Saka for Xhaka. How to Replace the Left Footed Conductor?

Anybody who regularly visits the blog will know how big a fan I am of Granit Xhaka. So I am not going to sum up what we will be missing once more, other than stating the obvious that we will be missing his left foot and his ‘keeping the structure’ skills. He is the embodiment of Arteta on the pitch and this is hard to replace.

The Joy

Who should replace him or could we even not do so at all?

The options:

  1. Play 4-1-2-3 with Partey as lone deep midfielder as much as possible;
  2. Replace Xhaka with Ainsley – straight swap;
  3. Replace Xhaka with Lokonga – straight swap;
  4. Replace Xhaka with Partey and play either Lokonga or Ainsley on the mid-right;
  5. Move Ben White next to Partey;
  6. Move Chambers next to Partey;
  7. Move left footer Tierney next to Partey;
  8. Play ESR next to Partey;
  9. Play left footer Saka next to Partey;
  10. Play AMN, Lokonga and Partey in midfield.

There plenty of options and it will be interesting to see what Arteta will do. But what option would you go for?

By TotalArsenal

42 thoughts on “Saka for Xhaka. How to Replace the Left Footed Conductor?

  • A comprehensive set of options, TA.

    According to fbref, AMN and Lokonga are both more comfortable with their left foot than Partey, using their right foot around 80% of the time instead of 93% for Partey.

    The other aspect to look at is passing ability, where Xhaka absolutely excels. This is where Sambi is clearly ahead with pass completion on par with Xhaka for short and medium passes. The biggest deficit against Xhaka as benchmark is for long passes where Sambi (70%) is a lot stronger than AMN (40%) but still well below Xhaka (80%).

    In terms of defensive contribution I struggle to identify the one or two stats that provide a clear comparison. AMN’s experience clearly counts for something here whilst Sambi’s interceptions provide a useful tool for switching quickly from defence to attack.

    Some of you option like moving White would completely alter how Arteta wants to play since Holding would not be able to push forward in between Gabriel and Tomiyasu in the same way as White, who is effectively playing in a central CB role already with the very physical Tomiyasu staying deep and protecting the flank. Since Tierney, Ødegaard, ESR and Saka are all required in other positions in my view, I would choose option 1 for home games and option 3 away or against top opposition.

  • I would go for Sambi and AMn in double pivot with Partey. With Tomi now we don’t need the second pivot to cover for Tierneys runs and need them both the pivot to remain central. Tomi along with CBs create a block of 3 at the back when we have the ball. So remaining central is key for the double pivot. Both Sambi and AMn can do the job along with Partey. If we need someone to experienced and more defensive we have Elneny though he will be the last option.
    Both Sambi and n will provide additional athletesim in the center mid.

  • Wow CvK, that is a great response and use of stats.

    Good point about White’s role and key part in Arteta’s new system.

    Lokonga looks promising but I have a strong feeling he is best on the right rather than the left. Just a feeling of course and I would love to be wrong.

  • Madhu, in my haste I totally forgot Elneny. So I am happy you mentioned him. Are you saying you would play all three of Partey, Lokonga And AMN at the same time?

  • Good post Total, I guess that Arteta will utilise all his available central midfielders on a game-by-game basis and depending on what tactics he’s decided on. The fitness of Partey is key and that’s why I wanted another top top midfield addition last summer to rotate with Xhaka, but hopefully Albert will be that man eventually.

    Johnno in my perfect world we’d get Bissouma in January, despite the ACN, but I reckon that might have to wait until next summer.

  • I’m not sure what I would do and I suspect that Arteta has been trying different combinations all week. In addition to Elneny, Kola could be added to your list as he is left-footed.

  • Oops _ Eris pointed out that the Arsenal Ladies game is against Aston Villa Ladies and not Bright0n Ladies.

    Will you all kindly give me your new predictions – it will remain a score game.

    My prediction is:-

    Aston Villa v Arsenal A (1-3)

    Sorry about that – if I don’t get all of the predictions then your first predictions will count and it will not be a score game.

    Thanks for pointing that out ERIS.

  • I’m not altogether sure that I’d want Kolasinac anywhere near to our Premier League squad if I’m honest, too many average performances to look back on to have any faith in him.

    Elneny, Niles, Albert and Partey should be enough to do the job even if the fitness of Big Tom is a constant worry, it would be nice to think that that all his injury worries are behind him now as he hardly ever missed a game for Atletico Madrid!

  • TA I mean one of AMN, Sambi or Elneny. I wouldn’t start Elneny but use him later to shut shop. Other options is too much disruption to the formation. If you remeber last season not having Tierney meant Xhaka was shifted and midfield was completely disrupted. That gave us a lot if problem. So I would try to look for like to like replacement. Front four is always between ode, ESR, Auba,Saka, Gabi/Pepe/Laca. I wouldn’t change them at all.
    If we need to be more attacking then have ode play with Party abd ESR ahead.

