The summer sale of Granit Xhaka by Arsenal has had a damaging impact on the team, former player Kieran Gibbs has explained.
Xhaka was a regular starter in midfield for Arsenal last season as they finished as runners up to Manchester City in the Premier League. In fact, only in his second season with the club (2017-18) did he ever make more appearances than the 47 he earned, while his goal tally of nine was his best ever for a single campaign.
However, Arsenal decided to cash in on the Switzerland international in the summer when Bayer Leverkusen presented him with a route back into the Bundesliga. The transfer was part of a wider reconstruction of Mikel Arteta’s system, as Arsenal welcomed in Kai Havertz – a more attacking type of midfielder – from Chelsea.
Havertz has struggled in the early months of his Arsenal career, which has only added to concerns some pundits raised about why Arteta wanted him at the club.
And while new defensive midfielder Declan Rice has made a positive impression, Arsenal still miss not just Xhaka’s enforcing characteristics, but especially his creativity from the base of their midfield, according to Gibbs.
Asked by ESPN why Arsenal’s attack has lost its fluidity from last season, Gibbs insightfully answered: “I think the absence of Xhaka actually.
“He probably had his best season last season, let’s be honest, after a long spell at the club.
“I don’t think he was underrated last season. I just think he was appreciated more for what he was doing. He calmed down his antics with his fouls and stuff. He just cleaned up a lot of his game. I felt he was a really good link.
“He gave that balance, especially when [Oleksandr] Zinchenko came in last season and started to play inverted, it gave Xhaka a bit of a different role. I do think it is having a bigger effect on the team than most people think.”
Arteta ‘wanted Havertz to fill Xhaka role’
Gibbs continued: “I do think it’s a problem. I think Arteta wanted Havertz to fill that role. It hasn’t worked out so far.
“It’s still early enough in the season and it’s something he is going to look at.”
Xhaka, meanwhile, has gone from being part of one unexpected title challenge to another, since Bayer Leverkusen are top of the Bundesliga after an unbeaten first 10 games, all of which he has started.
The 31-year-old has also started all three of their Europa League matches so far and has played twice in the German cup, once from the first minute and once as a substitute.
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