Willock, Ozil, Xhaka: Emery May Be Fixing the Midfield At Last

I took my time to watch the Bayern v Arsenal game. Germans do not do friendlies and so it was a good, meaningful game to analyse.  Key question for me, as I am sure regulars on BK will know, is how will Emery fix the midfield for the coming season.

We need to get the balance right, and once we do this we will realise that we do not have such bad defenders after all. Fixing the middle part of the team will also allow us to score more goals, or should I say even more goals.

It is clear that Xhaka will once again be our main player in midfield. He may not be the fastest player and make the occasional mistake, but he is clearly the brainy rock in the heart of the team. Many do not get Xhaka’s qualities but there is no doubt he is also Emery’s first player on the team sheet.

Captain Granit will need a player around him who hoovers up balls and links up well with him, and I reckon Willock is showing real promise. Clearly, once Torreira is back JW28 will struggle to hold his place, but if he continues his impressive start of the preseason Emery may have a ‘great problem’ in that key position next to our Captain. Joe is quite the complete midfielder: he can harass opponents and obtain the ball with some ease, he passes well, and has an eye for both a key pass and goal.

joe willock

What I like is that Emery has played both Xhaka and Willock relatively deep AND close together. This gave our defence a much better protection than in the previous season. The risk of doing this, though, is the potential lack of support for the attackers from midfield. This is of course most needed when we have to build an attack from the back, rather than play for quick turnovers (as suits us best it seems).

And Emery seems to have found an answer for this now: a free role for Ozil in which he plays midfield-to-box constantly.

Yes Mesut had a very dynamic role v Bayern and was constantly available to connect midfield with attack. With Auba, Laca and Mkhi he had three players to connect with in attack, and as such they were playing the often in the ‘old’ Mesut (Nr10) role. Mesut did not only come and get the ball in midfield time and again, he also made many a run into the box and was thus an attacking threat too. His calm on the ball and superior passing ability were also well used against the Bundesliga dominators.

It was also good to see that both Auba and Mkhi made themselves available for the midfield players and were willing to come deep to come and collect balls. Especially Auba was in fine form and a constant threat to the German defence by running at them from deep. And mobile, dynamic Laca was of course also a real threat throughout the game.

I like to see more of the WOX midfield, but there are some promising signs that Emery is fixing the midfield at last.

By TotalArsenal.

56 thoughts on “Willock, Ozil, Xhaka: Emery May Be Fixing the Midfield At Last

  • You are blind,, Xhaka is a waste of space, literally, every player in the midfield should be able to run dribble tackle and pass, not just sideways and back. Xhaka needs 2 players to do the work he is incapable of doing. That’s a luxury no team can afford

  • No my friend my vision is fine. Xhaka is a master passer and they are mostly forward and attack-minded. He gives structure to our team but if you are fixated with dribbling and running, you will not see this. The good news for you is … you are not alone. But if don’t get Xhaka’s quality you don’t get the art of the game. Sorry.

  • Xhaka is a master passer to the opposition at least twice in every game. so bad at reading the game that he has to chase back which he is to slow to do,hence he commits needless fouls
    and gets carded, I am not saying you have a vision problem, just maybe you have blinkers on, sorry.

  • No worries TA.
    You have one convert (at least!) to your perspective. For me, it happened over a year ago. I’d been critica since Granit’s arrival too, until I saw Xhaka played in tandem with a more complimentary type partner.

    Where I’ll focus? Is on the idea that once Torreira returns– Willock may be ‘odd man out’. See it differently– from the view that Torreira was often enough unavailable last term, either due to injury or suspension. That Joe Willock is the kind of depth which can make Arsenal better in increments. We don’t need the massive signing of a Zaha. We need more Willocks (and ESRs and Sakas and Nketiahs) to raise the level of depth in the squad– where the starters aren’t missed as much as they were when out last season. In that regard– I’ll still welcome Dani Ceballos too.

    Yes. These were preseason ICC (friendlies-with-an-edge) matches. But I saw enough to know this team, with depth, offering consistency, has a chance at earning a CL berth this upcoming season.

