Every team needs a solid defence and a sharp attack but success depends for a large part on the quality of its midfield: the core of every team. For many years, Arsene and then Unai have struggled to get the midfield right, but we may finally be witnessing the birth of a PL-winning midfield right in front of us. I am of course talking about the combination of Xhaka-Partey-ESR. The latter may play in front of the other two but he really is a proper all-round midfielder and forms a great trio with them.
Thomas Partey is the missing link here of course. He has that Vieiraesque presence on the pitch and skill set, and if he can get back to full fitness will become a force to reckon with. I have a feeling that he will continue to struggle for a while and we will only see the best of him, as in a consistent way, from next season onwards. That is why Elneny is also really important. He may not excite everyone but Mo is tidy and reads the game well, positions himself well and has that great ability to allow other players to shine. Granit loves playing with Elneny, and they know each other of course for a long time, going back to their days at Basel (2010-12). We have also seen evidence of Partey combining well with Elneny, so it looks like Mo is the ideal man to be the spare tire that will be used regularly.
I agree with Kev that we need to have at least one more quality DM(like player) going forward as we cannot rely on Xhaka (150+ games for Arsenal already) continue to be fit all the time. It takes a midfielder to appreciate a midfielder and it is obvious that Mikel loves what Granit has to offer and will continue to build the team around the Xhaka-Partey partnership; and I am pretty sure that Emile will become part of this potentially all conquering midfield.
I know that many will not agree with this but right now there is no better deeper laying midfielder in the league than Xhaka. Combine him with the right player and he will become the nerve-center of the team: he holds us together and translates Mikel’s tactical instructions on the pitch to a T. Like all deeper laying midfielders he will now and again make a mistake as they are under so much pressure these days, but focusing on this would be besides the point. Arteta has a great influence over him and this is leading to a calmer style of play and less sanctions, and so, at the great age of 28, Granit is turning into a powering Matterhorn of a midfielder right now. Like the BFG and Giroud, who also were not the greatest athletes but had great intelligence on the pitch, slowly but steadily fans are learning to appreciate and even love Granit the longer he wears the red and white colours. One day, the club might even put up a statue outside the stadium for him. 😉
What I love about ESR is that he does not want to be the poster-boy whose sole focus is on producing insane through-balls all the time. He has really surprised me, and credit to especially Highbury Harmony who predicted a breakthrough for Emile a few months ago.
He is more of a Freddie Ljungberg than a Mesut Ozil, if you ask me. He keeps his head up when on the ball and when he is about to receive the ball – the sign of a great player of course – but he will battle with his head down, his sleeves up and socks down for the ball at all times. And that is what reminds me of Freddie. Both have that ability to get stuck in and yet create those beautiful moments of vision and technical mastery as well. Emile is therefore the ideal fit for partnering the DM-pivot duo of Granit and Thomas as they need somebody to come close to them when needed and run between the lines to offload the ball to under pressure. Emile is very tidy with the ball and always looks to combine with another player in the most advantageous way. Therefore he is the glue of the team and is superb at connecting up midfield with attack. And on top of it all he can also produce those breathtaking through-balls when there is an opportunity.
ESR has of course another couple or even trio of players to work with: the fellow players in the ‘three’ (in our current 4-2-3-1 formation) behind the attacker, and the attacker himself. Only Saka is a given at the moment who truly has made the position on the right his. On the left of ESR there is real competition with either Auba, Pepe or Willian taking this spot. It may explain why Martinelli is having to wait for his chance right now (so no need to worry). Our CF is also a ‘choice-situation’ with either Laca or Auba getting the nod from Mikel – and this is also a position Martinelli (and Eddie and Balogun) are competing for. But Emile will play with them all and will just get on with it, knowing that he will get great support behind him from both Thomas and Granit.
No doubt we are not there yet, but I have confidence that the midfield of Granit-Thomas-Emile(Saka and Pepe/Auba/Willian) will be one that will get us back to the top. Elneny is great backup and there is one more backup position to fill. This will be either Willock or AMN, who are making good progress with their loan clubs, or from the market this summer. Finally, we need backup/competition for ESR and that is where I see one of Odegaard and Ceballos, or one of the youngsters making their claim. Exciting stuff fellow Gunners!