect him to be a natural leader and organiser of our game, even though it may take a few years before we get the full potential out of him.

Even though he is still young, I expect Wenger to play Granit in most of our games. What I am less sure about is who is going to play next to him.

Will it be a typical b2b midfielder like Rambo or Elneny, or will Wenger opt for a less dynamic but better through-ball player like Santi or Jack? And what about combining Granit with Francis to achieve added defensive solidity?

We should expect Wenger to change the central midfield combination from one game to the next. If and when we play the likes of Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid and possibly Man City, Granit may be combined with Le Coq to soak up the pressure better. If we play at home against park the bus teams, we should expect Wenger to move forward the central midfielders as to hem the opponent in and allow for added creative power next to are man in the hole: Granit would sit deep and Ozil would be supported by Jack, Santi or Rambo.

But what will Arsene do for the majority of the games in which opponents do not aim to totally dominate us or park the bus i.e. who will he play next to Granit in most of our away games and many of our home games?

With Granit sitting naturally deeper, I reckon we need a mobile and athletic box to box midfielder we can connect defence and midfield with their accurate and quick passes, their ability to run forward with the ball and track back quickly to make key defensive interventions. Ideally, they also contribute to the team’s assists and goals production with their late runs into the box and key attacking passes.

Of all our midfielders, I reckon Rambo and Elneny are the strongest candidates with the Egyptian probably being back up to Aaron. I know that many believe that the Welshman is a nr.10 more than anything else, and his recent classy performances for Wales in a more advanced attacking midfield role would support this, but at Arsenal, with Ozil (and Jack and Santi) being very strong options for the nr.10 position as well, I reckon Aaron fits best into the b2b role.

arsene 300

But what do you think?

By TotalArsenal.




24 thoughts on “Santi, Rambo, Elneny, Jack, Coquelin: Who to Partner Xhaka?

  • I think he’s been bought to accomodate Ramsey.
    But Cazorla is our best player.
    It’s a nice problem to have.
    We’ve finally fixed our midfield in terms of numbers and balance.
    Hopefully we’ll get Manolas in at centre half.

  • Rich, Cazorla is definitely a great asset to have but his lack of mobility/b2b motor is a big disadvantage when playing next to Xhaka. I have a feeling Santi will gradually become our first ‘utility midfielder’ who can cover for a number of positions and can bring something extra towards the latter part of the game…

  • To be honest TA, if Pep was in charge, I reckon Xhaka would be the first candidate for a positional switch to CB. I reckon he’ll be a like-for-Ike with Per. Good reader of the game, decent pace but a much better distribution. Though i do love to see how he keeps possession when he plays in midfield. Just a random opinion.

  • Hi TA.. hi all..
    I agreed with you that Cazorla will have limited time this season.. and will play most in secondhalf..
    He can be everywhere in midfield to replace anyone there.. Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil and even Sanchez.. hehehe.. He played all position in midfield and winger.. Wenger had give him time very well to played in all position.. But because of injured concern and ages off course.. He will be our supersub in this team..

    TA.. I don’t really care about who will be partner Xhaka.. hehehe.. I mean all our MD are good enough to tendem him..
    What’s more important is what formation will we played.. Will Wenger continue to play 4-2-3-1 or back to 4-4-2. I wish to see more direct and speedy games.. and Lethal for sure.. and I think after all this time and with all our squad.. I think we must back to 4-4-2 formation..

    All we need is a good finisher.. or a couple finisher.. As I said before Sanchez will be much better as second striker than a winger.. So give him that role..

  • I confess I know very little about Xhaka, other than the chatter that he is very good. Therefore I have no idea of what is his style of play, other than his distribution from the headlines of 93% successful pass rate in the Euro’s is anything to go by?
    So my comments will be limited to those around him, except to say, Santi’s absence was a big miss last season, and Xhaka looks to be his replacement in that deeper role.
    Henrychan is quite right that the ‘notional’ formation will answer many of the questions you ask, TA. You have also asked, and in part answered those questions very well. So top marks for an intelligent look at decisions that will have to be made. Many thanks for that.

    I know, you are waiting for my big ‘However…’
    Ha! Ha!

    However ……. I do think you have somewhat limited yourself in the timing of these questionsfor the following reasons:
    The TW has not closed.
    We have only just started on pre-season games.
    Therefore your conclusions are drawn from last season’s players, with no guarantee that the ones named will still be around come September?