    Depth, being the operative word.


  • Hi fellow BKers! Hope you have been having a great summer.

    Had the chance to see The Arsenal against Real Madrid yesterday in the US capital. Good pre-season game. I felt this was a game that reflected many of TA’s observations regarding Willock, Xhaka, and Ozil. Felt Willock and Xhaka had a good game and Ozil an ok one (he did get completely turned around by Bale during one move in the 2nd half). Good support from the Gunners’ faithful who were in good voice for most of the game, especially in the first half.

    One cannot over-analyze pre-season form too much. But as many have observed, with a four at the back scheme, our L&R backs need strengthening. AMN did not play yesterday. It was Jenko who did quite well until Marcelo came on. And then he had a rough time on that flank for a good portion of the second half (which was when they scored their two goals). Maybe the right side gets shored up between Hector and AMN once season starts. But on the left, not sure if Monreal / Kola would help with the defensive solidity needed. So, if rumors are true and we have given up on Tierney, that is disappointing.

    Anyways, all to look forward to in a few weeks. 👍😀

  • Hi JW, good comment and agreed re depth and giving the young ones a chance. Willock and Torreira could indeed cover the one position over the season. Perhaps Willock can also cover for Xhaka (with Torreira taking over the Xhaka role). I feel that with Koz being on strike, we may need to spend our kitty on a CB and an experienced CF to come on from the bench now and again. Shame Giroud is not available!

  • Hey St Henry, thanks for commenting and some ‘live game’ views!! Really glad you got to see the boys and I will watch the whole game once it becomes available on Arsenalplayer. You are probably right re left back position. Nacho is still capable but not for a whole season and Kola is not a good defender and somehow does not get enough assists either. Right back should be Hector with cover from either AMN or (in my view) Mustafi. So I am not worried about that position.

    Are you based in the capital or did you have to travel?

  • Agree the trio of Xhaka, Willock and Ozil did well in the pre-season games but that combo will receive sterner tests at the start of the season, proper. It is a thing of joy to see how Joe Willock has come in leaps and bounds, having more game time than his (reportedly, better) brother, Chris, did at Arsenal. You can tell he loves the club and it gives credence to the argument for bringing on youth rather than buy-buy, every time.

    As for Captain Granit, it looks like one Mr. Mesut Ozil is interested and pulling rank on Xhaka, being older in the side than him. I am not sure what criteria Emery has for picking his skippers, so that subject is still up in the air, with Koscielny going rogue.

  • Interesting shout re Mesut being captain, GE. I don’t think he really would like to be captain and that is more of an Emery thought, but have nothing against it per se.

  • TA, good post. Am with you that our defence look as bad as they look because of inadequate protection from the rest of the team particularly from our central midfield. Willock is growing well but maybe not yet time to be the main man especially with so many still in the CM: Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi, M-Niles, possibly Ceballos and potentially Chambers, Holding and Musti.

    As for the captain ship, it’s as if Emery has a totally different definition from the old. 5 captains is like telling everybody to turn into a leader.

  • Funny PE–
    Your post set me to thinking about my own experiences– playing on teams with what most would consider– ‘too many alphas’. 😉

    Oddly? Results in almost all of those instances were very positive. Medals, championships or just great experiences. You’d think ‘too many chefs’ more often– you know, butting heads. But those times turned out almost invariably where collective good was considered most important.
    Everyone knowing their job on the field– pulling in the same direction. Not concerned with who it was pointing the way.

    Think I can envision– where Emery is trying to guide the club’s budding leaders.


  • I like your perspective on the subject of “Captains” on one team. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is deemed a touch (no, a great deal) arrogant, but he has winner mentality borne from an evident alpha male status. Just take his recent quote on his sojourn in the MLS (amid spats with team mates when the LA Galaxy lose a game badly) : “I came here because I have won a lot; I didn’t come to relax. That’s what I am, not for nothing I have won 33 trophies; ….I think more than the whole MLS.”

    Now, if that doesn’t result in some fired up team mates, I don’t know what will.

