With no more Gunners in Russia except the peripheral Danny-boy, Emery will soon have all his players back at the home of club football. There are a number of new combinations I cannot wait to see in action, such as:
- Xhaka-Torreira (if indeed the signing of the Uruguayan gets completed);
- Sokratis-Mustafi (or will Chambers or Holding get the nod?)
- Leno-Sokratis/Mustafi (if indeed Leno gets the nod ahead of Cech)
- Nacho-Auba/Mkhi on LW (not strictly a new combination but one that should develop further under Emery)
As the regulars on this blog know I am a great fan of Granit Xhaka. I rate highly his technical/strategic leadership and ability to give shape/structure to a team. I love these sorts of players: Fabregas had a similar shaping influence on previous Arsenal teams, as did the one and only Pirlo for his previous teams.
Xhaka, who is still only 25, was the anchor of the Swiss team as he controlled the game from deep-midfield. Unfortunately, he was less effective against the Swedes, and this was not so much due to the Scandinavians denying him space and time to operate in, as some analysers suggested, but the injury to his new fellow Arsenal mate, Lichtsteiner.
For Xhaka to be as effective as possible from an attacking sense, a team needs very effective wing-players, whether they are traditional wingers (a dying trade) or gazelle-like wing-backs. The Swiss had really strong wing-backs during this WC, and would they have had a quality CF they could have gone very far this time round. The Milan-based Ricardo Rodriguez really impressed on the left (would love him at Arsenal), but it was at the right where Lichtsteiner and the rejuvenated Orc, Xhardan Shaqiri, formed a formidable attacking duo; and from that area most of the Swiss’ quality attacks were instigated.
It is relatively easy to eliminate one dangerous element of a team but it becomes a lot harder if there are two or more elements a defence has to deal with if these are grouped together. Shaqiri and Lichtsteiner had a great understanding of each other and offered something different from the right wing all game long; it was hard for defences to deal with them and they paid for it time and again.
But Stephan Lichtsteiner was suspended for the last-16 game v Sweden and Shaqiri looked a bit tired too. As a result, the Swiss right flank was far less effective, even though the ball ended up there a lot – and this had an impact on Xhaka’s game. Stephan’s replacement, Lang, did not have a good game and weakened the Swiss’ attacking threat considerably.
This made me think about Arsenal’s situation on the right flank. I have been critical of Bellerin’s final ball and general lack of attacking intensity last season, even though he did improve quite a bit in the latter part. The partnership with Ozil was okay but nothing more than that.
Bellerin remains a work in progress and I do believe in him, but I am also very, very happy that we signed a master of a wing-player in Lichtsteiner. Both defensively and in attack Stephan played very strongly for Switzerland, and for one or two years he will be able to strengthen our wing-play and help us get Hector up to the required level,
And having watched the Lichtsteiner-Shaqiri combo being so effective, I am really looking forward to the German and Swiss combining on the right-wing and forming a continuous potent threat from our right wing. We have missed this, even though the ball, not entirely a surprise to me, ended up a hell of a lot of time in that area last season. A lethal thread from both wings will be required to be successful next season, and I am very hopeful that Lichtsteiner and Ozil will turn our right wing in one big assist (and goal) machine.