  • Okay cheers Madhu.

    I am very tempted to play Saka next to Partey, allowing Gabi or Pepe to get some time on the wings. I think Bukayo would be brilliant in the Xhaka role; he would understand better what’s required in the role than the alternatives and he has the all important left peg.

  • TA Saka has been productive on right wing , it would be too much of disturbance when the team is trying to gel. Once the team has understood each other well the these variations can be tried. We need to have stability now and fill one position which ie empty. Too much distortion is a worry. Yes I would love Gabi to get some time.

  • Fun post T

    So many interesting options. We’re about to find out what works and what doesn’t over the next two months.
    Xhaka will be back in November. Remember then, Johnnie told you so.

    I wouldn’t move Saka anywhere from the right wing. I will be furious if he is moved to wide left again.

    After two times in two seasons, he has clearly come alive immediately on moving to the right. I can’t explain it and I don’t need to. I’m just guessing comfort gives him confidence.

    I think it was Eris last year who suggested Pepe on the left, and Eris was the one who was right. Pepe was better there than wide right.

    Also on the left, I think Saka defers to Tierney far too much. Hinders his creativity.

    For midfield I’m hoping Ainsley can show something that keeps him valuable to the team.

    Just manage Partey and his minutes, along with Sambi’s.

    They are the first choice pairing for me.

  • I’ll go with options 1 and 3.

    4-1-4-1 could work just fine, especially against opponents with weaker midfield, so we can afford 2 AMs on the same pitch.
    Nevertheless the more conservative but sure-fire line-up keeps the 4-2-3-1 formation with Partey and Lokonga in midfield. Thomas a bit deeper, and Sambi helps transitioning between defense and attack. He might not have Granit’s experience and left foot, but he is exuberant and very skilled technically. Plus he has the leadership mentality from being the captain of a top Belgian team, so he is the closest like-for-like replacement for Xhaka – despite not being able to cover for Tierney when Kieran goes all out attacking. But neither does Elneny, maybe AMN…
    I’m still counting on seeing Partey and Lokonga captaining midfield.

  • GN5, while Aston Villa Women are doing pretty well (are 3rd on the table with 7 points after 3 games) I’m not downgrading my prediction, because Arsenal ladies have a crazy strong attacking contingent. It was already quite strong last season, and was further reinforced with 3 attackers of the highest tier.

  • Aston Villa vs Arsenal Ladies A (0-4)

    N.B. I wasn’t pushing Kola as the best option to stand in for Xhaka. It’s just an option that Arteta may want to explore in training. In all probability he would be a square peg there but, who knows…

  • Aston Villa Ladies v Arsenal Ladies * A (1-3)

    Villa ladies are doing well too and may give our ladies a stiffer test, so I’d change it a bit, as above, GN5.

  • To your very relevant post, TA, I expect that Arteta would have been ready for this (and other possible) scenario(s) and may feel he has the personnel to cover for injuries/suspensions. The thing is Granit brings other intangible value to the team that cannot be easily replicated by another player. The team will have to use the whole week to adapt to the preferred Xhaka replacement or tweak with the tactics a bit to adjust for the different attributes the replacement brings.

    For me, I’d go with the former and simply do a straight swap with Sambi Lokonga or AMN. Why fix it if it ain’t (really) broken, eh? Lokonga appears to be able to operate from the left side of deep midfield as well as a central role. He is wont to drift a bit to quench fires, irrespective of the section of the field so, the team would need to provide cover for the spaces he may leave. AMN is equally versatile having been a “utility player” and has been used in the Xhaka role a couple of times this season, once in a starting role and the other time, as a sub. His ability to recover possession and his pace are qualities that stand him in good stead to be picked for the job.

    The choice of either will be left for the manager and the opposition, methinks. Lokonga will tip the scales, in my view. He is the best fit for the role.

    Having said all of that, we must not forget that Elneny and Partey once had a brilliant pairing in a certain game (I forget which), not too long ago. Let’s see what Arteta does on Saturday.

  • goonereris, it’s the Man U game that Partey and Elneny dominated in the midfield.
    With the induction of Tomi in the backline we don’t the center kids to cover for Tierney. The whole.defence moves a bit to the left to cover the spaces. They form a back 3 when we have the ball. For some reason this seems not possible with Cedric or Calum. This leaves the center kids to occupy the central spaces. This has helped us for our attack to be more central. You also notice that Tierney is being used sparingly in the attack which now brings the element of uncertainty ij the opposition defence.
    I will be honest I never thought that the Right back is an important signing but OmG small sample size but Tomi has just lifted the team.