  • jw,
    Klopp’s Liverpool is a team. Definition: one will, one intelligence, all pulling in same direction. No captain or all captains but one person wearing an arm-band because the rule demands that. That’s a team, formidable, different from eleven players.

  • PE, thanks. Yes there are a few more names to consider but JW28 seemed to have been picked by Emery as his first choice next to Xhaka (especially with both Torreira and Guendouzi on extended leave). I only rate Torreira higher right now. Willock really impressed me v Bayern.

  • PE–
    Think the charisma at the top drives that sense of confidence. Not certain that Emery is on the level of Klopp as far as having earned the respect of his players– yet. Feel to a degree that the language-barrier (yes, Emery has made strides) has had an effect in that respect.

    Though? When I look at Pool? James Milner is a Grade-A b^stard worthy of the armband. 🙂


  • Hey TA, I’m glad you’re poring over the pre-season matches as I trust (or feel a sense of kinship) with how you watch the game. Still, I have to question your priorities… It’s only preseason and it’s gonna be a LOOONNNGGG slog getting through to the crunch-time stuff in April and May as we seek promotion back to CL football… Also, don’t you have some e-mailing to catch up on?… 😉

    That said, if you’re really gonna do it, I look forward to your thoughts on the 11 v 11, 11 v 10 and 10 v 10 game recently played vs Zidane’s shrinking squad of (non) galacticos… (Is it true that Emery really asked if they could keep it at 11 v 11 after the first sending off?…) Like Arsenal, to me it appears that Real Madrid has already ceded their league chances to their rivals (Barca) and will hope to just hang in there and maybe get lucky in the Spring of 2020 (with some CL overachieving). Of course, they’ll be playing at a different level (in the transfer market) over the next few weeks, but it’s really going to be about finding a core squad of 15 or so guys come the business end of the season.

    Arsenal’s task is different. Emery needs to stop the bleeding (from the end of last season) and get points early or at least avoid humiliation. Our schedule before the Sept. Int’l break is frightening…Toon away, Burnley at home aren’t bad, but then we play both CL finalists… His task is the opposite of my mantra. Avoiding Freddy by February, has to be his main focus. How to get there? Hmmm…

    What I think you’re identifying is that midfield is the key. I didn’t watch the Bayern game but I’d suggest that it’s VERY easy to have midfielders look good enough in these sorts of games–or at least keep the ball in front of them. Teams like Bayern (RM, even Lyon coming up and that last friendly, at the Camp Nou) are NOT going to run around and press our MFs so it’s easy for them to look adequate on the ball, and, if they’re operating from deeper positions, they won’t even look so bad if/when they turn the ball over and need to defend. I’d suggest there’s not so much to be taken from any of it. These are fitness (and revenue/branding) exercises. Like I say, the pressure is on Arsenal (much more than Bayern, RM and the like) starting in mid-August, so we’re ahead of the curve (and our opponents in these games) at this point.

    Which is not a bad thing. Willock DOES look OK. So too did Chambers (vs RM, I thought) and our ability for our CBs and DMs (notably Xhaka) to sit extremely deep and interchange with one another may allow Emery to play with only 2 CBs (in a traditional back 4), which may make those who get as nervous as Mustafi himself appears relish in Skhodran’s relegation to the bench (or even the reserves or maybe even see him shifted out of the club in a last minute CB swap-o-rama). Mostly, however, I think we need to face up to the idea that we look EXTREMELY weak at the full-back (or wing-back) positions and we may have to stump up big and spend the serious pounds to get the Celtic kid… Waiting until January (when Scotland will be in the Euro zone, but England out–so the deal gets done in Euros?…) doesn’t seem wise…

    All of it still seems very sad to me so you have to dig for the humor (humour?) in the situation. For that I like the first couple of comments in the thread. So many (young, I assume) fans think it’s all about individual skills (dribbling)–the kind you see on the video compilations, which make Zaha for 80 million a real thing (or at least 50 or thereabouts, I fear). With VAR and clunky defenders like Xhaka and Sok (and, I hate to say it, Chambers and Holding, when he’s back) there could be a lot of calls happening that make the 1 v 1 attackers look better than they really are. (Remember, the linespeople will be holding off on raising the flag unless attackers are YARDS offside…) In truth, with guys like Auba and Laca (and Iwobi and maybe even Zaha–or somebody similar–if the price gets Kroenke-approval) I think the new rules might help us, on balance–at least vs the other mid and lower level teams.