    So, taking on the general feeling that it is Cazorla who will be reduced to, what was it?… ‘a mid-field utility player’, I can see his name being linked if he is not reassured during these pre-season games. There is no guarantee that Walcott will be the only player caught in the headlights when they consider their futures either.
    A lotwill depend on how ruthless AW will be?

    But to answer the questions as posed in the ‘here and now’, I would take the following line:
    If Per plays, then double pivot … with Coquelin.
    Against a twin strike force, then double pivot … with Coquelin.
    If Giroud starts, then the loose 4-5-1 will translate in attack to a 1-2-3 for a speedy counter, and with Coquelin as the single pivot base.
    In Giroud’s absence, for tactical reasons, playing a PTB team with little threat, Coquelin can sit out as the emphasis will go on width and speed, creating spaces were normally there aren’t any, in the goalmouth area.
    Who fills those other places will largely depend on the shape of the squad come September, so I am not going to speculate on that.

    I do agree that Xhaka will play that central organising role in most games, but whether he needs a partner will remain to be seen. Who that might be? Well we could get some clues during the forthcoming games. My gut feeling is, Coquelin will be the one that remains in front of the back four, and his outlet ball will be Xhaka. From there on, his distribution will define our attacking style, which may or may not have an impact on Ozil’s role, if the midfield is repeatedly bypassed?
    As I say, more will be revealed before the Liverpool game.


  • Hi TA.

    I am certain our first choice midfield will be Xhaka and Ramsey behind Ozil. Xhaka, as I said earlier, is a bit like Arteta (but with added mobility and bite) The first thing Arsene said about Xhaka was is ability to play through the lines. His passing.

    Ramsey’s superb 2013-14 season came playing next to Arteta, and I think Wenger will look to recreate that this season.

    The only worrying thing about it is, does Ramsey possess the necessary mental focus and determination to also ‘track back quickly to make key defensive interventions’. He definitely CAN do it, but too often last season he chose not to.

    The good part is, we have options. Elneny offers the same running ability as Ramsey, but is probably more conservative. We know that Coquelin and Cazorla are a great midfield pairing. Both offer something different. And then there’s the wild card, Wilshere, who can do a bit of everything. He can play those passes from deep. He can dribble and keep possession a bit like Cazorla, and he can also offer a goal threat further up front. I don’t know what role he’ll play, but if he stays fit, it’ll only be a bonus for us.

    By the way, this link explains why Ozil is awesome but still under-appreciated by English pundits, and why Wenger bought Xhaka.

  • Good to hear from you, Shrill, and yes long term there is a good chance Granit will become a CB.

    Are you planning to come and watch the boys in red and white this season?

  • Good comment Henry 😀⚽️

    Same system as last season but with a few changes in key personnel, Granit being the obvious one. We do effectively play 4-4-2, or two attackers up front, allowing Alexis to play close to Ollie in the centre but with added wing cover repaonsibilities. On the opposite wing we need a player who is as effective as an in form Alexis. That place is still up for grabs by the incumbents or maybe Mahrez…

  • Gerry 😀

    I can tell you have not watched Xhaka much and I think that is more relevant than what formation we will play or who we will add to the squad before the pool game. Granit is a deep laying midfielder who only needs support by a DM like Coq if we are pushed back in our own half constantly. I don’t think we will see a lot of Coq- Xhaka combos, but I could be wrong.

    Because Granit will sit and play deep, as per the post, we will need a dynamic and athletic b2b… Rambo and ElsuperNeny are the obvious candidates.

  • Shard,

    Great comment and yes that is the only concern I have re Rambo too. Elneny offers a better all round defensive games and will grow his attacking game, and both are great players to compete for the b2b game this season.

  • Shard, I enjoyed that link very much. It is a pity Roy did not pay closer attention to it, ha ha.
    It would be interesting to see where Leicester would fit on the ‘packing’ scale last season? Certainly with their 3 line attack on the counter played ‘space’ very well.

    I also heard someone say during the Len’s game that it would be good if the stats we get showed the number of forward passes. Personally I think that would be used rather as a tool by the media to be destructive, rather than helpful.
    Forward passes generally carry a higher risk of failure because they are heading to where there are most defenders. I remember a top heart surgery hospital getting a lot of media stick for the number of deaths per patients operated on. Then it was pointed out that they were carrying out more high risk surgery that other hospitals would not touch. In effect, saying that every high risk survivor was a 100% bonus.
    Also, in football stats it is a two-way thing; the passer and recipient, which your link notes. Not all unsuccessful passes are down to the one making the pass. So if their study can put a numerical value on passes, and apply that equally to the receiver so much the better?