  • Excellent comment, Eris. I also think Arteta will play Lokonga and move Partey to the left.

    I think the game you are referring to is MU away. Elneny brings a lot of positional discipline and is a natural support to any other midfielder… He may well get a few starts in Xhaka’s absence.

  • Madhu I still need your revised prediction for the Aston Villa v Arsenal ladies game – not vs Brighton as I originally posted.

  • Yeah, I get that OX10, he’s left footed and all that, but he terrifies me whenever he plays, but who knows, desperate times and all that.

    January is going to be a worrying time while our ACN players are missing. I mean if we have a chance to sell Lacazette and Nketiah in January but Aubameyang is unavailable what do we do? Is Xhaka and Lokonga gonna be enough?

  • I’m not sure, Kev, just thinking out loud.

    From the striker perspective if we sell Lacazette, there is a good chance that he will be involved in a swap deal (maybe Isak, En-Nesyri or Insigne could come the other way). But even if not there is a chance that one from Nketiah or Balogun will go on loan, but only at the end of the transfer window. Since the transfer window is open between the 1st and 31st of January, while the ACN takes place between 09/01 and 06/02, a late sale or loan would leave Arsenal with 1 striker for a single game – assuming Aubameyang will reach far with Gabon, which is not too likely to be honest. No disrespect to the captain, it’s more about the rest of the team, but I expect him to return to the Emirates before the transfer window closes.

    Regarding midfield, we will be short on, but not out of depth without Partey and Elneny, but Xhaka, Lokonga and AMN should be able to cover for a month. As you are well aware there are some youngsters awaiting to be called upon (Akinola, Patino, Cottrell, Hutchinson, Salah-Eddine), we can always relocate one of our attacking midfielders (maybe Odegaard), or even promote a defender to defensive midfield – it will be nothing new to Chambers, White, or Soares.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t sign new players in January (yeah, I’m obviously saying that), but we shouldn’t succumb to ACN related panic-buying.

  • Pb, I’m with you. No need to panic buy for someone who won’t add quality longer term. I wouldn’t mind if we’re within striking distance of top 4, and the club want to make a statement of intent by moving up a planned, quality summer purchase to january. I doubt it though.

  • Yes, Madhu and TA, it is the man united game where Elneny surprised most with his steady midfield play and forward press, harrying the united defenders into errors. Fitness issues may mean Brighton game comes too soon but there will be other games for him to strut his stuff.

  • That should have read…. it was the Man United game…. **

    If the team can keep the players relatively fit during the AFCON, there should be no need to buy replacements, just to cover for a period of no more than 6 weeks absence. We must recall the clubs have an obligation to release invited players about 10 days before the tournament. Some countries have special arrangements with clubs that wish to keep players a bit closer to the first game of the AFCON, to which they usually oblige.

    I think we should just be in the moment and cross that AFCON bridge when we reach it.

  • GN5 my prediction is Arsenal Ladies to win by 3-0.
    I still feel that we didn’t take into consideration AFCOn when we did our business. That may because it’s a short term fix rather than a long term problem. Our business was more about long term strategy. Which means that we depend on Sambi, AMN and Xhaka to take us through the AFCOn period or buy/loan someone to tide over the problem short term. Iam unsure that our Jan buy will be a strategic one, if we buy at all.

  • I can imagine moving up a quality DM/CM signing, if it’s the right player for the right price, J.
    I have only 2 arguments against it, but I understand if that doesn’t prevent a good deal:

    – We don’t know yet (and will not know in January either) if we will compete in Europe in the next season, so we wouldn’t know how big a squad we need. Because without playing in Europe a new recruit should mean that we need to sell Elneny AND Maitland-Niles. (I think it is obvious that for a single game a week the contingent of Partey, Xhaka, Aouar/Gravenberch and Lokonga would be plenty, Torreira/Guendouzi is not yet sold, and the academy guys are edging closer.) Even TA admits we have a large squad for domestic competitions, he just doesn’t mind/care. So if I were an Arsenal executive – which I’m not, but to be fair: the club doesn’t do too well without me 🙂 – I would only sanction an addition, if there are 2 deals in the opposite direction.

    – I think the squad is already quite balanced and capable. While we might be in the market for Onana, the GK hiring is no longer a priority. And the striker reinforcement is urgent if and only if both Lacazette and Aubameyang are leaving, as we are well stacked in the forward department. Therefore a high profile midfielder should be the only serious transfer activity due in the summer, and since it’s (far) less than 100% that Arteta will go into the pre-season in 2022, it would be not only a nice gesture to let his potential successor make the decision on the marquee signing of the transfer window, but would probably be a necessity to lure a capable manager to Arsenal to let him spend 80-100M in the summer (which would be not possible if we move even up a planned, quality summer purchase to January).

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