    So, to bring it full circle, I think it’s more about changes in the league (like with the rules and the ins and outs at other clubs) than it is about changes we think we might be seeing within our own team in these preseason matches. That said, we seem to have made it through this US tour in pretty good shape (no big injuries, unless you’re counting at the hair-stylist…) so now it’s about the final touches (and some feel good factor from the closing of the TW)…and then surviving until September and/or racking up those early season points…

    Cheers (again…) for watching and keeping the posts coming…

  • Interesting views on leadership and motivation. I think a team needs leadership in the whole spine and we need to make sure the spine is strongly aligned.

    Re the Swedish self-celebrating hero…. I am not sure whether he inspires people around him or does the opposite. He is not a team player and does not work for the greater good… those sort of people usually don’t inspire people around him.

  • On the question of the captaincy… Isn’t Emery saying that you better play his system or feck the hell off… And so Kos has done just that… While Ozil has changed…his hair…

    Playing the same game as JW, but maybe as (much?) more of a squad player on a very good team… The big players ALWAYS did better when they could just…play…

    But, then again, we used more of a “manager” system where it was the sub-caller who had all the power (and lots of voices in his ear). In crunch moments, however, the natural leaders announced themselves by saying the right things in the huddle and making the plays on the field.

    So, pass the arm-band around, and see who steps up (and into the role, wearing it well?)…

    Maybe Freddy (and play him at right wing-back?…) is the answer… 😦


  • Agreed re the nature of these friendlies and making it easier for the midfield to look good. The proof is in the pudding of the meaningful games. Having said that, I really liked the chemistry between these three and I could tell that Emery has been working on the way the midfield should function. It was a joy to watch all three in action, especially Mesut and Joseph, v Bayern.

    I will email you soon amigo Americano. I am also under pressure to find paid work again as the bills are starting to bite the Dutch behind… 🙂

  • Hey, TA, I get your views about situating Ibra’s influence, whether positive or negative, but 33 trophies says he does something right (or affects others in some way). He even won United the Europa league at age 35/36. Pride is what he has and that has impact on character (heard he refused wages at United, while he was out injured; who does that?).

    17ht, your posts had me in stitches; Ozil changed his hair to align with Emery’s system and get the captaincy? Lol. And Freddie should opt for his “February date with destiny”, rather than play right wing back. I’m certain fans would rather the former too. 😀

  • Dani Ceballos has joined on a season long loan. Kind of signing we should be happy with except there’s no buy back option (if what we’ve read is true). So, basically, we are helping Madrid develop their young player at the expense of some of our youngsters, leaving us no option to ask the question, if we like him at the end of the season.

    Not that I would mind if he scores the winning goals in all the fixtures vs Spurs, Chelsea and United; plus playing a blinder as we win the Europa league in 2020.

  • Cheers, Eris…

    Interesting take on the loan signing…

    I’m trying to remember the last player we had on loan who made an impact or even just played more than a tiny bit for us. Suarez, I think, did have a touch or two this past season and didn’t Kim Kallstrom convert a penalty against Wigan (or somebody…) in an FA Cup semifinal… Like Suarez, he came to us injured as well, as best as I can remember the (after-the-fact) info dribbling out…

    I need to read more about the terms but (these days) loans seem a way of taking wages off (better) club’s books (and sneaking them onto your own…) without alerting the twitter/blog/press accountants who like to moan/scream about how much we spent on players who aren’t worth it…

    In other words, ANY contribution becomes pure upside for the fans (unless they dig into the salary info)… As such, maybe it’s a shame that ALL our players aren’t on loan (or in on free transfers)… More frownies, sorry…

  • He is a winner, GE, there is no doubt about it. But I have not heard many who have played with him say how wonderful he is. I like the humbleness and team focus of for example Messi much more than the chest-thumping Ibras and Ronaldos of this world.