  • Ha ha TA, I see it was just as well I confessed my ignorance with my opening line, as your reply would have been dagger like …
    In essence, you are actually say we agree on Coquelin, but possibly divide on often he we be needed? It could be a case of whether he starts to ensure a solid platform, and be the first to be substituted when we have to change tactics. Alternatively, the one to come off the bench to shore up things at the end.
    Either way, that will give him game time, as the last thing we need is him looking elsewhere?

  • Hi TA…Keep ’em coming, eh… Better than (ALL) the other Arsenal blogs getting hopes up then dashing them and/or otherwise offering razors and rope to readers for another round of self immolation…

    Because of this climate I don’t think your initial statement about Xhaka being the star man will be understood by many. I fear that people have lost the plot to such an extreme that only goals will satisfy. In a year or two when he is named captain you will be vindicated, of course, but how do we get from here to there? In other words, Wenger, I think, will have to splash a (much) sillier quantity of cash on a player–or two–who maybe can get us 10 goals and might eventually get us 15-20 in a season…

    The alternative is figuring out a way to (somehow) mollify the masses with some clear wins in those August matches, home vs. Pool, away at the defending champions (Leicester) and Watford. I fear we’ll need the likes of Theo, Ox, Iwobi, Akpom and Campbell to find the net. With (not ready) Alexis and Giroud probably needing to take bench seats. If we could get some goals from the guys filling in for Ozil and Ramsey, meaning Santi and Elneny, that would work too. So, to start the season, I’m picturing Xhaka with Mo-Neny and Santi…Le Coq to sub in if we can get some leads, Jack, as he did with England, to play if we need goals. Already it’s time to pray that nobody gets hurt here in pre-season…

    Longer term, I’m with Shard that our preferred “2” in our 4-2-3-1 is definitely supposed to be Xhaka and Ramsey but that (as Shard also hints at) it’s really more of a 4-1-4-1 with Xhaka being the sole DM and 4 central mids interchanging freely ahead of him. Our width comes from the FBs, of course, so it’s no 442, no matter how nostalgic folks wish it to be. At times, chasing games, additional forwards will get thrown on, but mostly just to pack the box and hope for the best; old fashioned wingers don’t have much of a place in today’s game, at least at the top teams.

    Which is all explained pretty well in the analysis in the link Shard posted. Football is all about getting THE BALL past defenders but being prepared for the other team to get the ball and being ready to defend. While most watchers love the dribblers (often those traditional winger types…) who can do it on their own, a pass (usually) gets the ball where it needs to go without sacrificing shape in case a turnover happens. Xhaka is a young guy with a great left foot and enough size and mobility to be our primary deep lying mid. Santi has two good feet (but no size and pace) so he’s another option but maybe cannot do it on his own. (The thought of the two of them together is the most mouthwatering combo plate for me.) Ramsey, Jack, Elneny and Ozil ALL have at least one good foot and decent range on their passes but also like to do it a bit more on their own. As such, the further forward they can afford to play, the better, IMO. I know Le Coq wants to think of himself as having the same qualities in passing and running but (I think) we’ll continue to value his defending and vocal leadership until Xhaka gets comfortable with the new league (i.e., the refs) and yelling at his mates…

    Anyhow, thanks again, TA (and comment writers)… Time to get back to NewSnow and see if we’ve bought anybody (or if there’s any skiing to be had)… 😀 😦

  • Cheers SeventeenHo 😄⚽️

    You have a point re 4-1-4-1 as long as at least one of them in the second four does the bridgeing work between defence and attack. You are also right re 4-4-2 in the strictest terms, but two up front is something Arsene seems to stimulate.

