A guard of honour for the August Premier League champions? In truth, it will probably be more red mist than red carpet at the Emirates this weekend as Arsenal and Tottenham go head-to-head in this season’s first instalment of the North London Derby.
After a wretched start to the campaign culminated in Granit Xhaka’s early dismissal at Man City, the Gunners have since steadied the ship and will be taking on their bitter rivals with a fourth consecutive win in their sights. However, with the divisive Swiss international now back in contention following his three-match ban, should Mikel Arteta consider re-instating him in the side for Sunday’s showdown?
Xhaka’s imminent return to the pitch will likely elicit groans from many supporters, and for good reason too considering how, despite his much-touted experience and leadership skills, his irascible and, at times, reckless nature has repeatedly let Arsenal down at crucial moments in the past. Lest we forget his concession of a penalty in this fixture in September 2019.
But while the question marks surrounding his temperament are long-standing and offer strong discouragement against his selection, an even greater motive to omit him this week lies in the playing style of our opponents.
Should Granit Xhaka return to the Arsenal team for the North London derby clash with Tottenham on Sunday?
Just as he did throughout his time at Wolves, Nuno Espirito Santo has consistently favoured a 4-3-3 formation this season, with particular attention paid to congesting central areas. Rather than pressing from the front, the Spurs’ attackers typically sit just ahead of the midfield to encourage teams to push up and explore the channels, before forcing turnovers out wide and capitalising on vacated space in behind on the counter-attack.
These pressure traps are a recipe for disaster for Xhaka who, along with his modest mobility and one-footedness, is often ponderous in possession and may well be forced into a characteristic error by the harrying away outfit, thereby not only surrendering our control on proceedings but also putting our well-balanced but fledgling defensive unit under unnecessary pressure.
Despite these various and legitimate concerns regarding his suitability for the derby, there are also a number of aspects to Xhaka’s game that make an immediate return an enticing possibility, with one such attribute being his impressive passing ability.
Love him or loathe him, the Rossocrociati captain is among the best players in Europe for progressive passing, ranking in the 94th percentile in this category over the last year, and often provides an important link between defence and attack courtesy of his ball retention proficiency.
And are these traits enough to warrant his inclusion on Sunday?
Continued on next page…
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