  • The jury is out re the loan signing. Lets see how he fits in and what he will contribute to the team. We have some excellent midfielders coming through but Cabellos may be a year or two ahead of them… so seeing him move back to RM at the end of the season may just be the right thing for us..

  • Having had a quick look at Wiki and Whoscored, there is not much to get excited about re Cabellos. I guess Emery knows him reasonably well and will hope to help him make a breakthrough!! The good thing is that at 22 (almost 23) he has already played 120+ league games, and very few of our youngsters can say that.

  • Or maybe Emery is just scouting players for his next job (back with a mid-table club in Spain)…


    Or, though I hate to use any sort of Spurs sponsor’s acronym…

    AiA–Arteta in August, (or maybe April?)… 😀 😦

  • Hi, 17ht, Julio Baptista did score a 4 goals for us against Liverpool in the League cup, even missing a penalty in same game; he didn’t score enough in the EPL (3) though, but generally did a few good things when he came to join us for a season.

    TA, If only a few letters in a name could determine what we become, most will be called Sterling or Creflo -Dollar. So(c)kratis will be better at soccer too…. 😅

  • 17ht, could it be spuds fans did it? Just thinking….

    Arteta can only be a good manager when he has managed a minnow team and guide them to promotion. Now he is only an assistant under Pep, thus that is an unknown. Maybe he knows some tricks, but when you are in the middle of the ocean by yourself without anyone that’s when you know how good you are.

    Eris, Baptista is one that we should have kept and used him for longer periods.
    He was a good player with a eye for goal and good physic so if Ceballos makes the cut we should buy him next season.

  • Read Arseblog’s summary of the Q&A session with Vinai, Raul and our very own Edu.

    A very good read to see what happens behind the scenes, and they were quite frank about some of the issues at hand, which is good to hear from them speaking about that.

    As a Gooner, yes we are all disappointed about last season’s nearly there experience, and we should have safely gone and win the game and safely got into top four. But the odds were not always in our favour, and the ball is round. So it can go either way and sadly we lost out in the end.

    The lads did well but it is up to Emery and Edu now to move us up a level and play the Edu way. 😉

  • Poor sods tried to harm Seo with knife. I guess their attack is also a legal defence – they can easily get away as uncountable in front of the court. “Your honour, take a look at Sead Kolašinac. My clients tried to harm him with knife. Is that not a key evidence that my clients are deluded human beings that do not understand consequences of their acts?”

    Ceballos – me like him. A proper baller, top talent from the most talented European nation. Then again, what have Spanish playmakers ever done for us, eh?

  • TA

    Regarding main point I noted: “His calm on the ball and superior passing ability”

    This is Ozil main element and not to be underestimated. He’s as much a general of attack as Koz or BFG was of defense in their day. When he’s forced to pressure and chase he’s out of position on the turnover and thus less useful. If Emery gives him freedom I think we will be more effective going forward.

    Now, defense, the other main element. I like your thesis ok, but it assumes last year’s frailties were due to not having that central cover organised well. And that certainly was part of it. Injuries played a role too. However, my concern is our central defenders were NOT a unit last year. I worry all the better DM protection and a freer Ozil for faster and easier outlet won’t disguise some weaknesses.

    I’d say this of our back four as a whole or summary for each ::

    RB: Bellerin back is a huge boost. Cover? AMN?

    LB: Nacho is the best on his day but time and ride are here. Kola? Too aggressive or not enough. He’s very good but I’m not sure exactly what he is?

    CBs: here is the issue:

    Sok = solid not spectacular, will he grow into being a BFG?
    Koz = let him go, age is here for him anyway.
    Holding = solid not spectacular
    Chambers = solid and coming along
    Mustafi = spectacular, both good and bad…

    So, for me, what is missing are he “spectaculars” in the CBs. The leaders. The so solid they’re unbeatable types, who organise everyone and lead by example. BFG, Koz before injury so 2 years ago and before, …

    So, IMO, the real question is, who will pick up that role. Better DM organisation and play will help, but doesn’t solve an underlying weakness for me. Or, counterattack, better DM play will let that person emerge.