  • “Stimulate”…? Not sure what you mean there, TA…

    If you mean somebody who can get in close to the main striker (Giroud) then I think I know what you’re saying…For me that’s Alexis but Iwobi sure didn’t hesitate leaving the wider areas for more central ones late last season and Campbell doesn’t either. Theo and the Ox, I think, are more conscious about maintaining good spacing but then folks slate them for not doing enough tracking back, turning it over deeper in our territory or pulling out of pointless (potential) leg breakers… Sorry, but when I hear (read) those sorts of comments, I immediately have to wonder. The last thing we need is one of them (or anybody else) collecting (even more of) their salary from the physio-room…

    But that makes me a lazy (lady) part or someone who doesn’t appreciate that English football should be closer to rugby than a sport of skill and technique…

    Back to the 2nd striker idea… France tried it with Ollie and Griez but–IMO again–it’s far less effective without a real passing #10 and good lateral movement across the top of the box. They got the scrappy goals against (Gomez-less) Germany in the semi but couldn’t break down (woeful) Portugal in the final playing that sort of game. People were impressed by Sissoko’s runs (the epitome of head down playing, IMO…) but I sure wasn’t, and, in the end–because of them–France probably didn’t deserve to win it. Again, it’s the ball that we’re trying to get into the net…

    Overall, I think people watch far too many individual highlight clips and far too little actual (team) football…which is probably the main reason the world will end if we don’t sign somebody new when plenty of good players are already in the squad. If they–and the support–could only learn to appreciate one another get behind one another and become a (REAL) team, some amazing things could happen. Chances they will? About as likely as us getting that (new) blonde guy to hit 30 goals for us (Messi, not Ramsey)… 😦

  • Is ‘encourage’ better?! 🙃

    Ollie and Griezman were a fab combo and they deserved to lift the cup together. France were the best team but the best team does not always win a final. Agreed re Iwobi understanding the ‘second striker’ role better than Ox and Theo, and that’s why I have high hopes for him this season.

  • I see the discussion has turned towards formation over individuals. Henrychan willl be pleased.

    I think we can all agree that what was missing in a good part of last season, was players not putting away chances created, mostly by Ozil?
    It should also be remembered that the team needs to be built around what brings the best of Ozil, if we are to get a repeat of those key passes?
    The players around Ozil need to show that they can see a space to run into. The ‘team’ will gel when that same space is where Ozil will play the ball.
    Again, I am grateful to Shard for the link he provided earlier, because it brought back the thoughts of last season where there seemed to be no movement from players, and our attacks just ground to a halt.
    An on-form Ramsey is an ideal example running, time and again into those wide spaces. These repeated actions are as important even if the ball is not played to him, because defenders become aware of the threat and have to cover it, and that opens up space elsewhere. Ramsey does those unselfish runs without a second thought. One or two I (and HT) have named names in the past, and they should take note!
    The reason why this is so important to getting the team to gel, is because of what comes out of these actions by way of goals. It may be that Ozil would have a great number of pre-assists, rather than him being the sole provider of direct assists, if those who make the runs can also provide the key passes for others to score?
    That brings me to the Len’s game. I was particularly pleased with the way Gnabry played, in that instead of taking pot shots through a crowd, or keep looking for an opening for himself until he was dispossessed, and something Ox was guilty of last season, he passed the ball. Not always successfully in that game, but he has been out a long time, so his game will be sharper with time.
    So if you are looking for ‘in house’ solutions for that No10 position, then Ramsey, Ox(on head up showing), and Gnabry could be the back ups. I separate these because they are prepared to go wide from semi- central positions,i.e. away from the box.
    Alexis and Wilshere are slightly different, in so far as they can create some space for themselves, whereas what I am looking at are players who can run on to a ball and use it ‘intelligently’. Iwobi is different again, more in the Ozil mode of having a pass or a turn in mind before he even receives the ball.
    We need all the types of players to appreciate and be appreciated for what they are trying to achieve?
    I think this season will be harder than ever to dominate in the way Leicester did last season. The are some very clever, ‘thinking’ coaches who will be fully aware of closing down those spaces we speak of. So the most goals will be achieved by those who get the ball moving quickest before the final ball and defenders are set.
    So before this transfer window closes I will be somewhat surprised if we do not get an upgrade in the vital areas, namely; clinical striker who translates opportunities into goals at the highest possible rate; a wide player who turns defence into attack at speed.
    We have plenty of players who can pick up other types of goals, and they will be invaluable, but if your KEY players in the two positions I have mentioned are Giroud and Walcott, then imo, we will struggle. Not that both will not score plenty of goals on their best form. But as it stands, Alexis is yet to prove a replacement as a No9, and (heads up) Ox is the best we have to replace an out of form Theo.
    My thought for the day

  • Cheers Gerry

    The nr10s for next season are, in order of importance, Ozil, Jack, Santi, Iwobi, Rambo.

    I have no doubt that Ollie will lead the line again, but more about this in a future post. The only position that is still not taken/filled properly is the right midwing position. If we don’t buy anyone, I reckon Alexis will play there and Iwobi will win the battle over Campbell, Theo and Ox for the other midwing position eventually.

