Granit Xhaka's new deal puts a handbrake on Arsenal's midfield ambitions
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
Might seem a bit melodramatic, right? Well I'm sorry, beautiful readers, but it's the truth. Granit Xhaka's new contract has scuppered us slightly—read, entirely—in the transfer market, and just as things were hotting up too.
I mean, look at our last three poses, before this particular masterpiece. Albert Sambi Lokonga, Denis Zakaria, and Bruno Guimaraes were the topics of discussion, all of whom play either at No. 6 or No. 8. And before them, links and bids for Yves Bissouma and Manuel Locatelli also made the rounds. Things were looking up at London Colney.
With Xhaka reportedly leaving, there was a whole new avenue of discussion open, and an opportunity for a rather sterling rebuild. Despite playing the best season of his career in red-and-white this past campaign, the Swiss will always be a limited player. But worse than that, he has become a true talisman of Arsenal's failings as a club in recent years—namely, missing out on a higher berth in the Premier League, not to mention European capitulation.
He's just not good enough to be our future, is he?
Now don't get me wrong, I've been his among biggest advocates over the years. He may not be the next Patrick Vieira (seriously, can we stop with these "next so-and-so" monikers?) but he's a fantastic player in his own right, and the amount of s**t he's received from Arsenal fans boils my blood. Target his performances if you must, but never his family.
But at the same time, he's 28, and though he has become far more mature as time has dragged on at molasses pace for the club, exorcising many of the mistakes that plagued him early on, he is a player who is easy to upgrade upon. Lokonga aside, I think the fine gentlemen I mentioned above would do the trick, don't you?
Keeping Xhaka around is like running on an hamster wheel. You might move your legs as fast as you dare, but traveling anywhere is out of the question. You might even trip yourself up along the way. Stagnation can be a dangerous game, as demonstrated by every single player Arsenal have kept for far too long.
In the post-match presser after the disappointing 2-2- loss to Chelsea, Arteta officially announced the club's plan to extend Xhaka's deal at the club, a move which was met by a serious amount of fanfare. I mean, come on. Weren't you all ecstatic to see him return to the club? Yeah, me neither.
But why was his return so underwhelming?
Well, I laud the club for standing up to their critics, without a doubt. Refusing to sell a player for £13m when the £17m asking price is more than reasonable shows good backbone, but will we be able to make £13m for him as a 29-year-old next season? I highly doubt it.
For what's more, will we be able to recoup that £13m through other lanes this season with Xhaka in the squad? Without European competition, I highly doubt it, unless we manage to finish in the top three. And could that £13m have gone a long way towards signing a midfielder to replace Xhaka? You guessed it, the answer is again yes. It's not a massive amount of money, but in a buyers market such as this, especially when the club are unlikely to sell many other players for high sums, it would've been a useful bit of pocket-padding.
And as for the contract itself. On the surface, a 2-year extension with a minimal wage hike seems appropriate for one of the club's longest-serving players, not to mention stars of the previous campaign. But what does that contract win us in the long term? Bupkis, at least from where I'm sitting.
I'm not saying Arsenal won't sign a No. 10, like James Maddison or Martin Ødegaard (although who would waste time on the latter; he doesn't have that "it" factor, per reliable sources), and I'm not saying Arsenal's business in the market is completely over with. Our shopping list is far too lengthy for that, and frankly I'm hoping against hope I'm wrong about this, and Arsenal do manage to bring in another high-caliber target this summer. But sticking with Xhaka now feels like a failure to support the rebuild to the necessary degree. Back to the hamster wheel.
In essence, fans (not to mention us journos) are disappointed because Arsenal gave up the chance to make a meaningful impact in the transfer market for the first time in a number of years. Taking nothing away from the players we've signed over the years, this summer gave the club its first real chance to make a number of key long-term moves to settle out the future of this midfield and we shied away from it. Comfort won't run this rebuild, fellas. Figure it out.