    Cheers — jgc

  • Hey Admir, don’t forget Santi and Arteta. Ceballos is looking like a third Spanish playmaker to guide us to glory.

    To Prof, Sok is settling well and he will grow into a great leader in defense.
    Holding is a good backup for him, and I reckon that Kos’s time has come to pass. Out the door he goes with his attitude, however, we do not and will never know what happened to the club’s lawyers and him during the contract talks.

  • Admir. Ballos could indeed be a fine addition. The stats are showing he is a decent dribbler, but his average key passes, goals and assists (none last season) were low… Now lets hope that will all change and him getting the iconic nr8 shirt seems to indicate Emery has big plans with him.

  • All agreed re Ozil, Prof. Did you watch the interview on Arsenal player with Mesut? He is so calm and focussed – a gentle giant.

  • Geoff, I reckon the Holding – Sok combo is strong and has a lot to offer. Holding the organiser and Sok the battler. It is the back up for these two where we need to worry. They are all below par if needed for a longer period. Agreed re Koz and Mustafi I would use as back up for Bels and the occasional role in the centre of the defence and midfield. Also agreed re left back… especially if we play four at the back. Hopefully Tierney will go ahead.

  • Hey TA

    I’d agree on Holding and Sok. I quietly have high hopes for Holding. He’s not the most talented in any area but serious mongrel and competitive fire we seem to lack. I remember this very fondly versus Chelsea and Conte. Hopefully, he grows into that leader and maybe one day (long from now) Captain if I dream big. I’d love it!

    Agreed on a strong left back, preferably younger and maybe willing to sit a little this year? Thus, is Chambers that third CB or is their a strong youth player, or Kola?

    I’m on a train from Berlin to a very small place in the lack forest called Schwenningen with my wife (in laws have the kids). Spots of work and mostly looking about. My collaborators or partners in crime and I got a goodly sized EU grant so you’ll “see” me in Europe more over the next 4 years. I’m sure Lufthansa will mention it in their annual report. 🙂

    Cheers — jgc

  • Neil Lennon sure enjoys his times with a mic and/or camera stuck in front of his face.
    Would someone just fork over the requisite few extra quid– and take us all out of his misery.
    (Please Raul!)


  • Touché, jw1.

    Celtic look to have walked themselves into a cul de sac with negotiations and are now using media hacks to harass us into some agreement. Tierney is strong, quick and incisive but he is still unproven with an injury record (suited for Arsenal, then) that should give concern. They should calm down, stop thinking Virgil van Djik and sell for the new club record fee, already!

  • Good to hear you will be in Europe for a while, Geoff, and enjoy your time in de Black Forest. Whilst you are there you may want to read some Herman Hesse books. 🙂

  • Read something mad earlier on Friday and ignored it but find the news is still making the rounds: apparently, both Liverpool and Arsenal have “met Nicholas Pepe’s asking price”, reportedly about €80m! So, from a limited budget of just £45m, Arsenal have gone on to make bids that will see us spend upwards of £153m, if all the signed players and remaining rumours (Tierney, Pepe/Zaha) come to be. Shocking! 🤨😏

  • I have only heard of horror stories in the Black Forest 😉 , so, i should read some Herman Hesse too (more winks).

  • Geoff, the educated man often reads the really good books at too early an age…. we then don’t get the full value of it. A reread would not harm you, but there is also Steppenwolf and Narcissus and Goldmund: two absolute masterpieces that will get you into the German spirit and challenge you intellectually… never a bad thing hahaha.

  • TA, source is newsnow.

    Eris, apparently the 45 million quid money is not from the club. Everyone have denied this.

  • Apparently newsnow gets the source from everywhere, thus currently i get the credible news from Arseblog news. Filtered and cleaner news.

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