  • Gerry

    Great comment.

    Before I had seen that article on ‘packing’ stats, I had described our players as passers, runners, or hybrids (passer/runner)

    I felt that with Cazorla going down injured we lost a passer in midfield, meaning Alexis and Ozil had to be passer-runners to each other (both are hybrids) It also negated Theo as a runner as the passing from deep disappeared, and he doesn’t have the versatility to act as a hybrid or even a passer. (Giroud fit better because he is essentially a passer)

    With the addition of Xhaka, we now have another passer from midfield, and can combine it with running (Ramsey/Elneny) or passing (Santi) or a hybrid (Jack) With added passing from midfield, we should be better able to play to Theo’s strengths as a runner. But, we would be far better off with a hybrid (like Mahrez) on the right, and a guy who can do a bit of everything in the middle, but is a great finisher. Hence, I don’t think we need a world class forward as some do. Just someone who has competent all round play and is a good finisher. (WBY!!) 🙂

    Basically, those packing stats are awesome in their simplicity and how they break down the game to efficacy, regardless of playing style. Something which I had attempted (poorly) with my passer-runner nonsense.

  • Thanks TA. I tried to separate the types of players so not to place them in a group.Your preferred list, has merit in it’s importance level, but not, imo, as a team sheet ‘list of appearance’.

    Let me explain what I mean.
    Ozil I take out of any notional formation position altogether. He, as the link described, is the best in the world at taking out great numbers of defenders by his positional play … and that might be anywhere on the pitch. His ‘free role’ has to be taken as granted, and the players around him have to learn to use their positional play to compliment that.
    Wilshere, the second on your list. He plays his best football in that corridor that is the width of the opposition’s box. Notional positioning him wide means nothing, as like Ramsey, he will play, as he will play centrally. Although I differentiate them in the type of player, the inclusion of Cazorla, Iwobi before Ramsey is a little surprising when thinking of the overall balance?
    Even without a new signing, you presumably including Alexis in the line up?
    What I was getting at with my thoughts in my earlier comment above, was getting the balance of all those types of player. I think Ramsey is one type we need, Alexis would fit the bill for that making space in the middle. Wilshere would make sense, if as in the early part of this season, Alexis s not available. Just as Iwobi might replace Ramsey in his role, ie moving from central, wide.
    Perhaps more importantly is not playing players out of their best position, if for no other reason than they take a spot from someone who would do a better job?

    Oh, as far as Cazorla goes in this explanation, to my mind he does not enter calculations for players in and around the box, except in Ozil’s absence. Otherwise, he is part of the deeper midfield discussion.

    Please note, I am talking about a line up with Giroud in situ.


  • Cheers Shard, I agree with all that you have said there.

    I too am guilty of being clumsy over player descriptions. As I have just said in reply to TA, if you use the model of how players use space, then it might be possible to see why a team can become disjointed or unbalanced.
    This applies to how you create a side defensively too. From last season I thought Elneny was one of the best at stopping players from playing balls to the player they most wanted to pass to, simply by occupying the space along the line between the two. Arteta before him was very good at that, and I have noticed Iwobi does that a lot too, probably because neither are natural tacklers?

    I thought the most telling paragraph from the link was this one, on England’s Euro performance:

    “England played without a sense for the dangerous spaces,” Reinartz said. “They took up positions on the pitch rather than positions in space. They constantly [had] to rely on athleticism and one-vs-one situations because their passing and positional game [wasn’t] good enough.”

    That more or less puts the nail in the coffin for rigid adoption of formation based on positions?

    The other comment, and it showed up in the teams that got to the semi final stage were the ones that scored best(the least) in relation to passes or players taking out the number of defenders.

    That is surely an area that the Gunners are going to have to improve upon if they are not going to end up like Belgian … they had very best at cutting out defenders(Hazard), but basically could not defend against counter attacks.
    Arsenal be warned, games are not won by attacks alone!

  • Latest news on Thursday’s Tour game against the MLS is that Mertersacker does not trave thanks to a knee injury.

    I will try and pick my team from the squad announced, based on the above musings. Big racing week, amongst other things, but it is clear that the CB’s are any two from 3: Chambers; Holding; Bielik … ??? It is a closer call than you may first imagine between the latter two. Holding stepping up to the top flight versus the inexperienced, but very talented Bielik.


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